Memory Is Another Country: Women of the Vietnamese Diaspora

Memory Is Another Country: Women of the Vietnamese Diaspora

Memory Is Another Country: Women of the Vietnamese Diaspora

Memory Is Another Country: Women of the Vietnamese Diaspora

Synopsis

The act of remembering is a means of bringing the past alive and an imaginative way of dealing with loss. It has been the subject of much recent scholarship and is of particular relevance at a time of widespread transnational migration. This book is a valuable and original contribution to the field of diaspora studies. Based on in-depth oral narratives of forty Vietnamese women, it deals with themes both universal and specific to this diaspora: divergent memories in families, the significance of homeland, the return to Vietnam, cross-cultural relationships, intergenerational tensions, and the issues of silence and unspoken trauma among Vietnamese refugees. It is the first study to apply memory and trauma theories to a substantial base of oral narratives by Vietnamese women in the West. Nguyen argues that understanding of these narratives provides not only an insight into the way Vietnamese women have dealt with loss, but also illuminates the experience of the wider Vietnamese diaspora and other refugees.

Excerpt

Life is a reflection
that ripples with each memory.

—Barbara Tran

Of the stories recounted to me in my life, one of the most memorable is that of my mother’s experience as a war refugee in southern Vietnam in 1945. She was four years old, and was at the time the youngest child in the family. She saw her paternal grandfather’s house in Rach Gia burned down by the communists. He had been a wealthy landowner, and had dealt fairly and generously with the local farmers and villagers. As a result, they remembered him with respect. They protected and sheltered his daughter-in-law and his three grandchildren in 1945. My mother recalls that the locals dressed her and her sisters up in peasant clothes, and hid them. With their help, my grandmother and her children made it safely back to Saigon. My mother remembers seeing one of the male villagers who had tried to defend the house coming away with a machete wound in his shoulder. Villagers tried to save as many furnishings and household items as they could. My grandmother had pleaded with the communists not to burn down the house, but to take whatever they wanted, even occupy it. It was a beautiful house, with a library, columns made of wood imported from Cambodia, and handcarved decorations. She told them that it was part of the history and heritage of Vietnam and ought to be preserved for that reason. the communists set fire to the house. My mother watched her grandfather’s house burn and the ashes of her grandfather’s books drifting down to the ground. She recalls being furious about it and thinking to herself . . .

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