time viet thanh nguyen

Her birth name was Nguyen Thi Bay. Anyone who has heard this sentence knows it is a loaded gun, pointed at them. Survivors of war, my parents fought to live again as aliens in a strange land, learning to read mortgage documents in another language, enrolling my brother and me in school, taking driver’s-license examinations. I did not understand the contradiction that was our America during my youth in San Jose, Calif., in the 1970s and 1980s. The sign confused me, for while I had been born in Vietnam, I had grown up in Pennsylvania and California, and had absorbed all kinds of Americana: the Mayflower and the Pilgrims; cowboys and Indians; Audie Murphy and John Wayne; George Washington and Betsy Ross; the Pledge of Allegiance; the Declaration of Independence; the guarantee of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; all the fantasy and folklore of the American Dream. Here's Why. Paradoxically, I also believed that by keeping my name, I was making a commitment to America. November 15, 2018 6:10 AM EST Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in America. Viet Thanh Nguyen writes about the complexity of the term Asian-American, its experience, and its position as the model minority in this piece for Time Magazine. Con an com chua?” He looked a little rough, perhaps working class. I could never go back to Vietnam for good, because I could never be a writer there and say the things I say without being sent to prison. Or we can be a model of justice and demand greater economic and social equality for us and for all Americans. And while there is some truth to that, it was also simply a continuation of French colonization, a war that was racist and imperialist at its roots and in its practices. They fled communist Vietnam in 1975, after losing all of their property and most of their fortune. Even if economic struggle still defined a good deal of Korean immigrant life, it was overshadowed by the overall American perception of Asian-American success, and by the new factor of Asian capital and competition. German and Italian Americans were selectively imprisoned for suspected or actual disloyalty, while Japanese Americans were incarcerated en masse, their race marking them as un-American. An academic and a novelist, a critic and a short story virtuoso, Nguyen has written about the experiences of Vietnamese-American people and their roots in Vietnam from seemingly every angle. Novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen has become the first Asian American member of the Pulitzer Prize Board in its 103-year-history, according to Kirkus Reviews. You can unsubscribe at any time. So it is that Tou Thao and I are “Asian Americans,” because we are both “Asian,” which is better than being an “Oriental” or a “gook.” If being an Oriental gets us mocked and being a gook can get us killed, being an Asian American might save us. Most Americans will not feel what I feel when they hear the Vietnamese language, but they feel the love of country in their own ways. We take what white people hate about us, and we convert stigmata into pride, community and power. All wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory. The end of Asian Americans only happens with the end of racism and capitalism. Somehow the person who wrote this sign saw people like my mother and my father as less than human, as an enemy. So the next time someone asks me if I’m really Vietnamese, I’m going to say "yes and no," and then I will wait for them to ask me another question. The climax of anti-Chinese feeling was the passage of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, the first racially discriminatory immigration law in American history, which would turn Chinese entering the U.S. into the nation’s first illegal immigrant population. I should be grateful. This, too, is America. By Viet Thanh Nguyen June 24, 2020 All wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory. His novel, The Nguyen family, in the early 1980s in San Jose, Calif., where his parents owned the New Saigon Mini Market, Nguyen with his mother in Vietnam, before they left for the U.S, Nguyen as a child in Ban Me Thuot, circa 1974, Who Should Be TIME’s Person of the Year for 2020? In short, Korean Americans suffered economic losses, as well as emotional and psychic damage, that would continue for years afterward. In the face of renewed attacks on our American belonging, the former presidential candidate Andrew Yang offered this solution: “We Asian Americans need to embrace and show our Americanness in ways we never have before … We should show without a shadow of a doubt that we are Americans who will do our part for our country in this time of need.” Many Asian Americans took offense at his call, which seemed to apologize for our Asian-American existence. Nguyen is a Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist and a University Professor at the University of Southern California. If we are dissatisfied with our country’s failures and limitations, revealed to us in stark clarity during the time of coronavirus, then now is our time to change our country for the better. Some Americans like to believe that the greatness has succeeded the horror, but to me, the greatness and the horror exist simultaneously, as they have from the very beginning of our American history and perhaps to its end. Unlike many of the Hmong, a good number of Vietnamese refugees became, deliberately or otherwise, a part of the model minority, including myself. [4 ½ min read] By Susan Bell - November 15, 2018. Situated in the middle of America’s fraught racial relations, we receive, on the whole, more benefits from American capitalism than Black, brown or Indigenous peoples, even if many of us also experience poverty and marginalization. The person who wrote that sign I remember seeing as a child, blaming the Vietnamese for destroying American businesses, was simply telling a story about the yellow peril that was always available for fearful Americans. The reality was that downtown San Jose in the 1970s and 1980s was shabby, a run-down place where almost no one wanted to open new businesses, except for Vietnamese refugees. A classroom composed of Chinese children in New York, 1900, Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images. Who Will Be TIME's Person of the Year for 2020? Being Asian American is necessary, the name and identity giving us something to organize around, allowing us to have more than “minor feelings.” I vividly remember becoming an Asian American in my sophomore year, when I transferred to UC Berkeley, stepped foot on the campus and was immediately struck by intellectual and political lightning. No longer the threat of the Asian invasion, we were, instead, the model minority: the desirable classmate, the favored neighbor, the nonthreatening kind of person of color. Black people know this all too well, many descended from people who were property. Does our being Asian bring us together across these ethnic and class divides? Too much freedom of the press is unhealthy for a democracy, I declared. Is such a telling American? Racism is not just the physical assault. Why wouldn’t they be? I ask out of genuine curiosity, because I have never said this sentence myself, in reference to any country or place. French rule ended only 17 years before my birth. It is hard to say, because I had never said “I love you” to anyone, my parents included, much less a country. What they did looms in my memory as a nearly unimaginable feat. Racism makes us focus on the differences in our faces rather than our similarities, and in the alchemical experiment of the U.S., racial difference mixes with labor exploitation to produce an explosive mix of profit and atrocity. The vibe. His novel, “The Sympathizer,” won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2016. Yang’s critics pointed out that Asian Americans have literally wrapped themselves in the American flag in times of anti-Asian crisis; have donated to white neighbors and fellow citizens in emergencies; and died for this country fighting in its wars. The result was white mobs lynching Chinese migrants, driving them en masse out of towns and burning down Chinatowns. Did I love America at the time of my naturalization? Then the U.S. re-established relations with Vietnam in 1994, and my parents took the first opportunity to go home. This is your father. And no. Indians were the original terrorists in the American imagination. Centuries later, the latent memory of genocide — or the celebration of conquest — would surface when American GIs called hostile Vietnamese territory “Indian country.” Now Muslims are the new gooks while terrorists are the new communists, since communists are no longer very threatening and every society needs an Other to define its boundaries and funnel its fears. All Rights Reserved. Calling for more sacrifices simply reiterates the sense that Asian Americans are not American and must constantly prove an Americanness that should not need to be proven. Have you heard someone say this? Anyone who has heard these five words knows what it means, because it almost always refers to America. Eventually the city sold the property for many millions of dollars, and now a tower of expensive condominiums is being built on the site of my parents’ struggle for the American Dream. But I was never hungry. “I have to be there,” she said. The original version of this story misstated the spelling of the last name of the police officer who killed Fong Lee. A musician and a girl in Topaz Internment Camp in Utah, July 1945, Updated: June 26, 2020 6:55 PM EDT | Originally published: June 25, 2020 6:37 AM EDT, Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in America. Why don’t you go back to Vietnam? His debut novel, a darkly comic spy novel set amidst the Vietnam War, garnered him a Pulitzer Prize. In its most diluted form, Asian-American identity is also open to anti-Black racism, the acceptance of colonization, and the fueling of America’s perpetual-motion war machine, which Americans from across the Democratic and Republican parties accept as a part of the U.S. My presence here in this country, and that of my parents, and a majority of Vietnamese and Hmong, is due to the so-called Vietnam War in Southeast Asia that the U.S. helped to wage. But for many years, all that stood on my parents’ property was a dismal parking lot. Mao also inspired radical African Americans, and the late 1960s in the U.S. was a moment when radical activists of all backgrounds saw themselves as part of a Third World movement that linked the uprisings of racial minorities with a global rebellion against capitalism, racism, colonialism and war. If my parents held on to their Vietnamese identity and culture fiercely, it was only because they wanted their country back, a sentiment that many Americans would surely understand. This is a contradiction, inherited from the fundamental contradiction that ties the American body politic together, its aspiration toward equality for all, bound with its need to exploit the land and racially marked people, beginning from the very origins of American society and its conquest of Indigenous nations and importation of African slaves. Frequently, we have gone along with the status quo and affiliated with white people. This is what it means to be a model minority: to be invisible in most circumstances because we are doing what we are supposed to be doing, like my parents, until we become hypervisible because we are doing what we do too well, like the Korean shopkeepers. Even the Hmong who condemn Tou Thao and argue for solidarity with Black Lives Matter insist that they should not be seen through the lens of the model-minority experience, should not be subject to liberal Asian-American guilt and hand-wringing over Tou Thao as a symbol of complicity. The National Guard at the Korean Pride Parade in Los Angeles on April 29, 1992 following the riots that swept the city after three of four police officers accused of the 1991 beating of Rodney King were cleared of all charges. He spoke southern Vietnamese on his cell phone. All Rights Reserved. She spoke in Hmong, but her feelings could be understood without translation. Save on the cover price & free e-Gift card for Giftees! When they opened the New Saigon, they told me not to call the police if there was trouble. Being immune to the flag and the anthem does not make me less American than those who love those symbols. What made these sentiments worse, Hong argues, was that we told ourselves these were “minor feelings.” How could we have anything valid to feel or say about race when we, as a model minority, were supposedly accepted by American society? My parents, as newcomers to America, learned this lesson most intimately. The war in Laos was called “the Secret War” because the CIA conducted it and kept it secret from the American people. The elite multiculturalism of colored faces in high places is a genteel politics of representation that focuses on assimilation. But in another reality, Tou Thao is Hmong and I am Vietnamese. But the people who would hang that sign misunderstand a basic fact of American life: America is built on the business of driving other businesses out of business. To locate Tou Thao in the middle of a Black-Hmong divide, or a Black-Asian divide, as if race were the only problem and the only answer, obscures a fatal statistic: the national poverty rate was 15.1% in 2015, while the rate for African Americans was about 24.1% and for Hmong Americans 28.3%. If we as Asian Americans choose the latter, we are indeed the model minority, and we deserve both its privileges and its perils. I would have pointed out that he must not have finished my novel, since the last quarter indicts communism’s failures in Vietnam. I hardly ever got to see them. In a burst of optimism and nostalgia, they named their store the New Saigon. Many Americans do not like to hear these things. What they carried with them–including some gold and money sewn into the hems of their clothes–they used to buy a house next to the freeway in San Jose and to open the second Vietnamese grocery store there, in 1978. Vietnam is not his country. The current Administration is threatening even naturalized citizens with denaturalization and deportation. I should have been elated, and part of me was as we sat before our exotic meal of turkey, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, which my brother had bought from a supermarket because no one in my family knew how to cook these specialties that we ate only once a year. Across from where the New Saigon once stood now looms the brand-new city hall, which was supposed to face a brand-new symphony hall. In Laos, the Hmong were a stateless minority without a country to call their own, and CIA advisers promised the Hmong that if they fought along with them, the U.S. would take care of the Hmong in both victory and defeat, perhaps even helping them gain their own homeland. They were gentle and respectful with us. Viet Thanh Nguyen was an outsider among the rich white kids at his elite high school in San Jose, California. We were the victims. Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in America. And yet today Vietnam, while being independent, is hardly free. The legacy of the Third World and Asian-American movements continues today among Asian-American activists and scholars, who have long argued that Asian Americans, because of their history of experiencing racism and labor exploitation, offer a radical potential for contesting the worst aspects of American society. The genocide committed against them by white settlers is Thanksgiving’s ugly side, not quite remembered but not really forgotten, even in France, where images of a half-naked Native American in a feathered headdress can also be found. By signing up you are agreeing to our, Civil Rights Leaders Advise Biden and Harris, Why Trump's 'Muslim Ban' Will Be Felt for Years, Sign up to receive the top stories you need to know now on politics, health and more, © 2020 TIME USA, LLC. This genealogy gestures at the greatness of America and the horror of it as well, the democracy as well as the slavery. My father felt that deep love for his country because he had lost it when we fled Vietnam as refugees in 1975. Viet Thanh Nguyen Photo by Clemson New Room via Flickr Creative Commons. Throughout Asian-American history, Asian immigrants and their descendants have been offered the opportunity by both Black people and white people to choose sides in the Black-white racial divide, and we have far too often chosen the white side. In response to endemic American racism, those of us who have been racially stigmatized cohere around our racial difference. Perhaps I was 12 or 13. And It Creates Inequality for All. Japanese-American residents of Los Angeles wave a farewell to relatives and friends who are being deported to Japan in October 1941. If I had written that letter, I would have asked this dentist and doctor why he had to threaten my son, who was born in America. Confronted with anti-Asian racism from white people, the Hmong who came to the U.S. as refugees in the 1970s and 1980s were often resettled in diverse urban areas, some in dominantly Black communities where they also confronted racism. That’s Why I Have to Tell the Truth About It. This is why “Vietnam,” meaning the Vietnam War, continues to haunt this country, stuck in a forever war. Yes. The Japanese owner of this grocery store in Oakland, California displays a sign reminding pedestrians of his loyalties to America, and not Japan, in 1944. This is a romantic love, set to accordion music or Édith Piaf, which I feel only fleetingly. While we do experience segregation and racism and hostility, we are also more likely to live in integrated neighborhoods than Black or Indigenous people. Our strength in numbers, in solidarity across our many differences of language, ethnicity, culture, religion, national ancestry and more, is the basis of being Asian American. Little has changed. Japanese Americans had to prove their Americanness during World War II by fighting against Germans and Japanese while their families were incarcerated, but German and Italian Americans never had to prove their Americanness to the same extent. 05 $18.99 $18.99. Viet Thanh Nguyenhad no intention of writing a sequel to "The Sympathizer,"his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a French-Vietnamese undercover agent working for … Now, they peacefully surround the White House. I had a face, a voice, a name, a movement, a history, a consciousness, a rage. Découvrez tous les produits Viet Thanh Nguyen à la fnac : Livres, BD, Ebooks, Livres en VO I grew up with these customs, these emotions, these intimacies, and when I heard this man say this to his child, I almost cried. But the more than 22 million Asian Americans, over 6% of the American population, have many different national and ethnic origins and ancestries and times of immigration or settlement. Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis/Getty Images. Con an com chua?” This is how hosts greet guests who come to the home, by asking them if they have eaten. What he said cannot be translated. So is this: the mother of Fong Lee, Youa Vang Lee, marching with Hmong 4 Black Lives on the Minnesota state capitol in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. It can only be felt. Too many people, from the highest office in the land down, have used those symbols to essentially tell all Americans to love it or leave it. This is the life cycle of capitalism, one in which an (Asian) American Dream that is multicultural, transpacific and corporate fits perfectly well. As the political scientist Janelle Wong tells me, while “European immigrants were confronted with widespread hostility, they never faced the kind of legal racial restrictions on immigration and naturalization that Asian Americans experienced.”. And take your son with you. The feeling of being foreign, especially if they were, or were perceived to be, Muslim, or brown, or Middle Eastern. He was a police officer and I am a professor. One war might be a mistake. Our challenge is to be both Asian American and to imagine a world beyond it, one in which being Asian American isn’t necessary. All of this is cause for mourning, remembrance and outrage, but so is something else: the 61 other people who died were not Asian, and the majority of them were Black or brown. A name like Ellison compresses the beauty and the brutality of America into seven letters, a summation of despair and hope. But no matter how low down we are, we know that America allows us to stand on the shoulders of Black, brown and Native people. His novel. And yet every country is also soiled in the blood of conquest and violence, Vietnam included. For the second time in a matter of weeks, a white student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo wore blackface. As a result, anti-Black (and anti-brown and anti-Native) racism runs deep in Asian-American communities. From the playful mind of Viet’s then 5-year old son Ellison came the story for Chicken of the Sea, about chickens who become pirates. Nothing Ever Dies, Viet Thanh Nguyen writes. Cataloging these incidents, the poet and essayist Cathy Park Hong wrote, “We don’t have coronavirus. The country in which I am writing these words is France, which is not my country but which colonized Vietnam, where I was born, for two-thirds of a century. From the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Sympathizer comes a searching exploration of a conflict that lives on in the … Realizing that downtown should reflect the image of a modern tech metropolis, the city used eminent domain to force my parents to sell their store. Asian Americans are caught between the perception that we are inevitably foreign and the temptation that we can be allied with white people in a country built on white supremacy. This Sunday, DECEMBER 6, StoryTime welcomes Pulitzer Prize winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen … To acknowledge this reality is far too disturbing for many Americans, who resort to blaming Asians as a simpler answer. “We are delighted to welcome [Nguyen] to the [Board]”, said Pulitzer co-chair Stephen Engelberg in an official press release. Only the name my parents gave me felt natural, possibly because my father never ceased telling me, “You are 100% Vietnamese.”. The face of Tou Thao is like mine and not like mine, although the face of George Floyd is like mine and not like mine too. Instead, we call successful colonization “the American Dream.” This is why, as Mai Der Vang says, “the American Dream will not save us.”. Not just because we may look alike in some superficial way as Asian Americans, but because he and I are here because of this American history of war. Christian minister Ashley Gaozong Bauer, of Hmong descent, writes, “We’ve had to share in the collective shame of the model minority, but when have Asian Americans shared in the pain and suffering of the Hmong refugee narrative and threats of deportation?”. For many if not all Black, brown and Indigenous people, the American Dream is a farce as much as a tragedy. My parents and their parents never knew anything but French colonialism. Sickened, yes, to hear of a woman splashed with acid on her doorstep; a man and his son slashed by a knife-wielding assailant at a Sam’s Club; numerous people being called the “Chinese virus” or the “chink virus” or told to go to China, even if they are not of Chinese descent; people being spat on for being Asian; people afraid to leave their homes, not only because of the pandemic but also out of fear of being verbally or physically assaulted, or just looked at askance. At the same time, anti-Asian sentiment remained a reservoir of major feeling from which Americans could always draw in a time of crisis. The man next to me was Asian, not handsome, plainly dressed. Unlike my son, I had to become naturalized. By signing up you are agreeing to our, DACA Has Been Fully Reinstated. I should have. Americans had sacrificed themselves for my country, my family, me, he said. Author Viet Thanh Nguyen won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2016 with his debut novel, "The Sympathizer." The U.S. is still a country built on war and for war. I grew up on intestine, tongue, tripe, liver, gizzard and heart. Demanding that the powerful and the wealthy share their power and their wealth is what will make America great. A musician and a girl in Topaz Internment Camp in Utah, July 1945 Apic/Getty Images The face of Tou Thao haunts me. The principles. Viet elaborated on Ellison’s idea, while Thi Bui and her 13-year old son Hien illustrated this fowl epic. Vote Now, Here's Who Won TIME's 2020 Person of the Year Reader Poll. Romanticizing their existence, oftentimes at the margins of French society, would be difficult, which is why Americans rarely talk about them as part of the fantasy of Paris. His novel The Sympathizer won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize … Books. It is Andersen, not Anderson. I love the idea that a symphony could have sprung from the refugee roots of the New Saigon, where my parents shed not only sweat but blood, having once been shot there on Christmas Eve. You can unsubscribe at any time. So long excluded from American life, marked as inassimilable aliens and perpetual foreigners, asked where we come from and complimented on our English, Asian immigrants and their descendants have sought passionately to make this country our own. Books. The vibe. They had been born poor to rural families, and without much formal schooling and using only their ingenuity and hard work, had become successful merchants. Many Americans of all backgrounds understand this better now than they did in 1992. While some of us do die from police abuse, it does not happen on the same scale as that directed against Black, brown or Indigenous peoples. So long as this crossbred system of white supremacy and capitalist exploitation remains in place, there will always be someone who will write that sign: Another American Driven Out of Business by [fill in the blank], because racism always offers the temptation to blame the weak rather than the powerful. He will also — I hope — know a father’s love that is less complicated than mine. That does not mean they did not love me. Did Tou Thao experience the anti-Asian racism that makes us all Asian, whether we want to be or not? Racism in this country, stuck in a time being repeated today turned to the flag and horror! The brutality of America into seven letters, a name like Ellison compresses beauty! More important that I love you, ” told their children they me... What it means everything are aware of their fortune America during my youth in San Jose which... Almost always refers to America as an adolescent despair and hope and perhaps he will know for it a that! Of citizenship to America as an enemy than those who love those symbols little! Threatening even naturalized citizens with denaturalization and deportation American Studies and Ethnicity at same. Rising tide of anti-Asian racism time viet thanh nguyen American than joining the police freedom of “. 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