VAOHP Community Reception: website launch and celebration

Last week VAOHP held a community reception at Van Lang Community Hall to celebrate the formal launch of their official website.  Along with the collective efforts of the Vietnamese American Heritage Foundation (VAHF) based in Texas, VAOHP has made UC Irvine the new home of hundreds of Vietnamese life stories. Dr. Thuy Vo Dang along with Dr. Linda Trinh Vo served as the event’s masters of ceremonies. Along with a league of volunteers and research interns, the event was up and running in a matter of hours. Upon arrival guests were greeted at the entrance hall along with a nametag, those that participated as narrators had blue ribbons attached.  Once inside guests indulged in traditional Vietnamese finger foods and the moving art work of Trinh Thuy Mai. With volunteers replenishing the food table there wasn’t an empty belly nor a clean hand in sight. Speakers from UC Irvine and VAHF spoke of the importance of continuing such and endeavor.  As an added bonus the VAHF awarded Dr. Linda Trinh Vo and Dr. Thuy Vo Dang with plaques of accomplishment for all they have done for the Vietnamese community.

From left: VAOHP interns, the audience, Asian American Studies Department chair, Dr. Jim Lee, speaks, Wells Fargo representatives present VAOHP a giant check.

From my humble perspective, the milestones that VAOHP has made in a year were simply mind boggling. When I became a part of the project only a few months ago I was told that the goal of this project was to bridge the gap between academia and community. The overwhelming outpour of support made me feel that my efforts and the efforts of those around me were being recognized by the community. The highlight of the night came from an extremely generous grant from the Wells Fargo foundation.  Our little “grass roots” project has blossomed into this, might I say, movement.  I can already imagine years down the line more narrators, volunteers, and interns will be added on to the growing project and hundreds of stories might become thousands.   The idea of leaving a piece of ourselves and our experiences for our children and future generations is something that resonates within our community.  All too often during my interviews I heard how parents and grandparents want to tell their stories to their children but have trouble doing so for whatever reason, whether it’s a language barrier or the even the wrong time.  The purpose of having this public unveiling was to help the community recognize that we are a possible resource to overcome these obstacles.  With people becoming more reliant on technology for information access, the online repository is perfect way to eloquently illustrate the fruits of our labor.

Features at the community reception, from left: Denise Cao, Giana Nguyen, Trinh Mai

To view the oral histories launched through the UC Irvine Libraries’ Southeast Asian Archive, please visit: vaohp.lib.uci.edu.

 

Representatives of the Vietnamese American Heritage Foundation and the Vietnamese American Oral History Project, from left: Long Nguyen, Dung Vu Hoang, Linda Vo, Nancy Bui, Thuy Vo Dang, Thieu Dang.

~Michelle Le Pham

~photos by Christopher Truong

Understanding our parents’ stories and trauma

This past February, I didn’t think I would have anyone to interview for the Vietnamese American Oral History Project. I had realized that if I asked my aunt to narrate her life story, I’d spend months past the deadline trying to transcribe the interview because she spoke Vietnamese and I didn’t. But while cleaning out my wallet, I stumbled upon a business card for Bao Nguyen, Vice President of the Garden Grove Unified School District Board of Education, and I realized that he was the same Bao Nguyen that spoke in a 2004 documentary about Little Saigon, Saigon, USA, which I watched in my Vietnamese American Experience class a week earlier. I had met him when he visited the Asian Pacific Student Association (APSA) at UC Irvine during one of our general meetings in January, having been the Advocacy Chair of APSA himself in the early 2000s. I wasn’t sure if he’d have enough time to set aside for an interview, but when I contacted him, he turned out to be very excited to work with me.]

I met him at his home in the early noon on Presidents Day. We sat at his dining room table to conduct the interview, and I noticed that behind him on the wall hung an American flag, next to which stood a shelf lined with books ranging from Toni Morrison novels to readings on religion. We went over some paperwork and then finally started what would turn out to be a two-hour interview.

Narrator, Bao Nguyen

Narrator, Bao Nguyen

We related on a lot of different topics. As APSA’s Advocacy Intern, I admired the work he did as APSA’s Advocacy Chair when he went to UCI. He drew from his own experiences as a Vietnamese refugee to fuel the passion for his activism. This was apparent, for example, when he organized with other student to attend a rally in Little Saigon for John McCain, who was running for the Republican presidential nomination in the 2000 elections. They sought to protest his unapologetic use of the racial slur “gook” during his campaign and to educate others on why the word was inappropriate. Bao said in his interview,

As Asian Americans and Vietnamese American young people, we understand the trauma very directly because those people that suffered trauma are very much our parents. So, we weren’t there to say, “John McCain…your experiences being tortured are not legitimate.” We weren’t there to say that…In fact, we experienced that very indirectly through our parents…We were there because as Vietnamese Americans and as young people growing up inAmerica, we’ve been attacked with those racial slurs. We’ve been called gooks. We’ve been called chinks and whatnot.

McCain’s Vietnamese supporters, however, did not receive the protest very well. “No, ‘gook’ means communist!” one of them shouted to Bao and his friends, who were subsequently attacked and pushed off onto the street. It was an emotional experience for Bao, especially considering that those who threatened him and his friends had the “faces of our parents and our grandparents.” The Republican Party, with their strong anti-communist rhetoric, had gained the trust of many Vietnamese refugees shortly after they arrived in the States, so not supporting a Republican candidate, I believe, could be equated with supporting communism. Bao told me that one of the most valuable lessons he learned from the experience was that “we really have to be sensitive towards everyone’s experience, especially if it’s a traumatic experience.”

The story of Bao’s protest at the McCain rally resonated with me deeply. The lesson he learned from the protest made me reflect back on my own parents, their trauma being Vietnamese refugees, my insensitivity toward their experiences when I was a teenage high school rebel, and my sensitivity toward them now, which continues to grow today as I further understand my own history and identity and how they can shape the activism work that I do. As the son of refugee parents, I hope to find such an understanding weaved within the stories of the community and the Vietnamese American Oral History Project, and I hope that any future generations can do the same.

 

- Brian Dinh

UCI student feels an even greater connection to her father after interview process

Before taking last quarter’s class on Vietnamese American Experience, my understanding of Vietnamese American history was limited to the anecdotes shared by my family, visits to Little Saigon, and history taught in school. By conducting an oral history project on my father and engaging in thoughtful conversations with classmates throughout class, I was able to see a common thread amongst Vietnamese Americans – they never forget their homeland, but have built a life in America.

Narrator, Stephanie Wong's father

Narrator, Stephanie Wong's father

The same goes for my father. Although he was the first person that came to mind for my project, he objected at first. He has always been an open book, but I think he just didn’t want to be interviewed. After explaining to him that I wanted to preserve his history and share his story, he agreed. I didn’t really know what to expect from the oral history project, or how the interview was going to play out. If you should listen to the first minutes of the interview audio file, you might be able to tell that I’m hesitant and nervous at points. It gets better after though.

As the interview with my dad continued, I lost track of time. I became engaged in my father’s story; although I had heard bits and pieces before, I never was presented with a formal outline of his life. I was in awe of the struggles he encountered during the Vietnam War, his withstanding strength as he left his homeland, and the fact that he has been able to call America his home today. The interview lasted two hours, and although I bet it could have lasted for hours more, it was about 11:00pm when we ended.

Narrator, Stephanie Wong's father

Narrator, Stephanie Wong's father

The transcription process was probably the longest task aside from the interview, but it was my favorite. Playing back my father’s interview gave me an opportunity to really listen to my father’s reminisces. I was really proud of the interview, because I felt that my dad really opened up. I’ve always been close to my dad, but I felt a greater connection to him because I now knew more about his childhood and about his life in great detail. After all the proper documents were finished and edited, I decided to create a short video presentation to share with the class. Although I could have opted out for a less time-consuming presentation such as PowerPoint or a collage, I wanted to create a video because I wanted my peers to see my father’s interview visually. I planned to give my dad the video, but he didn’t want to see it because he said it was embarrassing. He still hasn’t seen it yet, and it’s been more than 4 weeks since I presented the video, but I plan on asking him to watch it soon!

 

- Stephanie Wong

“Bò Bía” = My Dad, and his Journey to Freedom

“BUB! Guess what?! You are going to help me get an A in my Vietnamese American Experience class this quarter!” That was exactly what I exclaimed to my dad when he came to pick me up from a long first week of winter quarter. It was only the first meeting of class, but I knew I had found my place. I knew I had found exactly what I had been looking for and what I had been longing. I had found it in Professor Vo Dang’s Soc Sci 178D Vietnamese American Experience class. It was obvious who I wanted my narrator to be for my oral history project – and that was my dad.

Growing up, my dad had always told us never to waste food because he knew exactly what it was like not having anything to eat. He told us to always try our best and to seize every opportunity that came our way. He told us that we could do anything we put our heart and mind to. My siblings and I always heard snippets of his life and what it was like growing up during the Vietnam War. It was not until taking Professor Vo Dang’s class was I able to really sit down with my dad and get the low-down of what happened to him during his escape.

Narrator, Hugo Van

Narrator, Hugo Van

My dad is very much a storyteller and every chance he gets, he will gladly sit down and talk about life, work, anything! However, when it came down to the actual project interview, he seemed a little apprehensive when I prepared the actual voice recorder and all the paperwork. He must have been intimidated by the professionalism of the equipment, along with paperwork I pulled out of my manila folder.

Once I pressed the red button on the recorder, everything started to flow. There were many laughs, many giggles, and also many moments of silence. The topics were heavy and I could tell from my dad’s body language that even though he was excited to really tell me his story, at the same time, it really seemed like he wanted to shield me (and my siblings) from the experiences he had gone through during his journey to freedom. We started of laughing with silly basic questions, and he was sitting up very proudly and speaking right into the voice recorder, but once we started to talk about post April 1975, I noticed that he was slumped in his chair at the dinner table and closing his eyes once in awhile to speak. This was when I had to physically move the voice recorder closer to him because his voice had lowered and quieted down since the hour before when we had started.

When he had felt that he had told me enough, it was perfect timing because our interview was over! I had a sense of proudness come over me because looking right at me was my own dad. He chased his own dream and his own freedom. I feel very proud to be his daughter and knowing that he had gone through so much to escape the perils of his country to provide a better future for his future children, it only motivates me more to work hard to achieve my own dreams. My dad always reminds my siblings and I that “hard work and dedication will get you places – ultimately, these two variables are the keys to success!” I live and breathe by this. The war was only the beginning, the real turmoil and hardship came after the war. However, all the refugees that made it, made it. Each and every one of them will have their own unique story. I am very fortunate enough to have a dad who wants his story to be known through his children and through future generations. Through the VAOHP, I was able to have my dad reveal the nitty gritty and these very experiences are the ones that made my dad who he is today. He is my “bò bía” (in Vietnamese, it essentially means “eggroll” – this is what my siblings and I have called him ever since we can remember), my bub, my dad, and my hero.

Hugo Van (center) with his family

Hugo Van (center) with his family

- Viola Van

My Dad: A Story of Strength and Survival

When Professor Vo-Dang announced in class that we were going to do an oral history project, I immediately whispered to a classmate “My Dad”.  Having my father as the narrator was an obvious decision.  As a child my father would tell me stories of his childhood when I sat in his lap and rested my head on his once plump belly.  His detailed account of surviving and eventual escape from Vietnam was perfect for a project like this.

The actual process of conducting the interview was somewhat difficult and a little raw in my opinion.  Usually when he regales me about the stories of home it was so effortless and vivid, it was as if these stories happened only a few months ago.  But with the recorder between us and a pen and notebook in my lap, my father’s stories became stagnant and one dimensional.  I don’t know if he was just nervous to the idea that he was going on the record about his past or that my interviewing skills were less than par, either way the first half hour was forced on his part and awkward on mine.

As in the interview wore on my father became more accustomed to the process and didn’t seem to mind the recorder as much.  Unfortunately, I was still stumbling my way through the pre-written questions desperately trying to sound professional.  Speaking coherently and concise was not something I could easily do, at least when I’m writing I can have long pauses and re-edit my thoughts.  After poking and prodding my father’s memories for a good hour or so, I stopped recording and thanked him for being such and awesome daddy.  He then asked me if he could make a final statement, I was pleasantly surprised and more than willing to oblige.

My father’s closing statement was by far the most insightful thing I’ve ever heard him say.  To be honest I didn’t think he had it in him.   Seeing his hands glide in the air as if illustrating his timeline and his head bobbing with the rhythm and intonations of his voice took me step back and see the person sitting in front of me as more than just my loving father, but a man that endured so much and still has the strength to carry on.

Pham Tri Duc

Pham Tri Duc

Sure, the interview brought forth the suffering and tragedies of war, but that wasn’t what I was looking for.  Don’t get me wrong I’m not trying to marginalize the Vietnam War, but conducting the interview especially with my father made me understand the aftermath.  My father deals with issues of identity, something I never knew until the project.  During the in-class presentation of narrators by classmates I realized that the VAOHP sought to peel away the faces of war torn refugees and reveal thriving and enduring individuals.

~Michelle Pham

UCI student reflects on interview with his mother

Narrato, Hue Minh Truong

Narrato, Hue Minh Truong

The Vietnamese American Oral History Project at UC Irvine has had a
tremendous impact on my growth as a scholar and as an individual.
Throughout this project I have learned a lot and have gained a better
perspective on the experiences of many Vietnamese immigrants and refugees.
My experience conducting my interview for the project was also very
insightful and humbling experience. I conducted my interview in my
hometown of San Diego and the narrator was my mother Hue Minh Truong. She
is currently fifty-four years old and is ethnically Chinese (Hakka). She
immigrated out of Vietnam and to the United States in nineteen eighty-five
and was the first person in her family to immigrate over to the United
States. She first came to San Francisco when she arrived in the United
States and had to work relentlessly in multiple jobs in order to provide
for herself and sponsor the rest of her family. She then moved to several
different regions within California and finally settled down in San Diego
after the rest of her family was sponsored over to the United States. She
has eight other siblings including three brothers and five sisters. She is
the second oldest child and she is the oldest daughter. During the
interview process I learned more about her four-day journey across the
Pacific, her stories in the refugee camps of Indonesia and Singapore, and
her assimilation process enduring discrimination and unequal opportunities
as well as her successes in adapting to U.S. culture and attaining
citizenship.  My mother was interesting to conduct my Oral History Project
upon because my mother has suffered so much throughout her life. She had
to work hard in order to provide for her family and still does. She also
had to endure the passing of her husband in two thousand and five, and she
had to raise my older brother, my cousin, and myself. I’ve learned a lot
from my mother and from the Vietnamese American Oral History Project. I am
glad to be taking part in the creation and preservation of conscious
history.

Hue Minh Truong and son, Howard Diep

Hue Minh Truong and son, Howard Diep

~Howard Diep

Student submits first complete oral history!

First submission of complete Oral History Packet by Vietnamese American Experience student, Camille Garcia!
Student, Camille Garcia, in the UCI Vietnamese American Experience class submitted the first complete oral history this morning. Her narrator is Mr. Tuan Nguyen, of Orange, California. Her complete oral history packet included the 2 hours of audio-recorded interview, all legal consent forms, original photographs of the narrator, a full 25-page single-spaced typed transcript, a time log summary of the topics discussed, an abstract and keywords and her field notes (observations) of the narrator and the interview process. This packet will then be transferred to the UCI Libraries for digital archiving and presentation. Keep a look-out for the complete Vietnamese American Experience class collection of oral histories the end of this academic year! We’re working diligently so YOU can start hearing and reading these stories very soon.
Narrator, Mr. Tuan Nguyen of Orange, California.

Narrator, Mr. Tuan Nguyen of Orange, California. Photo courtesy of Camille Garcia

 

Camille presents her Narrator's story to the class

Camille presents her Narrator's story to the class

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.

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!