Literature defines Vietnamese American identity

Mar. 1, 2011 -- Professor of Asian American Studies Isabelle Thuy Pelaud's new book highlights the Vietnamese American identity that is emerging in recent writing by refugees, immigrants and their American-born children. "This is All I Choose to Tell: History and Hybridity in Vietnamese American Literature" (Temple University Press, 2011) is the first book to provide a psychological, historical, social and cultural context for Vietnamese American writing.

The cover of the book

In this video Pelaud discusses her personal experience as a Vietnamese American and reads her poem "Eurasian." 

Pelaud, who emigrated from France in 1984, suggests that the Vietnamese American identity is still in flux, varying by economic class, gender, sexuality and exposure to the traumas of the Vietnam War. "Most Americans do not realize how diverse the Vietnamese American community is," Pelaud said. 

Pelaud said that while most Vietnamese American refugees supported the American involvement in the war, the ways in which they emigrated from their home country varied. Some immigrated directly to the U.S. in a carefully planned manner, while others fled their homeland in desperate attempts aboard flimsy boats with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Still others, like Pelaud, came to the U.S. by way of another country and culture. Vietnamese Americans who emigrated from Vietnam during the war or after the fall of Saigon bear the trauma of war that others do not.

Alum and former creative writing faculty member Truong Tran's prose poetry collection, "dust and conscience," is examined at length in Pelaud's book.  Written after Tran's first visit to Vietnam since he fled as a 3- year-old child in 1975, his work suggests that the Vietnamese American identity remains elusive and difficult to express in a conventional linear narrative style.  In response to his 2000 visit, Tran expresses his identity as a Vietnamese American writer in fragmented, unpunctuated prose poetry. The following is the excerpt from which Pelaud titled her book.

"that the only true audience is the one not listening to know that I write despite of you the more I write the less you know to know that you I define as the reader this is all you need to know this is all I choose to tell."

Pelaud will lead a session on literature at the upcoming Southeast Asian American Studies Conference to be held on campus March 11 and 12.

-- Denize Springer