40 years on- the Vietnamese diaspora


the other shore

Forty years later ‘Vietnam’ is still being used as a one word descriptor in American discourse to describe military interventions overseas (Appy 2003). It also is associated with the failure of such interventions. Narratives about the Vietnam/American War in English are dominated by Hollywood films such as Full Metal Jacket, Born on the Fourth of July and The Quiet American. They are almost all told from the American perspective of the war and number over 80 films (Broinowski 1997).

In Australia there is one dedicated memorial statue featuring the Australian “digger” (soldier) and a Southern Vietnamese soldier in a park in Cabramatta in Western Sydney. Recently Southern Vietnamese veterans have been able to parade on ANZAC day.

The Vietnam/American war is still haunting Americans and Australians, and in particular the second generation of the Vietnamese diaspora. Regardless of this, in Australia despite the racist policies of both major parties against refugees, Vietnamese-Australians have become prominent.

The South Australian governer-general Hieu Van Le is Vietnamese as is the Cleo magazine Bachelor of the Year Thien Nguyen. Anh Do’s autobiography The Happiest Refugee was the top selling book in Australia 2011, and Nam Le’s literary success in both Australia and the USA is laudable and notable.

So where does the government hostility towards the next wave of history come from? It is not reflected in Luke Nguyen’s cook books or the latest sitcom Maximum Choppage which stars Maria Tran.

Fingers have been pointed at Pauline Hanson who is anti immigration and the echoes of the white Australia policy. No one has suggested that the Vietnam/American war and the attitudes born there may have had an impact. It has, after all, been forty years.

But there is ignorance about the current regime in Vietnam. The Australian government allowed Vietnamese asylum seekers in Curtin detention centre to be questioned by Vietnamese security police. This is like getting Isreali police to question Palestinians.

On an arguably larger scale the latest X Men movie  Days of Future Past  features crowds in Paris in the sixties welcoming nation states with the Communist flag being waved next to the yellow triple red band of the Southern government. This is as improbable as the Star of David flying next to the swatiska. In 2009 Prajna Monastery was destroyed by the government in Bat Nha for being auspiced by Thich Nhat Hanh.

This makes it all the more important that Vietnamese diasporic artists write about post war Vietnam. I feature the destruction of the monastery in my latest book The Other Shore which covers the dilemmas facing psychics working for the Vietnamese government.

Sites like Peril, diacritics, Hyphen and Rice Paper all have their role to play to provide audiences for Vietnamese diasporic work. They provide counter-memories to the official government stances of both America and Vietnam. These stories can inform and provide alternative views to the world and in the Vietnamese case enlighten other cultural producers of the complexities of the “real” Vietnam.

Hoa Pham

Author: Hoa Pham

Hoa Pham is the founder of Peril. She is the author of seven books and a play. Her novella The Other Shore won the Vive La Novella Priize, and her book Wave is being adapted to film. For more information please visit ww.hoapham.net