Here's Why, Why TIME Chose Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the 2020 Person of the Year, Sign up to receive the top stories you need to know now on politics, health and more, © 2020 TIME USA, LLC. Viet Thanh Nguyen: In President Trump's vision of a white America, immigrants should be grateful and servile By Viet Thanh Nguyen The Washington Post Jul 18, 2019 His citizenship is natural, which is as good as the citizenship of the dentist, the doctor and the veteran. And no. I should have. Unlike my son, I had to become naturalized. For me, as long as I feel Vietnamese, as long as Vietnamese things move me, I am still Vietnamese. Anyone who has heard these five words knows what it means, because it almost always refers to America. It was transformative for me. 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. Aware of my colonization, I do not love France the way many Americans love France, the ones who dream of the Eiffel Tower, of sipping coffee at Les Deux Magots, of eating a fine meal in Provence. This “put the first seed in my mind that perhaps this could be fun to do.” So from an early age he loved to read and write for the sheer pleasure it brought him, the escapism and entertainment it can provide. But when he spoke to his child in Vietnamese, his voice was very tender. Whichever way you arrange my name, it is not a typical American name. Nguyễn Thành Việt là … Up until that point I thought I was either an American, or Vietnamese. Then the U.S. re-established relations with Vietnam in 1994, and my parents took the first opportunity to go home. Instead, over the next Thanksgiving dinner, my father said, “We’re Americans now.”. A Moroccan friend in Paris points to the skin I share with these French of Vietnamese ancestry and says, “You are white here.” But I am not white in America, or not yet. Viet Thanh Nguyen on BPR | July 1, 2020 In June, film director Spike Lee released his latest project, “Da 5 Bloods.” The film tells a story about Black American soldiers fighting in the Vietnam War, and has drawn a fair amount of critical praise for shifting focus away from white soldiers, who’ve typically inhabited central roles in movies about the war. Or is the sentence always said with very clear menace? Jay Kang 05:58. That’s all a part of the process. By signing up you are agreeing to our, DACA Has Been Fully Reinstated. Even for people who don’t think of themselves as professional storytellers, in fact we are always telling stories to ourselves. Many Americans do not like to hear these things. But if I also felt uneasy, it was because I could not help but wonder: Which America was it? The principles. Another American veteran, a former officer, now a dentist and doctor, read my novel The Sympathizer and sent me a letter more measured in tone but with a message just as blunt. Naming my own son was then a challenge. Vietnam is not his country. When I wrote him back and said he was the only one hurt by his rage, he wrote back with an even angrier letter. Perhaps it is not so far-fetched to imagine that one day someone like me, born in Vietnam, might be sent back to Vietnam, despite having made more out of myself than many native-born Americans. “Con oi, Ba day. 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. And storytelling becomes one terrain where we fight over what it means to be an American.”, “I think all writers should try to cultivate that sense of how important home is. He talked about a prevailing belief back in his college years at Berkeley. I cannot help but see colonialism’s legacies, visible throughout Paris if one wishes to see them: the people of African and Arab origins who are here because France was there in their countries of birth. I should be grateful. Viet Thanh Nguyen Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in America. "I think there’s a stereotype that Hollywood is a liberal enclave, which might be true in terms of people’s personal politics, but I don’t think it’s true in terms of what Hollywood puts on the screen,” he said. Many Americans consider the war to be a noble, if possibly flawed, example of American good intentions. Americans had sacrificed themselves for my country, my family, me, he said. As Nguyen says, “I took everything I knew about this community and this lifestyle and I put it into that novel, but I did it with a difference…I wanted, in my work, to acknowledge their pain, to acknowledge their history, but I wanted to do it in a way that would also make them uncomfortable with their own assumptions. Such a statement is a cousin of “love it or leave it.” But there should be many ways of being Vietnamese, just as there are many ways of being French, many ways of being American. My first name is that of the Vietnamese people, whose patriotic mythology says we have suffered for centuries to be independent and free. And take your son with you. adroll_adv_id = "GOLVVWX5HFG65JGBGJ26KE"; adroll_pix_id = "N4DVEK7DNNA6JJDTHUWR43"; adroll_version = "2.0"; adroll_current_page = "other"; adroll_currency = "USD"; adroll_language = "en_US"; My America: Immigrant and Refugee Writers Today, My America: Immigrant and Refugee Writing Today, American Writers Museum Launches New ‘American Voices’ Exhibit Tracing the Literary History of the United States, Unearthing Stories in Eudora Welty’s Garden. At last, my father had claimed America. And yet today Vietnam, while being independent, is hardly free. “People say literature saves the world,” he said. This week, get to know Viet Thanh Nguyen, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sympathizer. Viet Thanh Nguyen is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times.His novel, “The Sympathizer,” won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2016. I often get asked what books people should read from Vietnamese American authors. 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. Only the name my parents gave me felt natural, possibly because my father never ceased telling me, “You are 100% Vietnamese.”. His novel The Sympathizer won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, as well as five other awards. Con an com chua?” This is how hosts greet guests who come to the home, by asking them if they have eaten. We have a president who tells one particular version of the American story, with which I deeply disagree, but his version of the American story is persuasive to a large number of Americans. Viet Thanh Nguyen (VTN): As you say, there are a lot of different terrains that I find myself working in—as do a lot of other writers in my situation. Nguyen said representation in Hollywood holds a unique power, because of the way that American movies and TV influence attitudes both in the U.S. and around the world. I wanted my fiction to seem nonfictional, and my nonfiction to seem fictional. Yes. A Vietnamese American/diasporic reading list. Still, no matter how weary they were, they always made dinner, even if dinner was often just boiled organ meat. There is, by now, a significant body of Vietnamese American and Vietnamese literature translated into English. 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. Viet Thanh Nguyen 05:44. Most of the French of Vietnamese origins I know are content, even if they are aware of their colonized history. I was weary and did not write back to him. Viet Thanh Nguyen 06:04. This was how parents, who would never say “I love you,” told their children they loved them. The fantasy is tempting, especially because of my Vietnamese history. At the same time, I wanted to keep my Vietnamese name. When the North Vietnamese invaded the south, his family was living in a small town in the central Vietnamese highlands called Buon Ma Thuot, the first town captured by the North Vietnamese. My parents and their parents never knew anything but French colonialism. He is the Aerol ... that distracts us from how pervasive war is throughout a society and how it makes all of us complicit through things like … And so that’s had an enormous impact on me as a writer, and obviously on other writers, because we have a very vibrant body of Asian American literature today in the United States.”, “The writing process is learning the discipline of writing, learning the art of it, but also learning how to deal with isolation, and rejection, and solitude and all these kinds of things. Perhaps he never made it to the middle of the novel, by which point I was also satirizing the failures of the government under which I was born, the Republic of Vietnam, the south. The exhibit is designed to elicit thoughtful dialogue on a wide array of issues with contemporary immigrant and refugee writers delving into questions about writing influences, being multilingual, community, family, duality, otherness and what it means to be American. Nguyen was in third grade. 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. He is the Aerol Arnold Chair of English and Professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. This is how I know that I am still Vietnamese, because my history is in my blood and my culture is my umbilical cord. Democracy, equality, justice, hope, peace and especially freedom, the freedom to write and to think whatever I want, even if my freedoms and the beauty of those principles have all been nurtured by the blood of genocide, slavery, conquest, colonization, imperial war, forever war. If we love our countries, we owe it to them not just to flatter them but to tell the truth about them in all their beauty and their brutality, America included. 1990-1992 because I transferred in from UCLA. Have you heard someone say this? My son’s genealogy would be black and white, literary and philosophical, African American and American. Paradoxically, I also believed that by keeping my name, I was making a commitment to America. Viet Thanh Nguyen. Love it or leave it. Viet Thanh Nguyen Hi Steven, I have a new book coming out in February 2017, The Refugees, a short story collection. I admit that those symbols mean little to me, because they divide as much as unify. I grew up with these customs, these emotions, these intimacies, and when I heard this man say this to his child, I almost cried. Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in America. Literally, he said, “Hello, child. Whatever they saw in their homeland, it affected my father deeply. A name like Ellison compresses the beauty and the brutality of America into seven letters, a summation of despair and hope. The first Viet Book Fest highlights children’s literature and will be held through various virtual readings and Q&A events every Saturday of October culminating in a Halloween party on Oct. 31. And if you’d like to hear more from Nguyen, he visited the AWM along with writers Kao Kalia Yang and Vu Tran in May of 2018 to discuss the anthology The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives, which they all contributed to. But I still wanted to swear my oath of citizenship to America as an adolescent. Back then I only wanted to be American in the simplest way possible, partly in resistance against my father’s demand that I be 100% Vietnamese. And we’re living at a time in our country when the fact of storytelling is ever present. Have you eaten rice yet?” That means nothing in English, but in Vietnamese it means everything. It is hard to say, because I had never said “I love you” to anyone, my parents included, much less a country. I chose Ellison, after the great writer Ralph Waldo Ellison, himself named after Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great philosopher. Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. Essential Reads by Viet Thanh Nguyen. Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel The Sympathizer is a New York Times best seller and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Watch the program in its entirety on YouTube. This genealogy gestures at the greatness of America and the horror of it as well, the democracy as well as the slavery. Perhaps they feel that deep, emotional love when they see the flag or hear the national anthem. This is a heavy burden to lay on one’s son, although it is no heavier than the burden placed on me by my parents. This “put the first seed in my mind that perhaps this could be fun to do.” So the family “fled on foot, made it to the nearest port city 150 kilometers away, through very terrible circumstances, throngs of refugees and fleeing soldiers, and dead people.” They safely got to Saigon, only to have to flee again a month later after North Vietnam captured Saigon. Is it not more important that I love the substance behind those symbols rather than the symbols themselves? And to recognize what it feels like not to be at home because it’s that discomfort that helps us to produce something interesting in our writing. I ask out of genuine curiosity, because I have never said this sentence myself, in reference to any country or place. The Sympathizer is the 2015 debut novel by Vietnamese American professor Viet Thanh Nguyen.It is a best-selling novel and recipient of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.Its reviews have generally recognized its excellence, and it was named a New York Times Editor's Choice.. I never said “I love you” when I was growing up because my parents never said “I love you” to me. Because as generative as it was for me not to feel at home, I don’t want that for my son.”, “One of the transformative moments of my life was going to college at UC Berkeley and discovering that I was an Asian American. I had tried various American names on for size. I grew up on intestine, tongue, tripe, liver, gizzard and heart. Did I love America at the time of my naturalization? As for those who say this sentence, do you mean it with gentleness, with empathy, with sarcasm, with satire, with any kind of humor that is not ill humored? The Nguyen family, in the early 1980s in San Jose, Calif., where his parents owned the New Saigon Mini Market, Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in America. Carver would never have ventured into Vietnam, a country about which he knew next to nothing except what it looked like at forty thousand feet. I am writing the sequel to The Sympathizer, and it is set mostly in Paris, so will deal with Vietnamese/French history. The library was my second home. I assume there’s a relationship between your creative interest in tattooing, and your creative interest in writing. So I choose the freedom of America, even at a time when “love it or leave it” is no longer just rhetorical. T he face of Tou Thao haunts me. Not the America of those who say “love it or leave it,” but to my America, to an America that I would force to say my name, rather than to an America that would force a name on me. Why wouldn’t they be? Read and watch select excerpts from the exhibit below, and explore the virtual exhibit here. Every country believes in its own best self and from these visions has built beautiful cultures, France included. He spoke southern Vietnamese on his cell phone. Why don’t you go back to Vietnam? But I was never hungry. 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. French rule ended only 17 years before my birth. Viet Thanh Nguyen and his mother in Ban Me Thuot in 1973. By keeping my name, I could be made into an American but not forget that I was born in Vietnam. Perhaps because of this history, part of me loves France, a love that is due, in some measure, to having been mentally colonized by France. Big limit: everything is in English or translation. Viet Thanh Nguyen's life changed when he won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2016 for his startling debut novel, "The Sympathizer." I hardly ever got to see them. My father felt that deep love for his country because he had lost it when we fled Vietnam as refugees in 1975. You seem to love the communists so much, he said. In claiming that defiant Vietnamese self, one that disregards anyone else’s definition, I claim my American self too. Phuc Tran: Yeah, I suppose so. Books and stories, especially literature and fiction, were my salvation.”, “I believe deeply that stories are fundamental to how we see ourselves as people, as citizens, as Americans. The Vietnamese people … I did not understand the contradiction that was our America during my youth in San Jose, Calif., in the 1970s and 1980s. 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. That was half my committee. I could be classified as a minority writer in the context of the United States, but when I go to France, I’m pleased that they actually call me an American writer or an American writer of Vietnamese origins. His novel The Sympathizer won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, as well as five other awards. A long series of wars is a pattern. Quotes . All felt unnatural. Fiction and nonfiction accomplish very different things, but they can overlap. 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. by Viet Thanh Nguyen. The man next to me was Asian, not handsome, plainly dressed. And yet, when I was growing up, some Vietnamese Americans would tell me I was not really Vietnamese because I did not speak perfect Vietnamese. Viet Thanh Nguyen: I think that when the New York Times Book Review says The Sympathizer gives voice to the voiceless, it is inaccurate. And so I dealt with my isolation and my loneliness by retreating to books and to the library. The memory of that visceral love, expressed in sacrifice, is in the marrow of my bones. One war might be a mistake. 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. 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. A word or a tone can make me feel the deepness of that love, as happened to me when I overheard a conversation one day in my neighborhood drugstore in Los Angeles. “No, it doesn’t. Or have you said it? But it was basically half ethnic studies. As such, this war was just one manifestation of a centuries-long expansion of the American empire that began from its own colonial birth and ran through the frontier, the American West, Mexico, Hawaii, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and now the Middle East. Viet Thanh Nguyen is a Vietnamese-American novelist. After the second trip, my parents never again returned to Vietnam. Viet Thanh Nguyen: Even before you became a writer you had found other artistic pursuits, like tattooing, which I find completely terrifying. I wanted an American name for him that expressed the complexities of our America. Against all those who say “love it or leave it,” who offer only one way to be American, I insist on the America that allows me to be Vietnamese and is enriched by the love of others. What he said cannot be translated. My love for my countries is difficult because their histories, like those of all countries, are complicated. 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