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Reflecting on Vietnam

This week in North Philly Notes, as the world reflects on the 40th anniversary of the Vietnam War ending, we reflect on some of our books on Vietnam.

This Is All I Choose to Tell: History and Hybridity in Vietnamese American Literature by Isabelle Thuy Pelaud

In the first book-length study of Vietnamese American literature, Isabelle Thuy Pelaud probes the complexities of Vietnamese American identity and politics. She provides an analytical introduction to the literature, showing how generational differences play out in genre and text. In addition, she asks, can the term Vietnamese American be disassociated from representations of the war without erasing its legacy?

Transnationalizing Viet Nam: Community, Culture, and Politics in the Diaspora by Kieu-Linh Caroline Valverde

Vietnamese diasporic relations affect—and are directly affected by—events in Viet Nam. InTransnationalizing Viet Nam, Kieu-Linh Caroline Valverde explores these connections, providing a nuanced understanding of this globalized community. Valverde draws on 250 interviews and almost two decades of research to show the complex relationship between Vietnamese in the diaspora and those back at the homeland.

Inventing Vietnam: The War in Film and Television edited by Michael Anderegg

The Vietnam War has been depicted by every available medium, each presenting a message, an agenda, of what the filmmakers and producers choose to project about America’s involvement in Southeast Asia. This collection of essays, most of which are previously unpublished, analyzes the themes, modes, and stylistic strategies seen in a broad range of films and television programs.

Songs of the Caged, Songs of the Free: Music and the Vietnamese Refugee Experience by Adelaida Reyes

The Vietnamese refugee experience calls attention to issues commonly raised by migration: the redefinition of group relations, the reformulation of identity, and the reconstruction of social and musical life in resettlement. Fifteen years ago, Adelaida Reyes began doing fieldwork on the musical activities of Vietnamese refugees. She entered the emotion-driven world of forced migrants through expressive culture, learned to see the lives of refugee-resettlers through the music they made and enjoyed, and, in turn, gained a deeper understanding of their music through knowledge of their lives.

Ordinary Lives: Platoon 1005 and the Vietnam War by W.D. Ehrhart

In the summer of 1966, in the middle of the Vietnam War, eighty young volunteers arrived at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Parris Island, South Carolina, from all over the Eastern United States. For the next eight weeks, as Platoon 1005, they endured one of the most intense basic training programs ever devised. Twenty-seven years after basic training, Ehrhart began what became a five-year search for the men of his platoon. Who were these men alongside whom he trained? What Ehrhart learned offers an extraordinary window into the complexities of the Vietnam Generation and the United States of America then and now.

The Vietnamese American 1.5 Generation: Stories of War, Revolution, Flight and New Beginnings  edited by Sucheng Chan, with contributions by students at the University of California

The conflict that Americans call the “Vietnam War” was only one of many incursions into Vietnam by foreign powers. However, it has had a profound effect on the Vietnamese people who left their homeland in the years following the fall of Saigon in 1975. Collected here are fifteen first-person narratives written by refugees who left Vietnam as children and later enrolled as students at the University of California, where they studied with the well-known scholar and teacher Sucheng Chan. She has provided a comprehensive introduction to their autobiographical accounts, which succinctly encompasses more than a thousand years of Vietnamese history. The volume concludes with a thorough bibliography and videography compiled by the editor.

Treacherous Subjects: Gender, Culture, and Trans-Vietnamese Feminism by Lan P. Duong

Treacherous Subjects is a provocative and thoughtful examination of Vietnamese films and literature viewed through a feminist lens. Lan Duong investigates the postwar cultural productions of writers and filmmakers, including Tony Bui, Trinh T. Minh-ha, and Tran Anh Hung. Taking her cue from the double meaning of “collaborator,” Duong shows how history has shaped the loyalties and shifting alliances of the Vietnamese, many of whom are caught between opposing/constricting forces of nationalism, patriarchy, and communism.

America’s Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975, Second Edition  by George C. Herring

First published in 1979, America’s Longest War has been highly regarded both by scholars and general readers. Extensive and yet manageable, this assessment of our national tragedy provides an accurate and objective analysis of the hostilities at home and abroad. This second edition of America’s Longest War becomes more timely as we commemorate a decade since the end of the war and attempt to reflect dispassionately on its effects on our national character and policy.

Taking a “Rashomon” approach to studying Pacific Rim politics

1980_regIn this blog entry, Christian Collet, co-editor (with Pei-te Lien) of The Transnational Politics of Asian Americans, describes his approach to understanding contemporary dynamics of racial and ethnic politics.

Gaining perspective is perhaps the biggest challenge of writing — trying to find a point in time and a place in space in which one has enough clarity, confidence and judgment to articulate an idea.  As Akira Kurosawa’s brilliant Rashomon reminds us, even the simplest of events can have completely different meanings.  “Facts” are often dependent, literally, on where one is sitting.

I draw upon the experience of living in Saigon and near Little Saigon in Orange County, and the questions I have asked myself as an American political scientist living in the Asian Pacific, as a way to introduce the challenges of understanding the contemporary dynamics of racial and ethnic politics.  Pei-te Lien and I designed The Transnational Politics of Asian Americans not only to exorcise our own nagging questions, but to inspire others, particularly in political science, to think more about these problems of method – and how we can come to grips with the excitement and uncertainty of globalization.  Our concern is to not only shed light on the “foreign acts” we see in the news, but to put them in perspective – and bring students closer to them through perspectives that they may have yet to experience.

The challenge, as we describe in the introductory chapter, comes not just from being able to perceive transnational politics, but to capture it accurately and, once contained, to interpret its significance – to think about why it matters and the role it may be playing in Asian American incorporation.  That the volume attempts to marry 20th century history to 21st century anthropology, area studies to ethnic studies, surveys to participant observation should, if nothing else, convey our sense that politics is, in essence, a dynamic, Rashomon-like puzzle. Democracy in the Pacific Rim, we believe, may be open to many interpretations, but Asian Americans remain central players in the unfolding drama.

For more information about The Transnational Politics of Asian Americans, visit http://www.temple.edu/tempress/titles/1980_reg.html

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