Vietnamese American Experience Students “SEA” the Archive

Today, on February 29, 2012 (Leap Year!) students of Vietnamese American Experience at UC Irvine met in Langson Library for a tour and informational session with Research Librarian, Christina Woo and Public Services Coordinator, Steve MacLeod.

Left: Steve MacLeod shows students how to search the library database. Right: Christina Woo shows a sample file from Special Collections.

Left: Steve MacLeod shows students how to search the library database. Right: Christina Woo shows a sample file from Special Collections.

This visit to the Southeast Asian Archive (SEAA) at UC Irvine allowed students to connect their oral history training in the class and their individual interview projects with a more nuanced understanding of the archival process. What students produce through their oral history interview will be physically archived here at the SEAA and will show up under their names, as their contribution to public history about Vietnamese Americans in Southern California. This is huge! And this is exciting. The tour and info session inspire students to put their best efforts into this important work.

As the quarter winds down and students are busy in the work of processing their oral history interviews, this visit gives them a sense of purpose and helps them see the larger intellectual contribution they are making. UC Irvine’s Southeast Asian Archive is a one-of-a-kind resource for researchers and the public on the experiences of refugees and immigrants from Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Many come from across the country to use its collections. The VAOHP Collection (as part of the SEAA) will give a home to the stories that are waiting to be heard.

Lac Su at UCI: I Love Yous are for White People

One of the VAOHP’s co-sponsored events happened on February 23, 2012–the speaking engagement of Lac Su at UCI, author of the memoir I Love Yous are for White People (2009). Professor Linda Vo brought Lac Su to speak in her Introduction to Asian American Studies class. The lecture hall was filled with not only Professor Vo’s students, but students from Professor Tu-Uyen Nguyen’s Cal State Fullerton class and several representatives of local nonprofit organizations such as Project MotiVATe, a peer mentoring program for at-risk Vietnamese American teens.

Lac Su began his UCI day meeting up with VAOHP Project Coordinator, Thuy Vo Dang, who took him for a tour of the Department of Asian American Studies and then Langson Library. Lac looked about the campus with some nostalgia, but was mostly surprised at how different it felt to be back again. Having graduated from UCI in 1996, Lac’s memory of the campus is larger-than-life. But on this visit, the place doesn’t seem as intimidating or as big.

Left: Lac Su and Christina Woo in Langson Library's Special Collections. Right: Department of Asian American Studies Chair, Jim Lee and Professor Linda Vo chat with Lac before his talk.

Left: Lac Su and Christina Woo in Langson Library's Special Collections. Right: Department of Asian American Studies Chair, Jim Lee and Professor Linda Vo chat with Lac before his talk.

His tour of the Southeast Asian Archive and Special Collections at UCI was a special arrangement facilitated by Research Librarian, Christina Woo and Head of Special Collections, Michelle Light. After this tour, Lac spoke to a crowded lecture hall about his experience writing the memoir about his childhood in a refugee family.

After the talk, the UCI Bookstore assisted with the book signing that generated a winding line rarely seen at book signing events on campus.

Lac Su’s story seems to resonate with students who hear versions of themselves in the pages of his book. This story is his own, but how many other gripping untold stories exist in the Vietnamese American community? The response to Lac Su’s talk and book signing may be one indication of this generation’s hunger for stories of survival, perseverance, and the search for a place to call home.

Opening up dialogue at Rice: VAOHP and the 500 Oral Histories Project represent!

In a panel called “Vietnamese Americans in the Global Diaspora 35 Years after the War” on February 17 , 2012 at Rice University, I had the opportunity to be on the same panel with writer Andrew Lam and my colleagues Nancy Bui, Stephen Klineberg, Long Le, and Linda Ho Peche. This was such a dynamic and exciting panel that drew a diverse audience, consisting of academics across disciplinary boundaries and community representatives from across Texas. I was delighted by the turnout on a late rainy Friday afternoon. Most of us who have organized these talks, panels, or workshops know that the combination of inclement weather and late Friday scheduling would usually mean a poor turnout. But this was not the case for our panel, fortunately. Beyond the packed room, the audience eagerly engaged in dialogue during the Q&A and then remained in animated conversations well after the panel ended into the dinner hours.

Photos courtesy of Mr. Tim Dang of Houston, TX

Photos courtesy of Mr. Tim Dang of Houston, TX

The panel was sponsored by the Rice Kinder Institute for Urban Research, the Chao Center for Asian Studies, and the Center for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality. Organized by Dr. Kimberly Hoang, a fellow affiliated with all three centers, the panel was intended to raise awareness among the Rice University community about the presence and significance of Vietnamese American studies and community. It also highlighted ongoing efforts, at the institutional and grassroots level, to gather and preserve stories of Vietnamese Americans. What was perhaps most illuminating and productive, however, was the ensuing dialogue on the need to overcome community-university barriers in the effort to transform existing knowledge and the very process of knowledge-production about Vietnamese Americans.

Andrew Lam, author of Perfume Dreams (2005) and East Eats West (2010) with Thuy Vo Dang

Andrew Lam, author of Perfume Dreams (2005) and East Eats West (2010) with Thuy Vo Dang

Oral history has provided an opportunity and a challenge to this imperative to transform knowledge. For Vietnamese Americans, the stakes are quite high in preserving memories that have had no viable and sanctioned archive in the United States or Vietnam. The opportunity to build an archive for ourselves, to narrate our own stories, to  challenge the erasure of this history by dominant regimes of knowledge production (such as universities and the mainstream media) comes with the challenge of how to build an archive of stories that will not reiterate dominant, imposed tropes of victimization, model minority, or monolithic refugee politics. This is a larger question than any one individual or organization can tackle, thus when we have the opportunity to open up dialogue such as the case at Rice, we all benefit from the experience.

Working together to build an archive

This panel discussion has given us all the impetus to work harder and work more collaboratively.  This was a great opportunity for the VAOHP to meet with the Vietnamese American Heritage Foundation’s president, Nancy Bui, and volunteer, Linda Ho Peche. The VAHF’s 500 Oral Histories Project has far exceeded their goal of gathering 500 oral histories and we at VAOHP are supporting their commendable effort by processing their Southern California interviews conducted in 2010. VAHF’s 500 Oral Histories is an incredible nation-wide effort that continues to gain momentum. In the fall, after the VAOHP officially launched, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with VAHF to work collaboratively in the interest of preserving stories of Vietnamese America.

Thuy Vo Dang (VAOHP), Nancy Bui (VAHF), and Linda Ho Peche (VAHF)

Thuy Vo Dang (VAOHP), Nancy Bui (VAHF), and Linda Ho Peche (VAHF)

We want to thank Kimberly Kay Hoang, who turned the idea for this panel into a reality!

Share the love: Go For Broke’s Hanashi Oral History Program

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, we at VAOHP would like to share a story about how non-profit organizations share love and help to spread it around. On Saturday, February 11, 2012, Go Fo Broke National Education Center hosted an oral history training through their Hanashi Oral History Program. Hanashi, in case you didn’t know, means “talk story” in Japanese. This project has been running since 1998, when a group of Sansei Japanese Americans got together and decided it was time to start recording stories of WWII veterans of Japanese descent. By now, they have recorded over 1,150 interviews in studio-quality video and they present clips of these on their online archive.

Go For Broke National Education Center in Torrance, Calif.

Go For Broke National Education Center in Torrance, Calif.

Hanashi is one of the most impressive regional video archives we look to for inspiration, so we seized the opportunity to learn more about their interviewing strategies, production of the oral histories, and training of volunteers. Thuy Vo Dang attended the training and met some dedicated Go For Broke volunteers whose commitment to preserving Japanese American stories became clear through their painstaking attention to interviewing techniques and handling complicated video, audio, and lighting equipment.

Equipment training and interview training through the Hanashi Oral History Program

Equipment training and interview training through the Hanashi Oral History Program

What Hanashi has shown us is the importance of community history. This program also asserts that we are the keepers of our community’s past and this means we must put meticulous effort into preserving these stories to the best of our ability. VAOHP is ever grateful for the spirit of sharing that Hanashi has shown through its training program and it has inspired us to think of ways to bring a “talk story” workshop series to the Vietnamese American community. Stay connected to our blog and Facebook to learn more about the development of this community workshop!

Thuy Vo Dang with Hanashi trainers.

Thuy Vo Dang with Hanashi trainers.

Dr. Nhi Lieu’s visit at UC Irvine

The Vietnamese American Experience class at UCI, taught in conjunction with the Vietnamese American Oral History Project, has read Dr. Nhi T. Lieu’s new book, The American Dream in Vietnamese (University of Minnesota Press, 2011). Dr. Lieu is Assistant Professor of American Studies, Asian American Studies, and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Texas, Austin. Although currently a Texan, she originally hails from Southern California and is well-versed in the history, politics, and culture of the Vietnamese American community here.

Top: Professor Lieu lectures to the Vietnamese American Experience class. Bottom: the book signing event hosted by the Department fo Asian American Studies and the VAOHP.

Top: Professor Lieu lectures to the Vietnamese American Experience class. Bottom: the book signing event hosted by the Department of Asian American Studies and the VAOHP (UC Irvine).

This important new scholarship on the production and negotiations of Vietnamese American identity through popular culture is relevant to the training of future oral historians who work with and within the Vietnamese American community. The course contextualizes Vietnamese American experiences through war, migration, resettlement, community politics, and the ongoing struggle over representation. Students are learning to appreciate the myriad ways that historically marginalized groups vie for spaces to articulate their identities and create a sense of belonging.

Popular cultural forms have been one of those under-examined sites where groups can articulate desires (often contradictory and conflicting) and imagine a collective future. Professor Lieu’s talk on Monday, February 6, 2012 at UCI further expanded on the significance of looking to popular culture as a space to understand the formation of Vietnamese American identity and community over the past three decades. Her work helps us see the deep entanglement of politics and the economy with culture. Yes, culture matters, she argues. We should be attentive to the ways in which our desires are conditioned by our consumption of “seemingly trivial” entertainment, how our memories are molded through nostalgic longing for a home we can never return to, how our futures can be shaped by the narratives we repeat over and over in our music, dance, fashion. She examines Paris by Night–the ubiquitous Vietnamese American (diasporic) videos that now number well over 100 in the series. She examines áo dài beauty pageants. Her book is a must-read for those seeking a nuanced analysis of the role of culture in shaping identity and community for Vietnamese Americans.

As Professor Lieu pushes us to think deeply about the “work” of popular culture, the VAOHP is also pushing for a deeper appreciation of oral history as a site that is also viable for exploring the diversity of Vietnamese American experiences. The goal is the same really–to creatively challenge existing regimes of knowledge about Vietnamese Americans, to explore Vietnamese America in all its complexities and contradictions to that we can collectively imagine a future full of possibilities.

From left: Jim Lee, Thuy Vo Dang, Erin O'Brien, Nhi Lieu, and Linda Vo at lunch post-book signing event.

From left: Jim Lee, Thuy Vo Dang, Erin O'Brien, Nhi Lieu, and Linda Vo at lunch post-book signing event.

Tết and New Beginnings

Tết has come and gone. The Year of the Dragon is here. The Vietnamese American Oral History Project is kicking off a new year with great momentum and excitement. In January, the Vietnamese American Oral History Project has also commenced its next phase–training a new generation of oral historians to document the life stories of Vietnamese Americans!

Vietnamese American Experience Class at UC Irvine

Vietnamese American Experience Class at UC Irvine

Thuý Võ Đặng is currently teaching “Vietnamese American Experience, offered through the Department of Asian American Studies at UC Irvine. Through this class, she will provide students with the historical context of Vietnamese American experiences and train them in oral history theory and methods. Each student will conduct and audio-record one full oral history interview with a person who fits the project’s criteria:

1. Vietnamese American (can include Chinese Vietnamese, other ethnic minorities, mixed raced, etc.)

2. 30 years or older

3. Reside in Southern California (greater Los Angeles-San Diego-Orange Counties and Inland Empire).

Each student will also process the oral history interviews s/he conducted, which includes transcribing the entire interview in the language it was conducted, translating the transcripts if needed, creating a time log summary of the interview topics, and writing an abstract of the interview including keywords to identify the stories.

Follow us to see the progress of the Vietnamese American Experience class!