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My Viet

My Viet: Vietnamese American Literature in English, 1962 - Present

EDITED BY MICHELE JANETTE
Copyright Date: 2011
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt6wqftz
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    My Viet
    Book Description:

    Twentieth-century America reduced Vietnam to "'Nam": the surreal site of a military nightmare. The early twenty-first century has seen the revision of this image to recognize the people and culture of Vietnam itself. Vietnamese Americans, both immigrants and the American children of immigrants, have participated in changing this perception, consistently presenting their side of the story in memoirs published since the 1960s.My Vietis the first anthology to provide a comprehensive overview of these memoirs and the historical picture they offer and to include Vietnamese writing that goes beyond memoir, revealing a new generation of Vietnamese American poetry, fiction, and drama.The narratives in Part 1, Tales of Witness, treat the major events of the Vietnamese diasapora: Vietnam's resistance to French colonization, the "Vietnam War," post-war Vietnamese life, immigration to and life in America, and reconnections with contemporary Vietnam. Part 2, Tales of Imagination, moves beyond the master narratives of war and immigration to survey exciting innovations in the work of Vietnamese American writers. The texts demonstrate the full flowering of Vietnamese American literature in English and are among the best contemporary writings of any category.My Vietpresents a rich, varied, and provocative collection of literary work that explores Vietnam from many Vietnamese points of view, sees America through a specifically Vietnamese American lens, and broadens the scope of Vietnamese American literature to its fullest extent.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6018-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Michele Janette
  4. INTRODUCTION: ’NAM NO LONGER
    (pp. ix-xxviii)

    What sources have shaped your conceptions of Vietnam? When I ask this question to my Midwestern college students, two answers predominate: an uncle or father who fought there but doesn’t talk about it and the movieForrest Gump.While they might seem anecdotal or trivial, I think these answers are actually iconic of the symbolic meaning that Vietnam has had in America for much of the last thirty-five years: either a mysterious cipher or a place that bit us in the ass when we went there.¹ These emphases on silence and trauma have dominated American narratives about Vietnam. They have...

  5. A NOTE ON LANGUAGE
    (pp. xxix-xxx)
  6. PART ONE Tales of Witness

    • from Fallen Leaves (1989)
      (pp. 3-11)
      Nguyễn Thị Thu-Lâm

      Father worked as a civil engineer in southern Vietnam for the French-controlled government. Like other professional men, he earned enough to hire a chauffeur, two cooks, two maids, and a nursemaid for each of the four youngest of his eight children. At this time, I had known only a life of wealth and comfort. Although control of the various regions of Vietnam was shifting back and forth between the French and the Vietnamese, this struggle had not yet affected my life. I was too young to realize that educated men like Father were slowly turning against the French who had...

    • from Shallow Graves (1986)
      (pp. 12-19)
      Tran Thi Nga and Wendy Wilder Larsen
    • from Twenty Years and Twenty Days (1976)
      (pp. 20-27)
      Nguyễn Cao Kỳ

      One of the basic defects in America’s generous but sometimes misguided role in Vietnam was best summed up by the proverb, “A little learning is a dangerous thing.” The American officers and aid teams who came to Vietnam ready and willing to help were rarely able to get inside the skin of our people, simply because the surface knowledge they had acquired in a quick training program a few weeks before embarkation went, in fact, only skin deep.

      How many of the strapping twenty-year-olds who fought in our country in the late sixties realized that the Americans of a generation...

    • from A Thousand Tears Falling (1995)
      (pp. 28-35)
      Yung Krall

      When I was a child, a great notion was imprinted on my heart about the colors on my country’s flag.¹ The broad field of bold red symbolized courage; the bright yellow star stood for the courageous race of the Vietnamese people. Other colors had meanings, too. My big sisters had said that blue is the color of hope, and when the revolutionary troupe came to our village to perform their plays, they festooned the village gate with beautiful blue banners.

      And then one day it rained blue from the skies.

      Airplanes from the peacekeeping force soared over our land and...

    • from A Vietcong Memoir (1985)
      (pp. 36-40)
      Truong Nhu Tang, David Chanoff and Doan Van Toai

      After three years it was apparent that the new president¹ was a powermonger, not a builder. For those who could see, the fatal narrowness of his political understanding was already evident.

      In the first place, Diem’s armed enemies had for the most part only been mauled, not destroyed. Elements of the defeated sect armies went underground, licking their wounds and looking for allies. Gradually they began to link up with groups of former Vietminh² fighters fleeing from the To Cong suppression.³ The core of a guerrilla army was already in the making.

      Even as old enemies regrouped, Diem was busy...

    • “Electioneering: Vietnamese Style” (1962)
      (pp. 41-47)
      Nguyen Thi Tuyet Mai and Le Van Hoanh

      My entree into South Vietnamese electoral politics was largely unpremeditated for it was at the urging of some young followers of the Diem government,¹ interested in testing the democratic character of the Diem regime, that I finally decided to contest the elections. This was obviously an ambitious undertaking, but I received encouragement and assistance from various quarters. My husband endorsed this decision even though he was an enthusiastic supporter of President Diem and, indeed, had been recalled to South Vietnam from the United States in 1954 when Diem assumed power. He had been an active participant in the new regime...

    • from No Passenger on the River (1965)
      (pp. 48-60)
      Tran Van Dinh

      It was a muggy day, hot and oppressive, which was not unusual in Hue.² It was one of those days when one feels tired doing nothing, when a slight effort of thinking plunges you into dark depression; one of those days when just being alive is quite an ordeal. At 4:00 P.M. on the dot, Minh’s Second Division began to occupy the strategic position of Phu Loc district.³ A company of armored cars guarded the Truoi Bridge⁴ and other centers of communication. Minh set up his headquarters in a dilapidated brick house a hundred meters from the bridge. With him...

    • from Our Endless War: Inside Vietnam (1978)
      (pp. 61-64)
      Trẩn Văn Ðôn

      Although the Americans made no effort to restrain us in either our coup planning or its execution, they were never really part of the plan. In the beginning, Conein¹ offered us help on several occasions, but, faced with our firm refusals, later confined himself to the role of spectator and reporter.

      Several uninformed writers have maintained that the entire thing was a CIA planned and directed plot. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

      On November 10, a high CIA official met with me at Conein’s house in Saigon. He asked me not to reveal to the press that, despite...

    • from In the Jaws of History (1987)
      (pp. 65-71)
      Bùi Ðiệm and David Chanoff

      American military involvement in South Vietnam had begun with advisers sent to assist Ngo Dinh Diem’s¹ fledgling army in 1954. Between 1961 and 1964 their number had grown from 900 to 23,000. But although this assistance had become substantial, American trainers and field advisers played only a narrowly defined instructional role in South Vietnamese army operations. As advisers, their numbers could be increased or decreased at any time and their presence in Vietnam was due to a long-term “advise and assist” policy that did not in any way suggest formal American military intervention.

      The first independent American combat operations in...

    • from When Heaven and Earth Changed Places (1989)
      (pp. 72-94)
      Le Ly Hayslip and Jay Wurtz

      On a February morning in 1964, shortly after I had been released from the district jail after my first arrest, I was on sentry duty in Ky La. It was unusually chilly and a heavy mist hung in the valleys on three sides of the village. My shift had started at sunrise—about an hour before—and I knew it would be a long day. The older woman, Sau, who was supposed to be my partner, had not shown up. The Viet Cong were very careful about scheduling the teams of sentries upon whom so much depended. Usually, a team...

    • from The Sacred Willow (1999)
      (pp. 95-105)
      Duong Van Mai Elliott

      Amid chaotic scenes of looting, prison breakouts, and frightened residents rushing around looking for a way to flee, more and more communist troops rolled in. At first, people felt apprehensive. But then crowds started to converge toward the boulevard in front of the old presidential palace to welcome the victors, mingle with them, or just to take a look, out of curiosity, at the troops that had vanquished a regime backed by American power. In a wild swing of emotion, many people, elated over the peaceful takeover, now hailed the newcomers as saviors coming in to usher in a new...

    • from At Home in America (1979)
      (pp. 106-112)
      Nguyen Van Vu and Bob Pittman

      Hope comes and goes with the sun. When the skies cleared I could see the mountains in the distance. I had no idea where we were or what mountains those were, but seeing them gave me courage. And while the seas were calm, I looked for other boats. There were none—no American ships, and not even any of the hundreds of small boats we knew had been leaving Saigon. We were somewhere in the China Sea, alone.

      Darkness came on our second night at sea, and we continued to sit and wait. As the darkness fell the questions came...

    • from South Wind Changing (1994)
      (pp. 113-119)
      Jade Ngọc Quang Huỳnh

      The area around the labor camp began to change: we were turning the jungle into gardens. We grew sugarcane, bananas, corn, lettuce, tomatoes, hot peppers, and yucca root. We had the right to grow them but not the right to eat them. Like when the guards said we could defecate, but not urinate, on pain of castration. We tended the garden and watched the produce grow, our mouths watering. I felt like I was half dead and half alive.

      We harvested the corn, salads, and cabbages, sorted the good and bad, and brought them to the highway for the VC...

    • from The Unwanted (2001)
      (pp. 120-126)
      Kien Nguyen

      For the next three years my family continued to live in the house next to my aunt and her family. My mother was busy caring for our baby sister, BeTi, and our only income came from selling her jewelry. We wore the same clothing that we had brought with us from the Nguyen mansion. For many years, Jimmy and I never outgrew these outfits because my mother kept adding length to the hems and width to the waistbands in order to accommodate us. We had two meals a day; the mainstay of our diet was rice, which my mother bought...

    • “The Stories They Carried” (2005)
      (pp. 127-132)
      Andrew Lam

      Once, during the Cold War, we couldn’t get enough of their stories. Today,¹ as the refugee crisis has become a pandemic, the charm Americans felt at the asylum seekers’ naïve enthusiasm for our country has turned into resignation and fear. The thirty-five thousand boat people of Southeast Asia now being sent back to Vietnam have no place in our New World Order narrative.

      In the summer of 1991, as a cub reporter, I found myself with access to a refugee detention center called Whitehead,² at the western edge of Hong Kong. Journalists were, by and large, barred from entry to...

    • from Catfish and Mandala (1999)
      (pp. 133-138)
      Andrew X. Pham

      By Saigon standards, Calvin is a yuppie who came into his own by the most romantic way possible—by the compulsion of a promise made to his mother on her deathbed. One afternoon, when we were touring the outer districts of Saigon on his motorbike, Calvin pointed to a pack of greyhound-lean young men, shirtless, volleying a plastic bird back and forth with their feet. “That was me. That’s how I was until I was twenty-two. Can you believe it? I threw away all my young years, working odd jobs and messing around. I just didn’t care.”¹ His mother bequeathed...

  7. PART TWO Tales of Imagination

    • from Beyond the East Wind (1976)
      (pp. 141-148)
      Duong Van Quyen and Jewell Reinhart Coburn

      In that far away time—long before men and women peopled the world—it is said that a great mist enveloped the earth. It rolled and swirled and heaved, and embraced in a majestic silver hue all that was.

      Mountains reached skyward in a graceful sweep, then spread wide into endless misted meadows. Stones lay sculpted, molded, and solid. Streams flowed in measured movement. There were no thorns. No strangling vines, no menacing roots. No poisonous blooms with sword-sharp leaves—only a peaceful, pervasive, serene perfection.

      Until . . .

      out from the mighty sea, from the midst of a...

    • The Little Weaver of Thái-Yên Village (Cô Bé Thợ-Dệt Làng Thái-Yên) (1977)
      (pp. 149-153)
      Trẩn Khánh Tuyết

      It was dawn. Hiến woke up and walked out to the veranda to wash her face. Her mother and grandmother had been up for a long time and Hiến could hear them moving around in the kitchen. “The rice is almost ready,” her mother called out. “Come and eat with your grandma and me. “Yesterday, your older brother Thảo caught some crabs in the rice paddies. I roasted them with salt, hot pepper, and lemon grass. Doesn’t it smell good?”¹

      Hiến ate slowly, listening to her mother talk about the work that must be done. “And we must take some...

    • from The Land I Lost (1982)
      (pp. 154-160)
      Huyhn Quang Nhuong

      The wild hogs living in the jungle near our hamlet were a constant problem because they sometimes attacked people or cattle without provocation. As the guardian of all the buffaloes in our hamlet, Tank [the family’s water buffalo] once had to fight a huge wild hog when the herd was grazing at the edge of the jungle. He defeated the hog, but the victory was not an easy one.

      A fully grown male hog can weigh almost three hundred kilos, and its skin is covered by a thick coating of the sap from a tree we called the “oil tree.”...

    • from Miles from Home (1984)
      (pp. 161-165)
      Anna Kim-Lan McCauley

      September 9, 1970, Theresa [a friend Anna made in the orphanage in Vietnam] and I entered Emmanuel College. It was a nice sunny day, and the cool September air reminded us that the summer was over and our new experience would begin the next day. The Dean of Residence put Theresa and me in a room on the first floor, in Loretto Dormitory. She thought because we were both blind, we would feel more comfortable being together. She didn’t realize that the blind leading the blind would get nowhere. Neither of us knew our way around the campus, and we...

    • from Monkey Bridge (1997)
      (pp. 166-182)
      Lan Cao

      “You can lose a country. But no one, no war can take away your education,” my mother reassured me as we lay together in bed. “You will have the best education in America,” she whispered.

      Years later, that was the hook I had used to trick my mother into my idea of college, American-style. Every serious student in America embarked on a four-year quest, to be taught by a master teacher at a college far away from home, I had explained. It was the equivalent of a martial artist leaving her village to study kung fu at the Shaolin Temple,¹...

    • From placing the accents (1999)
      (pp. 183-186)
      Trương Tran
    • “Georgia Red Dirt” (2000)
      (pp. 187-192)
      Andrew Spieldenner

      Looking back, I realize my logic may have been flawed. I met him while he was involved so I figured he had to be faithful, stable. I had decided it was time to have something to call love. I chose him.

      “On a scale of 1 to 10, he’s a 12,” were his first words at me. He said the words the way he looked: thick, short, evenly shaded. Like he would be there after the dust settled and the bills came due.

      He seemed less confident than I.

      I was most struck by his combinations. Short and well-muscled. A...

    • from Song of the Cicadas (2001)
      (pp. 193-196)
      Mộng Lan
    • from In the Mynah Bird’s Own Words (2002)
      (pp. 197-201)
      Barbara Tran
    • from The Book of Salt (2003)
      (pp. 202-206)
      Monique Truong

      “THIN BIN,” says GertrudeStein, merrily mispronouncing my name, rhyming it instead with an English word that she claims describes my most distinctive feature, declining to share with me what that feature would be. I have learned that my Madame, while not cruel, is full of mischief. She never fails to greet me with a smile and a hearty American salutation: “Well, hello, Thin Bin!” She then walks on by, leaving me to speculate again on what this “thin” could be.

      Short, I think, is the most obvious answer.

      “Stupid,” the Old Man insists.

      Handsome, I venture, is the better guess....

    • from “the gangster we are all looking for” (2003)
      (pp. 207-214)
      lê thi diem thúy

      Vietnam is a black-and-white photograph of my grandparents sitting in bamboo chairs in their front courtyard. They are sitting tall and proud, surrounded by chickens and a rooster. Between their feet and the dirt of the courtyard are thin sandals. My grandfather’s broad forehead is shining. So too are my grandmother’s famous sad eyes. The animals are oblivious, pecking at the ground. This looks like a wedding portrait though it is actually a photograph my grandparents had taken late in life, for their children, especially for my mother. When I think of this portrait of my grandparents in their last...

    • from All Around What Empties Out (2003)
      (pp. 215-216)
      Linh Dinh

      I live here because I do not have very much money and this is true of all my neighbors as well. In essence, I am one of life’s losers and drifters, shunning responsibility whenever it arose. After each meal, I lick my plastic spoon in a gesture of solidarity with an inanimate object. Did you know that I was once fucked with my own spoon? This very spoon. And then, later, with half a razor. From the seam of my scrotum to the rim of my anus is about 15/16th of an inch. It’s called the perineum, meaning, I think,...

    • from “Visitors” (2004)
      (pp. 217-229)
      Aimee Phan

      They were approaching his daughter’s house. At the home across the street, several children in bathing suits were hopping over a water sprinkler to keep cool. Children’s bicycles and skateboards occupied most of the block’s driveways. Many of the cars were gone, taking their owners away to make money to keep these cramped, identical tract homes.

      When his daughter first explained to him the idea of paying a mortgage for a home in the States, Bac Nguyen didn’t understand. In Vietnam, before the war had infiltrated the South, the house he owned lay on the land he owned. But here,...

    • from Breaking the Map (2008)
      (pp. 230-234)
      Kim-An Lieberman
    • from Living Dead in Denmark
      (pp. 235-246)
      Qui Nguyen
    • “It Was His Story”
      (pp. 247-248)
      Khanh Ho

      He was a war child. His parents were smashed to bits and an American couple adopted him. Everywhere he walked, people knew; it was a very small town. They didn’t have to say they knew either. He could read it in their eyes. He knew they talked about it when he wasn’t around. It was no longer even scandalous. It was just a run of the mill secret.

      By the time he was old enough to know, he knew he was that war child whose parents were smashed to bits. It loomed before him, an unknown conversation waiting to happen,...

  8. PERMISSIONS
    (pp. 249-250)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 251-251)