Beth Taylor:--(This is Jade Ngoc Quang Huynh)and he will introduce himself, and Kathy Le and Phuc Le will introduce themselves. But I wanted to mention this quilt, which was made by May Moua, who is the mother of Maiv Moua, who is a student at Classical with my son, and I didn't even know that I would meet her until I went to find the quilt and she articulately translated the Hmong that her mother was explaining in as she described the journey from Laos in the top right corner all the way to Providence in the bottom left corner. So I said, "Maiv, you have to come to this workshop and understand from these older college students and post-college students how you will be the next generation to tell the stories of your families." And so this is Maiv, and Panhia and Lisa, 5th grade, 8th grade, 9th grade, and they're here to hear the next step for them. So, Jade.
Jade Ngoc Quang Huynh:All right. Um, OK, I think the easiest way for us is to try to ask questions, and I'll try to answer, and I can ask Kathy and Phuc for help in their own personal approach to their own writing. So, right now in this group, I think we're going to focus on memoir, because you can write about your family and that types of-
Beth Taylor: Can you tell them a little bit about your memoir?
Jade Ngoc Quang Huynh:Um, it's a long story, but I am a Vietnamese. I mean, I grew up in Vietnam in a small island in between two branches of the Mekong Delta in the South, about 125 kilometers from South Saigon. So the war not really affected my hometown until the 1968 Tet Offensive. And then war came, and gone, and came and gone, just like a carnival, after that. And then I went to Saigon University in 1974 for six months. And then the North comes and took over the South, and then I end up in a labor camp, and I spend eighteen months in the labor camp.
And I escape out of the labor camp and I became a fugitive. And then after a year and a half I escape out of Vietnam and I end up in a refugee camp in Lam Singh Thailand... And I don't know if you know the term "boat people": So from the labor camp, I was a fugitive. I tried to get away from that and up in the refugee camp. I become a boat person, and then I spend a year in the refugee camp and I came to the United States. You guess where -- Corinth, Mississippi -- welcome to America!
They, you know, a couple of years ago they removed the slavery clause from the state statute -- just a couple of years ago. And so I end up in Mississippi. So from Mississippi I end up in California, and then I end up in Bennington, Vermont, and then in 1983 I was a student at Bennington College, and I studied there for three and a half years with these really well-known writers -- Joe McGinnis, novelist Arturo Vivante, Edward Said and I wrote my first thesis based on my personal life, and the first part of this book.
And then a year after I graduated I went to work and then I ended up at Brown in nineteen-ninety and I start to work with Meredith Steinbach and Edmund White, and, you know, these wonderful writers here on campus. So I put this whole book together, and it came out in nineteen ninety-four. And the wonderful thing about writing, or creative writing exists when you come to enroll in the creative writing people, and make your connections with your teacher or your peers, that happens. So when I finished my story, Joe McGinnis is the one who introduced me to his agent, so that's where, you know, getting to publication, and all that kind of stuff like that, so it's really important.
And if, you know, you talk about writing is one thing, but the publication industry is totally another thing. It's really, really different. I mean, every year right now, the book lists, they merge together with another, so they have, for example, like, pushed out all the small publishers and become only one or two big publisher, and seventeen percent of the, seventeen percent of >these publishers publish these writings. They cut from minority literature. So every year go down and go down. So there's not really one publisher in this country really focusing on minority literature at all. There is a field for Black. But the rest for Latino or Asian or anything like that, you don't find anywhere.
Besides, if you are minority, like, for example, myself, when you're writing a story and you want to tell a story your way of how you want to present your story, but when you send your story to this editor or to this publisher or this house, they are not Vietnamese. They're not Asian. So they don't know your culture or your tradition or whatever. So they still look at your work, it's not only whether they can sell it, or whether there's a piece of literature in there, or whether there's a substantial document or whatsoever. They tend to be really narrow-minded, so you have to struggle with that, you know. And in a way, I want to write I want to write because I am a Vietnamese, I want to express, this is the way I express in my memory, my culture, but then the editor say no, you have to cut it, you have to cut it, you have to, you know, develop this and this and this. So in a way, what, they try to turn you into becoming an American writer. And I don't want to become an American writer.... So let's get back to the thesis, all right. So Kathy, do you want to tell the personal story of how she approached her writing. Kathy.
Kathy Le:Disclaimer, first, I haven't published anything, so I feel a little out of place here, but that's all right. My name is Kathy Le. I was born in Saigon, nineteen seventy-five, April, during a bombing raid-
Kathy Le: April sixteenth.
Jade:Oh, boy. Only fifteen days until Saigon fell.
Kathy Le:Right. Yeah. I came to the United States when I was five years old, I was also one of the boat people. My mother was nine months pregnant with my brother when we left Vietnam; she gave birth in Singapore. And since then, her entire family has come from Vietnam, and we mostly live in Los Angeles. And I grew up among all my aunts and uncles. My father's side of the family still lives in Saigon. I met them for the first time a couple years ago, so that was quite an interesting experience for me, to say the least.
But in terms of writing, as a child I had mostly journals, and I wrote a lot about my family, as a female Vietnamese growing up in this country with my family all around me was very difficult. I was often very much annoyed at some of the members of my family, especially male members, and I wrote a lot about that. It was a very angry thing, but mostly very personal. I've never really shown it to anyone. But aside from journals, my cousin and I, who is Amerasian, she's actually a photographer, and we've discussed possibly putting together something where I would write little snippets about each member of our family, she would take some pictures, um, that's one thing. But it's just discussed and played with now and then, just an idea right now.
Jade:How do you work the personal -- it's too personal, you don't want to show it to anybody -- about your writing? How do you?
Kathy Le:Well, the first time I actually showed it to anyone was Professor Symonds here. I actually showed her my journal entries from, what was it, nineteen ninety-seven, about? Actually the only person I showed it to, and I actually read some of them in -- what was it, November ninety-seven -- there was a discussion about the Vietnam War History Project, and I read some excerpts that I had written about the conference, and my reaction to the conference. But the personal side is very difficult because I don't discuss it with my family. And I think if I had some of their support, it would make it a lot easier, but I don't have it.
Jade:And one of the points I want to make here is this: writing is really personal. Definitely really personal. You're going to write your memoir about your life and your family's life, so something -- it's like a secret, of your life and your family life, but now you're going to put it, and you're going to confront it in front of the public, so you have to do it.
So remember, when you write a memoir, a memoir is an open window to a life. That's a memoir. It's different from autobiography. In autobiography you write, you're going to lay down most of the story from the beginning to the end, and most of the people who write autobiography are the ones who are really grand or famous people. They say, "I was born here, I grew up here, I went to this school, I met this girl and I went to high school, I do this, I do that," every step of the way. That's what you call autobiography.
Memoir, you don't do that. Memoir you are selective and free -- a window into your life to show your reader, or to show your audience. For example, in my book, the first part of my life until I was twelve years old, there is no significant event, like, I sum it up in two pages. Or a paragraph or two paragraphs or something like that. And then -- boom! -- Tet Offensive nineteen sixty-eight occur. I leave away from my village. I ran with my aunt and my mother and my brothers and helicopter on top, chasing after us and shooting us -- rocket, mortar, gun, bullet. It's, you know, running after us just like rainfall. You know, when you go into the rain and you see all these water puddles, and you see the rain pour down -- that's how the bullets chase after me, and people ask me why don't I get killed or all these things, and my answer is "I don't know."
But I know there is a reason for me to continue living, because I have to tell the world what is really happening to us, the victims, the South Vietnamese victims, the ones who lived through the war. Because you read a lot of writing about Vietnam, and all stories are really one-sided and really bad. Because if you log on the internet and you search about Vietnam or the literature about Vietnam, you're going to find there are over one thousand articles and books and anything related to Vietnam -- but how many native voices are there? You talk about native voice -- I'm talking about the Southerner, I'm talking about the Northerner, I'm talking about the center. Because in Vietnam three different, two, three different groups. But most of the literature that's in English is propaganda; that means translated from the Northern literature, translated into English.... So let's go back to Phuc's story, how you approach your writing.
Phuc Le: Um, I guess I'll follow Kathy and say a little bit about myself. I was born in Pleiku. It's a highland in the middle of Vietnam, and I was born in nineteen seventy-four... three. I lived -- we moved out to Saigon later on, and we stayed there until eighty-seven. Um, I was about thirteen years old then, and we escaped from Vietnam, also by boat. So I stayed in a refugee camp for a year, until I was fourteen. And then our family came to America. And then -- that's in eighty-eight. And then later on my mom come, came over in ninety-two, and I went to Brown after that.
Um, I guess I started writing when I started high school in California. I had an English teacher who required that we had to write a journal every day. So I started out writing in English, and I thought that it would help my English also. So I wrote, but he gave you an option. He said, "You can write whatever you want, but the piece, the part that you don't want me to read, then you can just write ahead of time, make a little mark saying don't read this section." And I have no idea if he read it or not, but it gave me some peace of mind that, you know, I'm writing for myself, and it started from there. I wrote every day for these assignments. But then later on I move on. I started actually changing over into writing in Vietnamese, and, um, this-(tape cuts)
My cousin escaped and he passed away and that was really difficult. So I started writing, but at that time I was reading things like Shakespeare and stuff like that in high school, so I started trying out a lot of different ways, like trying to write some sonnets and just some freeform poems -- things like that, just to get help, but, I guess --
Jade: One of the really interesting things about Asian people, they have a tendency to keep everything inside. So you cannot talk to anybody. You cannot convey your feelings, you cannot let people know what you are feeling about, you see, so one of the reasons that Phuc did that's because that's their way out, expression, that's why she write. It happened to me the same way. And then for the rest of America, if you have a problem, you talk to your psychologist or psychiatrist or whatever, or your friend or whatever. But the Vietnamese are, I say Vietnamese because I am Vietnamese, and that's what we do, we cannot talk about these things.
OK, so the next question is this: when you write a story, I want you to do this, I want you to ask yourself a question -- what is the story about? You have to answer that question one sentence, all right? You have to define your story because you define your story, you know that you are the protagonist in that story. So how you gonna convey the human behavior for the reader to have the same view? I mean, you talk about all the writing, this story, that story, whatever story, I don't care, one of the biggest things you do in the writing is you convey your human behavior to another human so they can understand you. So in order for a writer to become a good writer, is the writer who can convey for them their five senses to the reader. That is your job, all right? Make sense? OK. So, when you start to write, you have to find your own way-- (tape cuts)
But the most important part is to remember one thing: you have to have-(tape cuts)
So when I'm talking about memoir, I think one of the good exercises for you to start about writing, you sit down, right? You write down at least twenty memories that you think are so significant to your life, that's one thing you do, and then later on when you come back, you begin to look at the first memory that you put down, right? Write more about it. And then the next memory, you write more on. You keep until you do it, do it, you see? That's the process of writing. But there are four components when you write. The first one is your ability. You have the ability to express yourself in language or not. That is an obstacle, because practice makes perfect. Doesn't matter what you do-whether you are an or a writer or whatever, you want to be practice, just like when you play an instrument, the first time you look at a note, you play it, and later on you know how to know it, and you don't look at the note anymore, you play it. You go back to the note. And then you play more and more until the time that you don't play the note anymore. But now you play with people hearing. That's what writing is all about. That's why it's so important, all right?
So the job now about finding memories that are significant to your life, and go for these memories, and develop further and further and further, all right? And in this notepad you carry with you, you jot down whatever comes to your mind, here or here and then later on you go over it and you look at it and you compare with your memories, stuff like that, and you develop it. Sometimes, the first time, when you look at it, you don't know where to begin, right? The second time you look at it you jot over it, you skim over it, and then you-- something big, something funny, you know? That's what happens. You see, when I write my personal preference is when I write about how it happened and then something inside. It's just like. You know, Confucius say, "In language, clarity is everything." Remember that. You know. He say that a man came up and didn't see his own image in the disturbed water. But he see his own image in his water which at rest. You know what I'm saying? So don't be afraid to write. Doesn't' matter what you are, all right? Any questions?
So first one's ability, right? The second one's you've got to have a passion. If you don't have a passion, I don't know about it. The third one you've got to have is you've got to have the story to tell. This means you have to define your story. Remember the first part when I asked you, you have to define your story? What is the story about? What is my story? And the fourth one is, guess what, eh? Audience responds Practice, what else? Anything else? Come on, you guys? Time? It doesn't matter what time! I can write .... whatever. Anything else? Willingness to share. What else? Do it your own way. What else? Audience? OK. Talk about audience. OK. When you define your story already, you gonna ask yourself, who is my audience, right? Am I going to write this story for me, my family, or for other people to read my story? Why is my story so significant? Why will people want to read my story compared to a million or a hundred thousand other people around the world -- why is my story so significant? Right? It's not important. The important part is the writing. OK. But in order for you to get your writing done, what do you think you have to have in order to get it done? So remember, you always keep your nature, all right? What else? In order for you to get that story done, what do you think you have in order to get it done? Discipline! Getting closer, all right! Yeah, getting closer! What else? Commitment! Discipline and commitment, all right! All right, anything else? Anything else? OK. The English word is this: stamina. Stamina, right? Stamina. You have to have that. It doesn't matter what you do, if you don't have the stamina, you cannot get it.
You have a story to tell, you have the ability to express yourself, you have a passion for it, burning inside, you know, like when I write my story, my aunt's story or my uncles' story or my cousin's story, it's something in here, I can't sleep at night, you know? I have to get up and work, or make something to eat or something, you know, and I sit by myself in the kitchen there and then I turn the light off and my wife came into the room and she turned the light on and she see me sitting there. She said, "You are weird." See, that's exactly what I'm talking about. It keeps burning inside, and I'm thinking about it, thinking about it, and then to the point that, you know, I have to sit down at home with a pen or a pencil, or sit down at the computer and get something out. When it's ripe -- you know, it's just like a fruit, because, you know, from the seed, it comes to really develop and come to the fruit when it's ripe and then --
Beth Taylor: I have a question, I was interested in Kathy Le's comment turns to Kathy -- that it's hard for you to get support from your family to tell the story, and I think that that is an ethical hurdle that all of us come up against when we start to tell memoir, and I think, for some families, they're ready to tell the story, and get it all out on paper. When someone says, "This part you can't tell," but you know, as a writer, that part is where the most interesting story is, how to get over that hurdle. I picture other -- I know there's lots of writers in this room, everybody has suggestions, perhaps, to help Kathy Le approach her family or anybody else in the writing that they've been doing.
Patricia Symonds:The question is, do you think your family would not want things told, or do you think it's just an ethnic difference-- and your parents coming from Vietnam and, you know, formal education -- they're educated in a different way. And I wonder if that's the sort of thing, if you were to???
Kathy Le: Um, not exactly. What I meant by no support, is that, aside from my mother, who was -- did go to college, and so did my father, it seems like the rest of my family is very practical. I'm sure a lot of you can relate to this. It's like, you know, how do we pay the rent every week, every month, how do we do things we need to get done to get by and survive in this world, um, and it's like, you know, the books that I read, that's frivolous to them. And so I didn't have that support. I had that support from my mom, to a certain extent. But she's still like, you know, "Be realistic, you have to go out there and get a job to like, you know, sustain yourself." So I guess, for them, writing, and reading is all a luxury, and I feel like I don't get that support from them.
It's not so much that they don't want their story told; I probably won't tell them what I write -- so I'll ask for their permission when it comes to that. Um, and I guess they wouldn't even read it if it was published, so it's not as if I'm concerned that they would agree with what I had written -- I don't think I write for their agreement, so much, or for their -- I'm not so concerned about their consent when I write. But it's just, like, the things that I feel passionate about, they don't feel passionate about. And part of it is they've lost a lot of their passion, sometimes, in just trying to get by every day. And, so, it's a little difficult.
The only person in my family who really understands and really encourages me in this kind of endeavor- and it's only because I encourage her -- is my cousin, Margaret, who, you know, is also -- she's a photographer, which my family thinks is a failure. And she also graduated from Yale. But you know, she was at Yale, why didn't she go to law school? If you're not going to be a doctor, you've got to be a lawyer, you know? So-- those are the only two professions on earth -- so that's very difficult. And my family, you know, they know I go to Harvard and they think it's all great, but they don't know what I study. They don't know what interests me. When I go to Vietnam, they don't -- they just ask me who's paying for it; they're not concerned with what I'm actually doing there. Um, so that's the kind of support that I'm talking about, which is some sort of, I don't know, understanding and encouragement for this kind of activity.
Female audience member:May I ask a question? In the beginning, you spoke about attitudes towards females as opposed to males in your family?
Kathy Le:Oh, yeah. If you're willing to say a little bit about that -- the difference between becoming Americanized in their Vietnamese point of view of things, or is it something else? It's sort of a hybrid, because most of the business in my family gets taken care of by the women. But the men still feel they-- I don't know, they have this show of -- I'm not sure what it is, but --. And it's very different from when my grandmother was alive. All her medical problems were taken care of by my mother and my aunts. None of my uncles knew anything -- the first thing about Medicare, or the first thing about going to the doctor, and then dealing with the doctor. My aunts would go and study English and learn the English to be able to deal with the doctor, to understand what's going on, but my uncles don't. And so, that really frustrated me. But then my grandmother still favored my uncles, you know, and she favored my brother over me, and all those little things, you know? I couldn't go out with my friends, but, you know, my brother could, or my cousins could. But I was a girl, you know. I shouldn't go out and play tennis, because I could get a tan, you know, and that's awful. I need to have white -- light skin, or something like that, and that was really frustrating for me.
Jade Ngoc Quang Huynh:I think one of the things about this is it's really culturally different, because in Vietnam, the man is really important. When we still have the, what do you call it, feudalism, policy, and we still have the emperor, the man is the one who have the right to go to school. The woman never have the right to do anything. They stay in the room, and they cannot even have the curtain drawn. You talk about, like, nineteenth century. I mean, it was very interesting. You can take a look at the Tale ???, the epic poem. And, um, you know, that's why today in China they have so many children who are girls, and they abandon them because the family want to have a boy, because the boy is like, you know, a tradition that's going back a long, long time until now. And yet they're expecting the woman to do everything to take care of the family, but the man is already favored. I mean, I know all these things because I've been in the same shoes, you see?
Beth Taylor: I'm interested in the frivolity that is associated with the writing, because for many of us who write and are interested in getting stories of everyone, one way or another, it's a different kind of valuation. This is part of history. It's one of the necessary voices of history, and whether or not you actually show it to Mom or Dad or even publish it in a magazine or create a full book in a memoir, we now are gathering archives of the stories of all kinds of immigrants, you know. In Rhode Island we're creating a whole museum around all of our ethnic groups -- Italian, Portuguese, whatever. And this clearly is a very important population that has moved in and changed our state, our country, and your individual stories are important to that. So there are different kinds of writing that can happen. Memoir is one, autobiography is another, fiction, less history-based, but maybe how we get those on tape and into writing, if anyone has --
Patricia Symonds: I would add, too, that I work with the Hmong, and you look at this quilt here, this is a language, too, and it's a way of writing. It's what the Hmong have done. The Hmong women have made absolutely beautiful clothing. And it's the story about the refugee camps that the story quilts began to be made. And it's a way of, again, men and women being together, men doing the and women doing the sewing. If you look at it, it's a different kind of language, telling us what happened to people in Laos and coming to this country. And there are multiple story quilts now. All the old mythology, because Hmong didn't have a written language until 1956. So, they didn't have a way to write down their history, they did it orally. But once they were at war and refugees, that kind of oral history ??? and this is a very valuable way of writing and creating history for the Hmong people.
Phuc Le: My sister, she publishes some stories, mostly in Vietnamese magazines-- she writes in Vietnamese-- and the way she gets past it is she tells it in kind of a third person. Or she creates a character that has nothing to do with her, but then some bits and pieces of her stories in that whole story that she put in this and that, so it made it more interesting, but also in a way that people would not understand that it's her that wrote it. And she also have a different writer -- a different, a pen name, because, you know, some stories, I guess, like, you know, some stories people don't want to hear or don't want to be associated with, so that's how she works through it.
Beth Taylor:Are these Vietnamese journals in Vietnam?
Phuc Le: At different universities, mostly, you know, collections of these young college students who write about their own experiences, and they write in both English and Vietnamese.
Jade Ngoc Quang Huynh:Questions?
Female audience member: I have a question, since you were talking about your writing emotions and ??? I was wondering, I ask the question to all three of you, how do you feel about writing in English, because I know Jade himself is writing in English. I was wondering how that changed your, the way you experienced what you had been through again, and how it changed the way you think of your life, and actually give you a different perspective, writing in English, and after that, would you go back to writing in Vietnamese? I mean, how is the whole experience?
Jade Ngoc Quang Huynh: Um, I have really had a struggle with English versus in the Vietnamese. Because I was trained in English at Bennington College and at Brown to learn how to write, and when I came to this country I was twenty two years old, and I spent six years on these sweatshop jobs to make a living and then I didn't really study English formally until I was twenty-eight years old, and I end up at Bennington College. So, the ingrain of the Vietnamese language in me, I can express myself in my language, no problem at all. But for me, when I go to school, I have to achieve myself, so I try to not to write in my own language, but try to do it in American English language. And sometimes I just wonder whether my writing is really original or authentic. Because my way of writing is I'm still thinking as a Vietnamese person, but my writings came out into English. So the struggle for me is, I think, the hardest part for me is, in a way, I'm translating my thinking from the Vietnamese into English in a way. So that's why sometimes you can -- you read my writing, and in English, one or two sentences are really awful and doesn't make any sense to you, but for me, it's ok. You see what I'm saying? So I mean, it depends on each individual, how you're gonna deal with that problem. But, you know, for me, one of the hardest things for me to write is even now. I'm still learning the language, I'm still experience the language, and all kinds of things like that, because English is not my language -- it's my second language.
Phuc Le: I think it comes down to what you want your audience to be. If you aim to tell your story to, you know, everyone in America, you know, that's how, you know, you write your story in that way, if you feel comfortable with the English language. But if you -- you know, a lot of people just want the Vietnamese community to read their stories. They end up doing that -- they end up just writing in Vietnamese, if they feel comfortable, and I think for Kathy it's different.
Kathy Le: Yeah, my earliest recollection of being myself is in English. I don't really remember when I didn't know English, so I think in English and my command of English is far better than my command of Vietnamese. I've never had any formal education in Vietnamese, um, so I don't feel very comfortable writing in Vietnamese. But, you know, I studied English Literature here at Brown, and I loved it, and it's just --. I found myself, when I was in Vietnam, actually speaking Vietnamese but thinking in English and translating into Vietnamese, which was a little odd, but it really is just--. It's my second language, but it's not -- it's just, you know, who I am, really, is in English, and I can't imagine, like --
Thanh Le: I just have some comments, because I came here when I was eighteen years old, and when you write in Vietnamese, and think in Vietnamese, and try to translate into English, if you are perfectly translation, this point, up to seventy-eight percent, this point, there's an error in translating exactly what you want to say. So, I thought, even though I read, like, image poems, and I try to understand, but I never understand, because it's not what I came from, understand in a different way. And when I try to write English poems, it doesn't make sense to do, it's not how you express yourself. So the translation, and if you translate one Vietnamese word to English, there's no compatible, exactly compatible, with the other, so I don't --. Sometimes I don't think translation would express the feeling of one person, because I think the writing also the feeling when you write out something for yourself.
Jade Ngoc Quang Huynh: It's really true, because every time you translate something to another language, you lose something. Every time you translate to another language, you lose something. So, um, another point I want to make is this: when you write whether it's ten pages, five pages, a chapter, all right? I want you to do this, early. Want -- I want you to read it out loud so you can tune your ear to the language that you use. You see what I'm saying? Really important. You know, like when I write that memoir. I always read it out loud to myself, and sometimes the tears came out of my eyes. I don't cry, but the tears came, you see what I'm saying? And I hear my own voice in my own ear, or the echo of my mother's voice or my father's voice when he say something, or something like that, you know. The images came back and when these images came back and I see it in that piece of paragraph, I can see it there. And then I put it in, you know. So, the tuning of your ear to your language is really important.
Just another example that's really important is I want you to read a lot, all right? Writing and reading go together, just like food and water, go together, it has to. If you say you are a wonderful writer, but you don't read, I bet you one hundred percent that nobody's going to read your writing. Because -- I'm serious-- you know, you learn a lot from other people when you write, and then when you read, your reading that you read is somehow getting to your subconsciousness. And then when you write and now coming out, it flows like water, flows like water, just coming out. But you don't even know that. You learn from what you've read, you see what I'm saying, so it's really important for you to read it out loud, whether it's poetry or prose. OK, any other questions?
Male audience member:I have another question, related to that, which is, just interested, you have been starting writing in English, and then back to Vietnamese, and given what you said, that's because the story you need to tell needs to be told in Vietnamese rather than to English-speaking people, or because the story you're trying to tell needs to be told in Vietnamese; kind of going back to one of your earlier points, which is finding your way to tell a story, and I'm just kind of interested in that, the movement with that, what's going on.
Phuc Le: Um, I started writing in English because it started out as an assignment, and I kept on with the English for a while. But then I realized that I'm not really saying anything, that I feel that I couldn't express myself completely in English. I tried different forms; I had different poems, different sonnets, freeform poems, straight stream of consciousness in English, and it just --. When I reread my stuff, I just feel like there's something missing there, so I switch over to Vietnamese. And also, it's around the time when I move to, I came to Brown. So I think this is a good way where other people can't read my stuff. So I guess I'm a very private person, so I didn't want other people to read how I really feel. And I mean, I would have a hard time even thinking about publishing, or letting anybody else read it. I'm kind of paranoid; every time I go home for vacation, I would make sure that my diary is, like, talking in different places, make sure that my diary is in Vietnamese, my parents would probably read it. So --
Patricia Symonds: It's not just Vietnamese-
(laughter from the audience)
Phuc Le: So I find that it goes much easier for me in Vietnamese and it feels better after I write in Vietnamese.
Male audience member: So is this writing -- you're still writing primarily for yourself, then?
Beth Taylor: What about the story of your parents' exile? Norman Boucher is right behind Kathy and Phuc, went with them to Vietnam and they returned, and he wrote, as a journalist, their stories. But do you ever think of telling that story with your parents helping, the autobiography, the description? Which is different than in private.
Phuc Le: Um, my parents are really open. I escape with my dad and my three brothers and sisters, so we talk about these things, about our trip and the lives we had in the refugee camp a lot. Um, a lot of it was more like, "Oh, do you remember, we did this, we did that." But actual feelings or, like, certain things, we don't mention. So I can potentially see that my parents would help me if I decide -- if I think that I'm capable of writing something, like a memoir or something, they would help me with that. Um, and, um, my brother and sister would definitely help me with the emotional aspects, because we're now more close. You know, we talk more, and I think we're at a distance, where we're all far away from each other, and the only connection we have is on the phone, so the only thing we can talk about besides everyday things is, like, emotions. And that's a recent development, and that's really nice. With your sibling, that you're able to talk about, you know, back then, this happened and was really sad or was really happy, things like that. But, my parents, my father is really interested in literature. He practically memorized the Tale of Kieu by heart. At dinner he would recite or read it, and those are the memories that I always want to keep, you know?
So I think I would have a lot of support from them for that. Even though they do believe that, you know, they believe that the stuff that we went through is everyone else's --. You know, everyone have some sort of obstacle that they have to get past in their lives, you know, if it's escaping from Vietnam, or just coming to terms with who you are as a person. In general, everyone --. So sometimes they kind of devalue their experience, they think that it's not that important, everyone has the same story, other people are suffering -- suffer more than we do, things like that. So they tend not to think of it as a big deal, you know, like this is a story that needs to be told. That's something that I have to -- that they have to get past before.
Male audience member: How you -- a couple of months ago, because of marching in California, because one of the guys had a Ho Chi Minh sticker on his store, and you know, like, California is the center of the Vietnamese who left Vietnam at the same time. And hatred is, like, really strong, like, how, if you carry, like Ho Chi Minh picture on you shirt, probably, then you may get killed. If you are Vietnamese, you may get killed. So you can't in California. So right now, just related to the writing, when you're writing, you can write everything, but there are certain points, like, when you write something, and people, your audience, read your story, and somehow, that's their story, because many people still have exactly the same story. So -- I don't know if this, there is ever enough, can we let go, the story is in the past. It's OK-- for me, it's OK to have a history book and read something about the past, but the suffering has to be carried out --. Up until now, we suffer, and I talk to so many boat person, and they told me they'd rather die here and they wouldn't come back to Vietnam, that's how they have it. And every time we talk about the war, whether they saw a movie or TV, say something about Vietnam, and saw their pictures, their own pictures on the TV, it's just add up their suffering, because they want to live in peace. But it's just compacted every time they saw it or they heard the story.
Jade Ngoc Quang Huynh: See, that's one of the important things in writing is identify. When you read, whether my story or your story or anybody in this group's story, you identify with that person, you identify with that story. And, what do you call it, human, human connection, human nature, you know? So I think it's really important that you should write about your own experience, because your own experience not only that you've been through, but maybe somebody else been through it, and then, you know, somebody cannot say about or cannot talk about it or cannot convey about it, and you're willing to do it. Just like when I read War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, I identified with Sonia, the character in there, you know. And it's just -- you're caught in the middle of that family struggle, you end up here. And I feel the same way that I'm caught in the middle of that struggle in the Vietnam War. So when I go home, term paper on Sonia's story, term paper on Bennington College, and my professor, and he told me that I can understand how you identify with that one, characters in that story. So it -- it conveys feeling, really important to do that in your writing.
Phuc Le: I want to comment on what you said before about someone wearing the Ho Chi Minh picture-- that's another thing that we have to get past. There's a lot of fear involved with coming out and saying your story -- particularly my parents, they have gone through so much, and so they believe that whatever you say, even if it's remotely political, someone is gonna come and, you know, kill you, or do these horrible things, put the bomb, you know, things like that, even though--. And also they would mean that their children going to Vietnamese activities where people would read their poems, because a lot of them would be anti-communist or, you know, things like that. So I think, for them, with their experience, it's very justified, you know. They live in a society where, you know, they say a single thing and even your friend in college is a secret agent, and they would, you know, report on you. But we live in a different society. It's very difficult for them to realize that; for your parents to realize that. So, um, in a way, you know, it's not like asking their permission to write, but it's more like talking to them, making sure that, you know, this is all right, just to -- I don't know. You don't want problems in your family, either, so it's another thing that you, if you want to tell, you have to get past that thing.
Jade Ngoc Quang Huynh: A personal comfort. Personal comfort.
Patricia Symonds:I'm going to say-- your name, please?
Thanh Le: Thanh
Patricia Symonds: I think what Thanh said is extremely important. It sounds to me that it's coming from inside of you, also, about parents who have suffered and still suffer, and you would like that to be over, you know? But perhaps thinking about what war is like for parents, you know? Some of the writing that my students have done talk about what it's like to get on the boat when they were little kids. And the most important thing to one of my students was that he lost his shoe. And it was when he got to this country that somebody bought him a pair of shoes, that he felt whole again. And I wonder for the parents, your parents --. I was a kid in the war in England, you know, during the second World War, but my parents saw much more than I did, you know, and it doesn't go away for them. I don't think it ever goes away for them. It always stays with them, because I think for the veterans of the Vietnam War, American veterans, I think there are a lot of them who suffer, still, a lot, because of what happened there. And it's -- today we're talking about the American War, and I think that's something that we -- that we sort of miss sometimes, the Vietnamese call it the American War, and we call it the Vietnam War. There's suffering going on, still going on, and I think for parents, I know for my own parents, to write about that would have been -- so many people, you know, the parents who suffer from, what's it called, post-traumatic stress disorder, and that's basically what happens to people who go through war. It's too difficult for some people. And I don't know about you, Jade, if your parents could deal with --
Jade Ngoc Quang Huynh: Um, you see, I think it's the generation gap between the old ones and the younger one, it's just like basic -- the things that I grew up with and the things that my parents, they don't know. My older brother was a doctor, so my father and mother and everybody, "A doctor, doctor, doctor, you go to medical school, medical school, medical school, because your brother's there." I didn't want medical school. So when I came to this country, I came to this country, I started English literature and American literature and all these things like that because something started to click in me, and I just followed that direction. And then from time to time, you know, I think back, and I ask that same question, I ask them, "What if I were in my parents' shoes? What if?" And I always carry that guilt with me all the time. I feel so guilty because I cannot fulfill the obligation to become a doctor for my parents. So, you know, that kind of personal pain that you have to suffer, you have to carry through. But the courage is this, the courage is when you have that suffering, and you identify with that suffering, which means you know you are alive, and the pain that I receive and I got made me feel that I am alive, and I feel so grateful to my family for it. You know?
Kathy Le: I want to comment about suffering. I was really struck by what you said as well -- and my mother, although she's not opposed to talking about her experiences, doesn't like to. So in growing up I never really asked her. I just kind of sensed that she didn't want to talk about it. She would always tell the same story when we had visitors, the story of how we left Vietnam, she gave birth in Singapore, and was all by herself and everything. But recently with the events in Southern California, she actually went to protest. And if you met my mother, she's not a protesting type, you know, at all. And I was just shocked when I got a phone call Monday night: "Oh, I was just at this protest with, you know, ten thousand other people." I'm like -- and then she was warning me -- "You can't go do it. You know, if it comes to Boston, you can't do it." But then she would start, she's like, "I sat there, and met friends I hadn't seen in ten years," and then she just started telling me, like, "Do you remember when we were in Singapore--" Of course I don't, so it's all fiction to me, you know. And it just started pouring out of her, and it was very emotional for her, and very difficult. And then a couple more weeks passed, and I saw this picture on the front of the Boston Globe about the refugees in Kosovo, and there's a woman giving birth. And I clipped it up and sent it to my mom, and she called me the next day, and she was just sobbing, because that was her -- you know, that was her, in Singapore, by herself, giving birth. And it's just -- it takes little things like that to bring out the suffering, because it doesn't go away.
Jade Ngoc Quang Huynh: --That's why I say it clicks, it clicks. Sometimes nothing happens. And then suddenly something strikes, and boom--
Beth Taylor: And that's a story, it has to be told.
Jade Ngoc Quang Huynh: Yeah, for the reason. OK, any other questions?
Sarath Suong: My name's Sarath, I'm a first year at Brown, I'm Cambodian, and I guess I'm interested in all the stories. I'm a refugee, and I didn't come straight from Cambodia. I was born on the Thai border in a camp. So I was born in a refugee camp, and I guess I just want to talk a little bit about how it is to come back and growing up, and being fully immersed in American culture. And I guess I sort of had a dual case growing up in America. And I know, for me, I grew up in this inner-city urban community. And we hear about all these Southeast Asian gangs, these killings and shootings and stuff, and for me it was reality -- it was happening right outside my door. My brothers and sisters were all involved, and I guess a lot of that comes from my parents and the parents of teens ability to talk, and the ability to communicate to the kids. I remember coming to Brown, and someone asked me what I wanted to do, and I said, I'm going to go into political science. And they would say, "Oh, no, why do you want to go into political science? You know, people in politics get killed, usually politicians get physically abused, disciplined in the middle of the night." And that struck me, struck me as being so sad, so sad that my parents were thinking that. And, for me, a lot of, I've done a lot of work in the community about being a kid, being a kid of a refugee, a kid, or a teenager, and I combine stories and writing with art, a lot of inner-city urban art, cartoons and stuff like that --. I do more for the kids, the refugees, the Southeast Asian, the Cambodian kids, rather than the American public.
Jade Ngoc Quang Huynh: Do you deal with any writing at all?
Sarath Suong: When I came to Brown, I was taking an anthropology class about the refugee experience with Anderson, and I wrote --. It was a class about growing up ethnic and multicultural, and it was like, I was listening to my friends, my classmates stories. They were about growing up and living in America, and growing up and stuff. And listening to my stories, for me, it was more about war, and it was more about cultural barriers. And I wrote this eighth page, ten page story just about silence; not being able to talk, especially with family, and generational conflicts --
Jade Ngoc Quang Huynh:Well, that's another way for you to express yourself.
Phuc Le: There is something at Brown, I think, if you guys are still undergrads, it's called Group Independent Study Project, and we realized, well, during my sophomore year, I didn't see anything in Vietnam in the Brown Bulletin, the Brown, the catalog. So a group of us organized a class, it's more, it's Vietnamese literature and history, because most of the other Vietnamese classes are more about the war itself. So Professor Symonds here was actually our advisor, and we had such a wonderful time, and that was also the first time that a lot of people, when a lot of people came out and wrote about their experience, and she has all of those, with our names crossed out, just for privacy, but it's amazing, all those stories that came out. But also, if you're a sophomore --
Patricia Symonds: That was a wonderful class to teach, there were fourteen students in the class, twelve of them were Vietnamese, one had done field research in Vietnam, and one was the boyfriend of one of our Vietnamese students in the class, and we started out with the seminar every Friday afternoon, and we talked a lot-- we talked about ??? and one story by a woman in Vietnam-- it's old, it's old-
Jade Ngoc Quang Huynh: Nineteenth century-
Patrica Symonds: We talked about that, but we were able to connect that to Vietnamese women of today, and one of the best things about the seminar, the Vietnamese students cooked at my house, and we all ate a lot of really good food. But there was a lot of really good writing to come out of that, and I think --. I crossed out the names, and I've been very, very careful with what I've done with that writing because I didn't want that to intimidate anyone or any person that came to have classes with me to think that, perhaps, their ??? So that everybody's ??? one and so on, and I've got the master copy. Um, so it was wonderful, really it was, but talking about it -- there were some kind of people who would talk about things that they had, that they felt uncomfortable about, and we had tears in our class as well as a lot of joy; there really was a lot of joy as well. Um, and that's Vietnamese, and I was listening to -- your name again, please? Sarath told me, and he says, Southeast Asians as a bunch of people, but it's a very different experience for Vietnamese, and the experience for Cambodians, also. Cambodians -- very different. And I think when I hear Sarath speaking about Cambodia, it reminds me of one of my students now -- she's doing her honors thesis on Cambodia, and all the things between parents and kids, what happens between parents and kids, the fact that there's very little religion anymore, which is a very huge part of their community, they don't have their own church anymore, so I think, um, you know, ??? the American war, but we have Southeast Asians, and it's between them as well.
Kim Bahti:I have a question. Who would you say your audience is? Because I was born in Vietnam and I was adopted, but I went back and there was a big article about it in the paper, and a TV station came. But it was really awkward that the Vietnamese population in Saigon where I lived, they kind of scoffed at me and sneered. But the American, they, like, loved that I went back, you know, that I was adopted and grew up. But the Vietnamese people, they kind of sneered at me, because, you know, "You're not Vietnamese, because you didn't go through what we had to go through." Why do you think the Vietnamese scoffed and sneered? I don't know. The story came out from the ??? right? Well, we went back, it was in the newspaper -- I was one of the first Amerasian kids to go back, and I actually went with my family, and the Vietnamese --.
Jade Ngoc Quang Huynh:There is a big problem with Amerasians, because in Vietnam they look down on Amerasians, you know, because, you know, the Vietnamese didn't like these Vietnamese women who became a prostitute, and had children with these Americans. And the society looked down on these people, and that is your story. Because they think you are not Vietnamese, you are American, you are an alien to the society, and there's lots of problems with that issue -- after the war ended and until now. And I don't think there's a lot of people willing to openly talk about that problem.
Kathy Le: Yeah, um, my cousin is Amerasian, and her mother married an American nurse, and they moved to --. She was born and raised in Washington, so she went back through a scholarship from Yale. And I think her project was on -- it was a photograph project on Amerasian women and children in Vietnam, in Saigon, six, five, I think --. And when she came back, she was very depressed, it was so depressing for her. She speaks Vietnamese, and reads, much better than I do. And she taught herself -- her mother taught her and she really kept up with it on her own, because she felt this need to do it. But for her, it was so depressing to go back, because here, you know, everyone thinks she's so exotic looking -- beautiful, interesting features. She's kind of exotified, you know. People put her on a pedestal -- her skin is so light, and, you know, she's so cute because she speaks Vietnamese even though she wasn't raised with it, and all that, you know. And she went back, and the way people were treating Amerasians there really upset her and depressed her. Well, when I went back to Vietnam, they liked me. I mean, I was hanging out with all the kids and stuff like that, but--. They treated her well, but she saw how other Amerasians were treated, because they were at detention centers, basically, where they --. She told me that Amerasians in Vietnam get sent to these detention centers and supposedly they try to locate their American family and see if they'll sponsor them. And usually they don't and they just end up living at these detention centers for the rest of their lives. And most of them get married, find each other there, meet each other and have children there. They don't really move on. Some of them end up finding their family. Whether or not their family wants them, you know, is another issue, but they've been kind of marginalized in Vietnam. But the returning ones are always greeted differently and treated differently.
Thanh Le: Maybe my story is different. My older sister is Amerasian, and we, like, we left Vietnam in nineteen ninety. And for my sister, the way I see is that I didn't see any difference because, like, my sister, my dad treat her like even, like just my dad know that, like, she is more liberal than she is OK? She's treated, my older sister, just like we are, and I saw, like, my sister, growing up, and she had her friends, and she had no problem with any sorts of, like -- I don't know. Like, sometimes she might get contact with some person that she knew really well, but it's, it's nothing, it's just, like, she has to realize -- . But she didn't have much, like, jealousy, to go out of communication, because my dad, like, passed away in eighty-seven, and she had to help my mom, to go to school and act as a good sister and my older sister, didn't have a chance --. Because, when we came over here, we had a year --. I have two older sisters and two younger sisters -- and my older sister, like, continue working and help us and help us continue our communication. And now, like, two of us are graduated, one will graduate in May, and the other one at Brown and are proud, because of her. Because of her, I had a chance to come here, to continue a new life, new opportunities. And for me, like, for me, is Amerasian, I saw some of them. They have no houses -- homeless, many of them were homeless. Their parents were reluctant, like, just don't want to be ???, so they just, like, just kick them out, somehow. In nineteen ninety, you could see may of them on the street, on -- doing some hard work to keep them alive, anyway. But for my case, my sister handles people well -- like for those Amerasians around my family, I see, like, they took it very well. Not very well, but well enough to live as a normal life. But probably you can't do that for a section of the city, it all depends --
Female audience member: Well, I live in California. I live, like, right, a couple miles from all the happenings about the store owner with the Ho Chi Minh, so, I don't know, they just --
Jade Quang Ngoc Huynh:There's another issue related to this issue. A lot of Vietnamese, they have problems with, you know, "Oh, you are too Americanized." You see? My generation or older generations, we look at a kid, we expect the kid to be what we used to be. You have to do a certain thing to be a Vietnamese woman. You have to do a certain thing to become Vietnamese boy or man. You see, when your parents say something, you talk back or something, I mean, that kind of behavior, for Vietnamese people, they look at that and say, "Oh, he's not Vietnamese." You see what I'm saying? So that's an issue and that's a problem that keeps popping up and popping up again and again, and I don't think there's a lot of people who are willing to deal with this problem.
I mean, for me, you see, I teach a lot of Vietnamese and I teach a lot of Americans, and a lot of times that I listen to , when I advise Vietnamese students, the first thing they come to me is they complain about their parents. They complain about their brother and sister. You know what I'm saying? And they say, "I cannot do a certain thing like this, you know? My father expects me to do this, I cannot do it, they don't want, I see that, they don't want me to become a Literature major, and I would -- it's a good thing that I have this literature, you know, because -- that kind of thing, keep going on and going on. I think the parents are scared, somehow, next generation or something, it's getting closer, you feel that way, you feel that way somehow. But right now for me, I'm in the middle, of this young generation, Americanized, and this is the old traditional culture, and I'm sick of it." So its -- somehow you have to blend in that kind of perception, trying to understand what these people are thinking. And sometimes you have to be yourself to understand who you are. I think that's the best way you can take a look at it. I may not, I'm not a genius, you know, I cannot deal with all of the problems.
Rita Michaelson:Those of us who are third and fourth generation >Americans, we're just expressing the same thing that our grandparents went through with our parents when they came from Eastern Europe. It was the exact same thing. And they had the same kind of feelings about why you're studying political science, why don't you want to become a doctor, doctors, or they work or -- don't you dare go out on Easter, because the Christians believe that we killed Christ, and therefore you'll get beat up, because we did that in Lithuania or Poland or stuff like that. I mean, we just, we're just three or four generations removed from the same experiences you're going through.
Jade Ngoc Quang Huynh: See, that's how I'm talking about, it's a really universal. You see, we are humans, everything is universal, and I think the most important thing for you to do is just write your story. Put it out. Doesn't matter what. When you write, just let it flow out. Don't worry about grammar, don't worry about stupid language, or whatever. Just write it down. All right?
Beth Taylor: We're going to break now and go to a reception in a room down the hallway, but I wanted to thank Jade and Phuc Le and Kathy Le - (cut off by applause from the audience)
Jade Quang Ngoc Huynh: Another point is that this is Phuc, and she's dressed in her Vietnamese traditional ao dai, that's what.
Beth Taylor: Can I just make a couple of announcements - I want to start a sort of a writing network. This has no promises or responsibilities, but we are moving towards dialogue here about how do you get particularly writers who are here, Southeast Asian students that are here, in contact with us, so if something does get organized, we know how to find you. The other thing I want to mention is that the Joiner Center at UMASS Boston has an ongoing series of workshops and dialogue for everyone involved in the Vietnam War and they sometimes have dialogues about social change, but they're very interested in getting stories, and the people writing the stories, talking to each other. So that's another place that to be in touch with if you want to start telling your story, and to get some help in doing that. OK, we will, right down the hall, on the left, is a room with a reception.