Yes, Vietnam affects Viet Americans, but we affect them back too: Book

A long long time ago, academics, journalists, and casual observers all figured out that events in the Vietnamese-American communities of the U.S., or more specifically California, cannot be explained by what’s happening locally alone. They knew that what goes on in Vietnam half a world away can cause outburst in Viet areas all over the U.S. They also knew that the same butterfly effect can magnify small slights into great storms of paranoia.

That’s not new, and those are not the only points of “Transnationalizing Vietnam: Community, Culture, and Politics in the Diaspora,” an in-depth look at the many facets of the Viet community written by Kieu-Linh Caroline Valverde who teaches at UC Davis, and published by Temple University Press, the premier publisher of Asian-American Studies works. What this book also points out is that the transnational influences flow both ways, and the author demonstrated that through more than two decades of research in the San Francisco Bay Area, Southern California, Saigon, and Hanoi.

Just what is “transnationalism”? In this context, it is the interaction across the oacean between the Vietnamese-American community in California and the people and country of Vietnam, with or without the U.S. and Vietnamese government.

This process will take place with the support of these governments or in spite of them — what Valverde’s book decribes as “going above (having power that influences governing bodies), below (generally by illegal means and non-state-sanctioned activities), and through (with knowledge and acceptance by governments, but often with ramifications beyond their vision and control) traditional nation-states.”

This transnationalism is expectedly strong with a diaspora as young as the Viet community, being less than 40 years old. As communist forces overran South Vietnam in 1975, President Gerald Ford authorized the admission of 130,000 Southeast Asian refugees. They would form the first wave of Viet immigrants, which would grow with subsequent waves of arrivals to form the complex and diverse community that we have today.

Originally brandishing the refugees as traitor, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam came to realize that, like other diasporas, American Viets can form a valuable bridge to the global market. “Vietnamese who left after 1975 … now are referred to by names like Kiều Bào (people coming from the same womb).”

In Washington, the U.S. lifted economic sanctions on its former enemy, established normal diplomatic relations, and supported Vietnam’s entry in the World Trade Organization. With connection between the two nation-states at nearly full capacity, the road is wide open for transnationalizing not just the Vietnamese-American community, but also – and this is where the book goes beyond the common wisdom – Vietnam as well.

Valverde demonstrated this premise through three aspects of Viet life: Entertainment, politics, and culture. She established that there had been two-way influences in these areas, even in politics; the entrenched communist rulers often had to directly address issues raised by the diaspora, and concrete reforms appeared to have been made as a result of such pressure. The campaign to fight exploitation in Nike’s sweatshops in Vietnam is one such example.

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Viet killed in car, allegedly running at police

Investigators at the scene of the fatal shooting. Photo by Ken Steinhardt, OC Register.

A Vietnamese-American driver was shot and killed by police in Santa Ana in the early hours of Friday, after he allegedly ran his car at the officers, the Register reported here.

Binh Van Nguyen, 39, of Westminster, had been spotted sitting in the back seat of his car in the 200 block of Maxine Street – a high crime area reputed for prostitution. According to SAPD Cpl. Anthony Bertagna, witnesses reported Nguyen in the vehicle about two hours before the shooting.

“It was suspicious in nature being that it’s a residential area at 12:45 a.m.,” Bertagna said.

When police approached the white Toyota Camry, Nguyen jumped into the front seat, started the car, and put it in gear.

“Officers are telling him to turn it off. He refuses … drives the vehicle at the officers,” Bertagna said.

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Viet Canadian nominated for Oscar

Kim Nguyen

Vietnamese-Canadian director-writer Kim Nguyen‘s film War Witch was nominated yesterday for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, marking the second time an ethnic Vietnamese director is nominated by the Academy, and the first time representing a country that’s not Vietnam.

War Witch (La Rebelle), in French and Lingala, tells the story of Komona (Rachel Mwanza), a young girl whose life is anything but normal. Kidnapped by African rebels at the age of 12, Komona was forced at gunpoint to slaughter her own parents and fight as a child soldier against the government in the jungles.

But Komona was no ordinary solider. Due to her ability to see gray ghosts in the trees that warn her of approaching enemies, she was deemed a sorceress and bestowed the title of War Witch by the supreme leader of the rebels, Great Tiger (Mizinga Mwinga).

Komona’s journey ultimately finds her in love with a fellow child soldier named Magician (Serge Kanyinda), but pregnant with another man’s child. Saddled with the reality that a life of normalcy is forever beyond her grasp, Komona must find a way to resolve the actions of her past.

Kim Nguyen is no stranger to Vietnamese film world. Many fellow Viet filmmakers have met him at the 2003 Vietnamese International Film Festival (“ViFF“) in Irvine, when his first feature The Marsh (Le Marais) was screened as Closing Night film. That film was nominated for Best Direction and Best Screenplay — both by Kim Nguyen — at the Jutra Awards, the annual Canadian francophone film prize. War Witch previously won Best Feature at the Tribeca Festival, where it premiered.

Kim Nguyen’s film represents Canada at the Oscars. The first ethnic Vietnamese to be nominated for the Oscar is Trần Anh Hùng in 1993, for Scent of Green Papaya. Although shot in France, that film represented Vietnam at the Academy Awards.

Both nominees, Trần Anh Hùng and Kim Nguyen, are expected to appear at this year’s ViFF in April.


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Who wants to be Prime Minister?

My friend 3 times removed, the Prime Minister

My friend 3 times removed, the Prime Minister

Well, the Bolsavik doesn’t check his LinkedIn too often, so he almost missed this very important and honorific invitation: From the “Prime Minister at Provisional National Government of Vietnam.”

Minh Quan Dao is his name, and his listed experience consists of being, why, Prime Minister, Provisional National Government of Vietnam, of course.

Who created this government? Minh Quan Dao. Who named Dao prime minister? Minh Quan Dao.

Naturally, Dao is not the only one staking claim to this title.  There have been other self-titled Prime Ministers before, like this guy.  But as far as the Bolsavik can figure out, he’s the only one with a LinkedIn profile.

A biography passed around by Dao’s supporters around the email lists says he was a first lieutenant in the South Vietnamese army. When the country fell, he spent 3 years in re-education camps before escaping. Then he commanded his own boat to flee Vietnam, landing in Malaysia in 1979.

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Classical guitar concert at VAALA today

The Vietnamese-American Arts & Letters Association‘s fundraising concert takes place at 7:30pm today at its Cultural Center in Santa Ana, featuring guitarists Doan Huynh (Huỳnh Hữu Đoan) and Omar Ávalos, and a special appearance by Han Vo-Ta (Võ Tá Hân), a very prominent figure in world of Vietnamese classical guitar.

Vo-Ta is an economist by trade who worked in Singapore for much of his adult life, where he headed the Singapore Guitar Association. In the decades before the internet, Vo-Ta was instrumental in sending information from Southeast Asian media to his friends who were publishers and editors of Vietnamese-language newspapers in California, thus allowing vital news about Vietnam to reach audiences in the U.S.

In 1991, Vo-Ta was the primary force in starting the first classical guitar competition in Saigon, which local musicians simply call the “Concours.” At the VAALA concert, he will introduce his compositions and arrangements.

Huynh, who immigrated to the U.S. about a dozen years ago, was also a founder of the Concours. By then, Huynh was teaching at the Conservatory in Saigon and already a leading figure in the classical guitar revival in Saigon from the mid 1980s, known by its location as the guitar program at “Nhà Văn hóa Phú Nhuận” (the Phu Nhuan District Cultural Center).

Ávalos is a Southern California guitarist, with a master’s from Cal State Fullerton and a year learning flamenco in Spain. He has played in venues throughout the Southland, and holds a regular job as an associate instructor at Santa Ana College and Principal Musician for the Dance Department at UC Irvine.

He will play standard classical repertoire as well as two of his own compositions. Besides music, Ávalos also blogs about local issues at the Santa Ana Sentinel.

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New Viet councilman gets sworn in, proposes

New Councilman Chris Phan, newly engaged to Dr. Cindy Pham, at his swearing-in.

Tuesday night Chris Phan walked into the Garden Grove City Council Chambers a single male private citizen, and came out of it a councilman and engaged to be married.

The political newbie was elected with 18.2% of the vote, ahead of an incumbent by almost 3000 votes. He was sworn in yesterday in a ceremony attended by at least a hundred Viet voters, happy to see a new face on the council.

After taking the oath of office, Phan sprung a surpise. He walked over to his girlfriend Cindy Pham in the audience, went down on one knee, produced a ring and asked her to marry him.

The crowd erupted in thunderous applause, and Pham, a doctor of physical therapy, said yes.

“I decided it last Thursday,” Chris Phan told the Bolsavik afterwards.

The engagement, captured on cell phone by Cindy Pham’s cousin.

He had checked with the City Clerk to make sure it doesn’t violate protocol. Then, being the lawyer that he is, he had also checked with the City Attorney to make sure there’s not a law against it.

The day of the swearing in, he told his brother, “There will be a surprise tonight.” Brother said, “What? Are you going to propose?” Phan, taken aback, blurted out, “How did you know?”

So, “by the time of the meeting, there were three people in the room who knew: The City Clerk, the City Attorney, and my brother,” Phan said.

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Bullied Viet teen shot himself in front of friends

David Phan

A funeral is planned today for 14-year-old David Phan of Taylorsville, Utah, who committed suicide after being bullied one too many times.

David, a student at Bennion Junior High, stood in front of other students on a sky bridge just outside the school and shot himself in the head Thursday afternoon.

On social media sites, parents criticized the school, saying more could have been done to prevent David’s death. District officials, however, say measures are already in place and instead, claim “Phan’s family knew the teenager was dealing with numerous personal issues,” as local Fox 13 reported here.

“David was an outstanding son but he shielded his parents from horror and the negative experiences he was facing at Bennion Junior High,” said Thanh Tung Than Trong, David’s cousin, in an emotional press conference Sunday.

Than Trong said that prior to Phan’s death the family did not know he was bullied.

“The last few days have been an absolute living nightmare to learn that he was bullied in school where he was supposed to be in a safe learning environment,” said Than Trong.

David’s friends, however, knew. Maheta Wily said the boy had been bullied for years.

“Kind of half and half I kind of did feel it coming but I didn’t know it would go that far,” Maheta said. “They name-called, they played jokes on him. They had charity week and they sent him telegram teasing him and in PE class they stole his clothes.”

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Cung Le knocked out UFC opponent with one punch (video)

MMA champion Cung Le, 40, fighting at the UFC in Macau on Nov 10, knocked out his opponent Rich Franklin with one powerful punch to the face, sending the latter spinning straight to the floor and lying there flat out.

The win was even more impressive because Le is suffering from an injured foot that has not had the time to heal properly. The former Strikeforce champion, however, did not want to miss the opportunity to fight in China, where he previously competed in kickboxing, so he took the risk.

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