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asianamlitfans on The American Dream in Vietnamese

By Stephen Hong Sohn
asianamlitfans

Lieu_American coverNhi Ti Lieu’s The American Dream in Vietnamese makes a tremendous addition to an ethnic studies subfield that now includes includes Adelaida Reyes’s Songs of the Caged, Songs of the Free: Music and the Vietnamese Refugee Experience, Isabelle Thuy Pelaud’s This is All I choose to Tell: History and Hybridity in Vietnamese American Literature, Karin Aguilar San Juan’s Little Saigons: Staying Vietnamese in America, Hung C. Thai’s For Better or For Worse: Vietnamese International Marriages in the New Global Economy, among others. Lieu’s monograph focuses on various sites of cultural production and culture making within the Vietnamese diaspora, including but not limited to beauty pageants, new media and film, and ethnic enclaves. As Lieu argues, “Vietnamese Americans have used popular culture to fashion their identities in complex ways—employing new technologies and marking their diasporic experiences as distinct from other ethnic minorities precisely through their entangled past with the United States” (xv). One of Lieu’s main concerns is to both contextualize and move beyond the ways that Vietnamese Americans have been considered simultaneously as model minorities and traumatic subjects. In this regard, Lieu is intent on “deterritorializing Vietnamese culture” through the “reconceptualization of the meanings associated with exile” (xix). The first chapter is devoted to historicizing the Vietnamese American population and gives the book a solid foundation for the compelling subsequent chapters. The most important thread to consider in this chapter is Lieu’s forceful rendering of the “narrative” of the Vietnamese American as traumatized refugee, one that collides against and dialogues with cultural productions and cultural sites created by Vietnamese Americans themselves. One of the most illuminating interventions that Lieu offers is in her second chapter in her ethnographically-situated study of the Little Saigon community located in Orange County, California. Here, she discusses the concept of “overlapping diasporas,” noting how important the ethnic Chinese were to the creation and the extension of a primarily Vietnamese suburban ethnic enclave. Despite the desire or the fantasy of cultural purity, Lieu notes the vitality of interethnic contacts to the production of the Little Saigon community and the various struggles that occurred over the defining characteristic of those spaces. For instance, powerful community members of Chinese descent lobbied for a more panethnic business district, denoting particular structures as “Asian” rather than specifically Vietnamese. Lieu ends with chapters focused on Vietnamese American beauty pageants and cultural productions (such as Paris by Night). Nhieu always locates her readings and her analyses through the understanding of how particular cultural formations offer routes to citizenship, diasporic subjectivity and how such cultural formations intersect with social rubrics such as gender and class. Lieu’s work clearly will offer one of the key building blocks for Vietnamese American Studies, as it grows as a larger subset of ethnic studies.

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