His citizenship is natural, which is as good as the citizenship of the dentist, the doctor and the veteran. Like the homeless, refugees are living embodiments of a disturbing possibility: that human privileges are quite fragile, that one’s home, family, and nation are one catastrophe away from being destroyed. Viet Thanh Nguyen's life changed when he won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2016 for his startling debut novel, "The Sympathizer." And so I dealt with my isolation and my loneliness by retreating to books and to the library. 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. Viet Thanh NguyenNgự Thuyết chuyển ngữ Trang bìa số báo TIME đề ngày Nov. 26 / Dec. 3, 2018 có dòng chữ lớn: WHO GETS TO BE AMERICAN? Mỹ như Tôi ! America is his country, and perhaps he will know for it a love that will be less complicated and more intuitive than mine. Love it or leave it. But it was basically half ethnic studies. There is, by now, a significant body of Vietnamese American and Vietnamese literature translated into English. 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. 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. So I choose the freedom of America, even at a time when “love it or leave it” is no longer just rhetorical. But when he spoke to his child in Vietnamese, his voice was very tender. Being surrounded by fellow refugees gave Nguyen a sense of his Vietnamese heritage and greatly impacted his writing, especially The Sympathizer. Have you heard someone say this? Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. A long series of wars is a pattern. I have never said “love it or leave it” to my son, and I hope I never will, because that is not the kind of love I want to feel, for him or for my country, whichever country that might be. My parents and their parents never knew anything but French colonialism. Yes. This “put the first seed in my mind that perhaps this could be fun to do.” I assume there’s a relationship between your creative interest in tattooing, and your creative interest in writing. 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. Nguyễn Thành Việt là … Nguyen was in third grade. Perhaps they feel that deep, emotional love when they see the flag or hear the national anthem. By signing up you are agreeing to our, DACA Has Been Fully Reinstated. My first name is that of the Vietnamese people, whose patriotic mythology says we have suffered for centuries to be independent and free. But I still wanted to swear my oath of citizenship to America as an adolescent. This genealogy gestures at the greatness of America and the horror of it as well, the democracy as well as the slavery. You seem to love the communists so much, he said. I chose Ellison, after the great writer Ralph Waldo Ellison, himself named after Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great philosopher. I am writing the sequel to The Sympathizer, and it is set mostly in Paris, so will deal with Vietnamese/French history. At last, my father had claimed America. This is how I know that I am still Vietnamese, because my history is in my blood and my culture is my umbilical cord. Here's an annotated list, not comprehensive, along with some other diasporic authors thrown in. 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. 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. And yet every country is also soiled in the blood of conquest and violence, Vietnam included. 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. 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. I had tried various American names on for size. And then I stayed on to do my PhD in English, from 92 to 97. 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. In claiming that defiant Vietnamese self, one that disregards anyone else’s definition, I claim my American self too. Vietnam is not his country. The current Administration is threatening even naturalized citizens with denaturalization and deportation. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. The memory of that visceral love, expressed in sacrifice, is in the marrow of my bones. Viet Thanh Nguyen had no intention of writing a sequel to “The Sympathizer,” his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a French-Vietnamese undercover agent working for … by Viet Thanh Nguyen. I made such criticisms not because I hated all the countries that I have known but because I love them. 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 yet today Vietnam, while being independent, is hardly free. 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. On Wednesday 4 July, the American Library in Paris will welcome Viet Thanh Nguyen to talk about his edited collection of essays The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives.Nguyen won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel The Sympathizer.He is also the Library’s first Writer-in-Residence for summer 2018. This appears in the November 26, 2018 issue of TIME. Nguyen has been an important contributor to the AWM from the beginning, serving on our National Advisory Council as well as helping us form our special exhibit My America: Immigrant and Refugee Writers Today, in which he is featured. Most of the French of Vietnamese origins I know are content, even if they are aware of their colonized history. Why don’t you go back to Vietnam? I did not understand the contradiction that was our America during my youth in San Jose, Calif., in the 1970s and 1980s. T he face of Tou Thao haunts me. 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. 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. For me, as long as I feel Vietnamese, as long as Vietnamese things move me, I am still Vietnamese. Anyone who has heard this sentence knows it is a loaded gun, pointed at them. I want to create a family where I will never say “love it or leave it” to my son, just as I want a country that will never say the same to anyone. When Viet Thanh Nguyen visited Iowa Writers’ Workshop in May, everyone—including me—was starstruck. Whichever way you arrange my name, it is not a typical American name. The principles. Naming my own son was then a challenge. Viet Thanh Nguyen I was once a refugee, although no one would mistake me for being a refugee now. I admit that those symbols mean little to me, because they divide as much as unify. Viet Thanh Nguyen. French rule ended only 17 years before my birth. 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. Unlike my son, I had to become naturalized. Many Americans consider the war to be a noble, if possibly flawed, example of American good intentions. All Rights Reserved. My love for my countries is difficult because their histories, like those of all countries, are complicated. The Vietnamese people … Quotes . I should be grateful. 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. His novel The Sympathizer won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, as well as five other awards. Essential Reads by Viet Thanh Nguyen. I never said “I love you” when I was growing up because my parents never said “I love you” to me. 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. This week, get to know Viet Thanh Nguyen, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sympathizer. Viet Thanh Nguyen and his mother in Ban Me Thuot in 1973. Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel The Sympathizer is a New York Times best seller and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. My father felt that deep love for his country because he had lost it when we fled Vietnam as refugees in 1975. But I was never hungry. This is part of the complicated task of a writer…we can talk about our people, whoever they happen to be, but we can challenge them as well.”. It can only be felt. I grew up on intestine, tongue, tripe, liver, gizzard and heart. Nguyen’s family all made it safely to the U.S., which Nguyen credits to an incredible amount of luck, or from his parents’ perspective, “God smiled on us.”, Nguyen and his family eventually settled in San Jose, which at the time was the second largest Vietnamese refugee community in the United States. They went twice, without me, to visit a country that was just emerging from postwar poverty and desperation. Have you eaten rice yet?” That means nothing in English, but in Vietnamese it means everything. 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. Americans had sacrificed themselves for my country, my family, me, he said. Then the U.S. re-established relations with Vietnam in 1994, and my parents took the first opportunity to go home. I would have pointed out that he must not have finished my novel, since the last quarter indicts communism’s failures in Vietnam. Or have you said it? I wanted my fiction to seem nonfictional, and my nonfiction to seem fictional. 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. Viet Thanh Nguyen: Even before you became a writer you had found other artistic pursuits, like tattooing, which I find completely terrifying. Every country believes in its own best self and from these visions has built beautiful cultures, France included. Long before Viet Thanh Nguyen won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Sympathizer, the public library in San Jose gave him an award for his debut book, Lester the Cat. The Refugees' Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen shares memories of being a refugee from South Vietnam. Still, no matter how weary they were, they always made dinner, even if dinner was often just boiled organ meat. 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 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. Viet Thanh Nguyen (born March 13, 1971) is a Vietnamese-American novelist. My son’s genealogy would be black and white, literary and philosophical, African American and American. The novel is written from the perspective of a Communist spy, something unacceptable to his Vietnamese refugee community. All felt unnatural. I am writing the sequel to The Sympathizer, and it…more Hi Steven, I have a new book coming out in February 2017, The Refugees, a short story collection. 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 … 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 library was my second home. Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in America. Being immune to the flag and the anthem does not make me less American than those who love those symbols. Paradoxically, I also believed that by keeping my name, I was making a commitment to America. When I wrote him back and said he was the only one hurt by his rage, he wrote back with an even angrier letter. 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. When I did, they were too tired to be joyful. If so, I would not take my son with me. A Vietnamese American/diasporic reading list. So it is that every day I ask my son if he has eaten yet and every day I tell my son I love him. Viet Thanh Nguyen: Well to answer your first question about what makes someone an American Master. This is how love of country and love of family do not differ. Instead, over the next Thanksgiving dinner, my father said, “We’re Americans now.”. Viet Thanh Nguyen gives a keynote speech at the “Transcendients Community Celebration: Challenging Borders” for the Japanese American Nation Museum The Transcendients Community Celebration: Challenging Borders, a free one-day event, kicks off on Saturday, March 7 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the Japanese American National Museum. He is the Aerol Arnold Chair of English and Professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. He spoke southern Vietnamese on his cell phone. Or is the sentence always said with very clear menace? It’s an enormously powerful identity for those of us in the United States who are of Asian descent because it takes a weakness, which is our racialized status, our status as being possibly lesser than white Americans or other Americans and turning it into a positive, which is strength in numbers and in identification with other people who are not like us…being Asian American just put a name on it, that we shared a common bond, whether we were Japanese, or Vietnamese, or Korean or Filipino, and we can transcend those bonds into something called being Asian American. It’s a matter of building endurance and building character, building spirit to confront that page, because writing is a lifelong endeavor.”, The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives, Chicken of the Sea (written with his son Ellison Nguyen), VIRTUALLY EXPLOREMY AMERICA: IMMIGRANT AND REFUGEE WRITERS TODAY. 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. That was half my committee. His stories have appeared in Best New American Voices, TriQuarterly, Narrative, and the Chicago Tribune and he is the author of the novel The Sympathizer, and Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory War. 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.. “Love it or leave it” is completely American and yet un-American at the same time, just like me. And yet even my son is told to love it or leave it. Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in America. It was transformative for me. A name like Ellison compresses the beauty and the brutality of America into seven letters, a summation of despair and hope. Even for people who don’t think of themselves as professional storytellers, in fact we are always telling stories to ourselves. “Con oi, Ba day. “When I was growing up as a refugee in San Jose my parents were working all the time, so they provided all the material things that I needed but they didn’t have the time to spend with me. 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. At the same time, I wanted to keep my Vietnamese name. 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. Viet Thanh Nguyen is a Vietnamese-American novelist. Con an com chua?” This is how hosts greet guests who come to the home, by asking them if they have eaten. 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. Only the name my parents gave me felt natural, possibly because my father never ceased telling me, “You are 100% Vietnamese.”. 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. 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. 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. Mine is Viet Thanh Nguyen, although I was born in Vietnam as Nguyen Thanh Viet. Growing up in the United States, I was encouraged by generations of American tradition to believe that it was normal, desirable and practical to adopt an American first name, and even to change one’s surname to an American one. 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, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris Are TIME's 2020 Person of the Year, BTS Is TIME's 2020 Entertainer of the Year, You can unsubscribe at any time. He will also — I hope — know a father’s love that is less complicated than mine. Indians were the original terrorists in the American imagination. 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. 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. Viet Thanh Nguyen Hi Steven, I have a new book coming out in February 2017, The Refugees, a short story collection. 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. That’s Why I Have to Tell the Truth About It. But he soon realized something was missing in literature, “and what was missing in it were stories about people like me and my family, refugees, Vietnamese people, Asian Americans…and I wanted to write some of these stories myself.”, Nguyen first came to the United States as a Vietnamese refugee in 1975. What was the ethnic studies program at Cal like and when you're there? I think recently that changed for me a bit because I became a father, and now I feel at home with the family that I have, the home that we’ve created. 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. 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. Anyone who has heard these five words knows what it means, because it almost always refers to America. That’s all a part of the process. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our, I Love America. 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. 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. 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. “When I was your age, I was very conscious of myself as a Vietnamese American and Asian American, and I knew I was a refugee but I didn’t like go around calling myself that because I knew that there weren't a lot of stories about any of these populations that I was a part of.”. Even if my Vietnamese is imperfect, which it is, I am still connected to Vietnam and to Vietnamese refugees worldwide. Each week, the My America blog series introduces you to one of the writers featured in our special exhibit My America: Immigrant and Refugee Writers Today, which can now be explored virtually. But if I also felt uneasy, it was because I could not help but wonder: Which America was it? 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. That does not mean they did not love me. 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. All of that is America, our beautiful and brutal America. Up until that point I thought I was either an American, or Vietnamese. “No, it doesn’t. 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. I hardly ever got to see them. Other honors include the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, the Edgar Award for Best First Novel from the Mystery Writers of America, the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction from the American Library Association, the First Novel Prize from the Center for Fiction, a Gold Medal in First Fiction from the California Book A… That is how I feel the love of country for Vietnam, which is one of my countries, and that is how I feel my Vietnamese self. Viet Thanh Nguyen 05:44. 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. Why wouldn’t they be? I was made in America but born in Vietnam, and my origins are inseparable from three wars: the one the Vietnamese fought against the French; the one the Vietnamese fought against each other; and the one the U.S. fought in Vietnam. They loved me so much that they worked themselves to exhaustion in their new America. His novel The Sympathizer won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, as well as five other awards. Viet Thanh Nguyen (born March 13, 1971) is a Vietnamese-American novelist and professor.. Viet Thanh Nguyen gives a keynote speech at the “Transcendients Community Celebration: Challenging Borders” for the Japanese American Nation Museum The Transcendients Community Celebration: Challenging Borders, a free one-day event, kicks off on Saturday, March 7 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the Japanese American National Museum. “Con oi, Ba day. I grew up with these customs, these emotions, these intimacies, and when I heard this man say this to his child, I almost cried. One war might be a mistake. I should have. 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. Jay Kang 05:58. This was how parents, who would never say “I love you,” told their children they loved them. And take your son with you. Many Americans do not like to hear these things. Viet Thanh Nguyen 06:04. This is a romantic love, set to accordion music or Édith Piaf, which I feel only fleetingly. Literally, he said, “Hello, child. Is it not more important that I love the substance behind those symbols rather than the symbols themselves? “People say literature saves the world,” he said. Did I love America at the time of my naturalization? Perhaps he never made it past being offended by the first quarter of the novel, which condemns America’s war in Vietnam. Fiction and nonfiction accomplish very different things, but they can overlap. 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. I often get asked what books people should read from Vietnamese American authors. The fantasy is tempting, especially because of my Vietnamese history. 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. As a teenager in 1987. 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. Viet Thanh Nguyen Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in America. An American veteran of the war, an enlisted man, wrote me in rage after reading an essay of mine on the scars that Vietnamese refugees carried. 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. 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. After the second trip, my parents never again returned to Vietnam. I was weary and did not write back to him. Whatever they saw in their homeland, it affected my father deeply. Watch the program in its entirety on YouTube. By keeping my name, I could be made into an American but not forget that I was born in Vietnam. 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. I wanted an American name for him that expressed the complexities of our America. Long before Viet Thanh Nguyen won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Sympathizer, the public library in San Jose gave him an award for his debut book, Lester the Cat.Nguyen was in third grade. And we’re living at a time in our country when the fact of storytelling is ever present. And no. 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A Vietnamese-American novelist and Professor of English and Professor of English and Professor of English Professor. Thanh Nguyen ’ s all a part of the Vietnamese people … a American/diasporic!