This month, the novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen was awarded one of the most prestigious honors a writer can receive: the MacArthur “genius” grant, given to artists, thinkers, and public intellectuals whose ideas have culture-altering potential. The police were created to defend the white, the propertied and their allies, and continue to do so. His novel. 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. 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. 29K likes. “They were the loudest voices for us,” Lee’s sister Shoua said. 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.”. Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Sympathizer (2016 Pulitzer Prize), Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, and The Refugees (Feb 2017) This is why “Vietnam,” meaning the Vietnam War, continues to haunt this country, stuck in a forever war. But the rage that is at the heart of the Asian-American movement–a righteous rage, a wrath for justice, acknowledgment, redemption–has not been able to overcome the transformation of the movement into a diluted if empowering identity. Perhaps I was 12 or 13. 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. To acknowledge this reality is far too disturbing for many Americans, who resort to blaming Asians as a simpler answer. 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. We are coronavirus.”. “Hmong people live side by side with their African-American neighbors in poorer sections of town, with generations of misunderstanding and stereotypes still strongly entrenched on both sides.” Yet when Fong Lee was killed, Black activists rallied to his cause. When they opened the New Saigon, they told me not to call the police if there was trouble. They fled communist Vietnam in 1975, after losing all of their property and most of their fortune. 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. Hello, We wanted to post a transcript of our interview with Viet Thanh Nguyen along with some reading for people who might be interested in what we discussed. Viet and Paul also touch upon the responsibility that we all have to engage in educational, anti-racist work within our own families and friend groups. He is the author of The Sympathizer, which was awarded the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction alongside seven other prizes.He is also the author of the short story collection The Refugees, the nonfiction book Nothing Ever Dies, a finalist for the National Book Award, and is the editor of an anthology of refugee writing, The Displaced. If we claim America, then we must claim all of America, its hope and its hypocrisy, its profit and its pain, its liberty and its losses, its imperfect union and its ongoing segregation. This appears in the July 06, 2020 issue of TIME. While we do experience segregation and racism and hostility, we are also more likely to live in integrated neighborhoods than Black or Indigenous people. Join her for a Portland Book Festival conversation with Viet Thanh Nguyen, who also won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his 2016 book The Sympathizer. Looking back, I can remember the low-level racism of my youth, the stupid jokes told by my Catholic-school classmates, like “Is your last name Nam?” and “Did you carry an AK-47 in the war?” as well as more obscene ones. A narrative of forgiveness and redemption obscures the very real price the Vietnamese paid for a war. 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 result was white mobs lynching Chinese migrants, driving them en masse out of towns and burning down Chinatowns. If you think America is in trouble, blame shareholders, not immigrants; look at CEOs, not foreigners; resent corporations, not minorities; yell at politicians of both parties, not the weak, who have little in the way of power or wealth to share. This is the life cycle of capitalism, one in which an (Asian) American Dream that is multicultural, transpacific and corporate fits perfectly well. The news nearly broke her. Witzke has linked rapes, murders and heinous crimes to immigration. But I had been assaulted by the racism of the airwaves, the ching-chong jokes of radio shock jocks, the villainous or comical japs and chinks and gooks of American war movies and comedies. I’m glad “Crazy Rich Asians” is a hit, but I’m waiting for the day when it’s just another romantic comedy. For many Asian-Americans, the phrase belongs to the wonderful world of white people we see in the movies and on television. Racism is not just the physical assault. Menu. Like many Asian Americans, I learned to feel a sense of shame over the things that supposedly made us foreign: our food, our language, our haircuts, our fashion, our smell, our parents. And is there anything more American than joining the police? As a result, we often have divergent political viewpoints. Raising my son is making me want to be a better person. Does our being Southeast Asian, both our communities brought here by an American war in our countries, mean we see the world in the same way? milforddailynews.com — By Viet Thanh Nguyen/The Washington Post Saturday Dec 21, 2019 at 6:07 PM Vietnamese people have dwelled uneasily in the American imagination since the American war in Vietnam. 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. She spoke in Hmong, but her feelings could be understood without translation. Japanese-American residents of Los Angeles wave a farewell to relatives and friends who are being deported to Japan in October 1941. Youa Vang Lee speaks in front of thousands of people attending a memorial rally for George Floyd at the Minnesota State Capitol on May, 31, 2020. The vibe. Viet Thanh Nguyen. Viet Thanh Nguyen, the author of The Sympathizer and The Refugees among many other titles, joins VSA for an informative Q&A session. His novel, “The Sympathizer,” won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2016. In Vietnam, the police were not to be trusted. As a result, anti-Black (and anti-brown and anti-Native) racism runs deep in Asian-American communities. Forthcoming in February 2017. By the time my parents bought the store, my mother’s mother had died in Vietnam. Or we can be a model of justice and demand greater economic and social equality for us and for all Americans. A couple of Asian-American students talked to me afterward and said they still felt it. Its reviews have generally recognized its excellence, and it … “They didn’t ask to show up. Too few Americans read it. A classroom composed of Chinese children in New York, 1900, Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris Are TIME's 2020 Person of the Year, BTS Is TIME's 2020 Entertainer of the Year, Civil Rights Leaders Advise Biden and Harris, What Kamala Harris Brings to the White House, Sign up to receive the top stories you need to know now on politics, health and more, © 2020 TIME USA, LLC. Asian Americans still do not wield enough political power, or have enough cultural presence, to make many of our fellow Americans hesitate in deploying a racist idea. 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. We owned property. 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. Until then, race will continue to divide us. 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. Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in America. By Viet Thanh Nguyen June 24, 2020 All wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory. 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 Rights Reserved. The basis of anti-Asian racism is that Asians belong in Asia, no matter how many generations we have actually lived in non-Asian countries, or what we might have done to prove our belonging to non-Asian countries if we were not born there. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our, Asian Americans Are Still Caught in the Trap of the ‘Model Minority’ Stereotype. He is also the author of “The Refugees,” a short story collection; “Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War”; and “Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America.” His most recent book is the edited collection “The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives.” He is the Aerol Arnold Chair of English and a professor of English, comparative literature, and American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California. The ones who remained behind suffered persecution at the hands of their communist enemies. This, in itself, should surprise no one. Solidarity or complicity. 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. Fiction and nonfiction accomplish very different things, but they can overlap. Frequently, we have gone along with the status quo and affiliated with white people. Traumatized, they were resettled into the midst of poverty and a complicated history of racial oppression of which they had little awareness. Did Tou Thao think he was proving his belonging by becoming a cop? Quotes . Rise against abusive power or stand with our back turned to the abuse of power. Nguyen has clearly gotten under her skin. At the same time, in fiction I could say things I couldn’t get away with in nonfiction without footnotes. In the aftermath, Koreatown was rebuilt, although not all of the shopkeepers recovered their livelihoods. When it comes to the Vietnam War, Vietnamese refugees in America and the Vietnamese diaspora, Viet Thanh Nguyen has written the book ― a few of them, actually. 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%. 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. The problem is race, and class, and war–a country almost always at war overseas that then pits its poor of all races and its exploited minorities against each other in a domestic war over scarce resources. My parents, natural capitalists, succeeded at this life cycle until they, in turn, were driven out of business. 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. Let me go back in time to a time being repeated today. Many Korean Americans were angry because they felt the city’s law-enforcement and political leadership had sacrificed them by preventing the unrest from reaching the whiter parts of the city, making Korean Americans bear the brunt of the long-simmering rage of Black and brown Angelenos over poverty, segregation and abusive police treatment. Some of the money that rebuilt Koreatown came, ironically, from South Korea, which had enjoyed a decades-long transformation into an economic powerhouse. The low-level racism I experienced happened in elite environments. Two immigration officers interrogate Chinese immigrants suspected of being Communists or deserting seamen at Ellis Island. Viet Thanh Nguyen is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times. The war in Laos was called “the Secret War” because the CIA conducted it and kept it secret from the American people. What they did looms in my memory as a nearly unimaginable feat. 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. Through my Asian-American studies courses and my fellow student activists of the Asian American Political Alliance, I was no longer a faceless part of an “Asian invasion.” I was an Asian American. Literature about the war and its aftermath by Vietnamese and Vietnamese-Americans is plentiful and good. Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images. In short, Korean Americans suffered economic losses, as well as emotional and psychic damage, that would continue for years afterward. The Immigration and Naturalization Service was created, policing Chinese immigration and identifying Chinese who had come into the U.S. as “paper sons,” who claimed a fictive relation to the Chinese who had already managed to come into the country. 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. 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