Category: Books

Andrew Lam

Nói Chuyện với nhà văn Andrew Lâm

By Andrew Lam, Mar 7, 2013 3:38 PM

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Anna Challet, New America Media

Andrew Lâm, tác giả của cuốn hồi ký "Perfume Dreams: Những Phản Ánh Về Người Việt Hải Ngoại," và biên tập viên thuộc hảng New America Media một thời gian dài hai mươi năm, đã làm nên tên tuổi của mình là một nhà báo và nhà bình luận, nhưng trong cuốn sách mới nhất của ông, quá khứ của mình là một người tị nạn Việt Nam thông qua những câu chuyện ngắn về các nhân vật chạy khỏi Việt Nam và làm lạI cuộc sống mới tại Vùng Vịnh. "Lâm đã ngay lập tức thành lập mình là một trong những nhà văn viễn tưởng tốt nhất của Mỹ,” lưu ý tác giả Robert Olen Butler, trong khi nhà văn Oscar Hijuelos quan sát cho rằng " văn chính xác của Lâm được xuất hiện trong nhiều câu chuyện mê hoặc; và bộ sưu tập là một cương lĩnh hùng vĩ.”

New America MEdia đã nói chuyện với anh Andrew Lâm về việc thu thập, Birds of Paradise Lost (Red Hen Press, 2013), trong tháng này.

Birds of Paradise Lost là cuốn sách đầu tiên tiểu thuyết của anh- làm thế nào anh đến để xuất bản một bộ sưu tập tiểu thuyết sau nhiều năm làm một nhà báo?

Tôi đã viết truyện ngắn cho hai mươi năm nay, từ khi còn học trong chương trình văn bản sáng tạo tại San Francisco State University. Mặc dù sau này tôi tìm thấy một sự nghiệp làm nhà báo và một nhà viết tiểu luận, tiểu thuyết là tình yêu đầu tiên của tôi và tôi không bao giờ bỏ nó, mặc dù đã có không có cách nào dễ dàng để kiếm sống viết tiểu thuyết. Bộ sưu tập này là một lao động của tình yêu và sự tận tâm, và bất cứ khi nào tôi tìm thấy thời gian không bận rộn từ công việc báo chí của tôi, tôi làm việc viết tiểu thuyết hay cách khác, phác thảo về các nhân vật của tôi, và các vấn đề nghiên cứu khác nhau liên quan đến tình huống khó xử của nhân vật của tôi. Sau hai mươi năm và ba mươi câu chuyện, cuối cùng đã được lựa chọn 13 bài và bộ sưu tập đã được sinh ra. Cho đến nay các lời ngưỡng mộ từ Maxine Hong Kingston, Gish Jen, Robert Olen Butler, Oscar Hijuelos, và những người khác rất là khuyến khích.

Anh đã viết nhiều bài tiểu luận cá nhân và tác phẩm phi hư cấu về đến Hoa Kỳ từ Việt Nam. Cảm giác thế nào để mang lại kinh nghiệm đó vào cuộc sống của các nhân vật hư cấu của bạn?

Vâng, tôi luôn luôn nói rằng văn bản phi hư cấu so với viết tiểu thuyết là như kiến trúc so với hội họa trừu tượng. Trong phi tiểu thuyết, bạn phải ở lại đúng với sự kiện lịch sử, có thể là cá nhân hoặc quốc gia... Trong tiểu thuyết, nó là như bạn nhập vào một thế giới trong mơ mà bạn tạo ra, nhưng nhân vật của bạn có ý riêng của họ. Họ không làm những gì bạn muốn họ làm - họ gặp rắc rối, làm người nghiện thuốc, người chiến đấu qua những điều nhỏ mọn, và làm những điều thái quá mà bạn sẽ không muốn trẻ con của bạn làm. Nói cách khác, bạn chỉ có thể cung cấp nền tảng những hạt giống—trong trường hợp của tôi là nền tảng của người Việt tị nạn. Khi một nhân vật trong truyện linh động, người đó không giảng dạy về lịch sử của mình mà sống cuộc sống của mình, họ làm những điều bất ngờ, và làm cho bạn cười và khóc vì sai sót của và những nhược điểm của con người.

Làm thế nào bạn đi lên với tiêu đề?

Birds of Paradise Lost -- Thiên Điểu Phi Xư’- nó là tiêu đề của một trong 13 câu chuyện trong cuốn sách, và nó là một câu chuyện đề cập với cái chết và lòng thù hận và sự phản đối qua cách tự thiêu. Trong câu chuyện, người bạn tốt nhất của người kể chuyện cam kết tự thiêu tại Washington, DC và để lại một lưu ý rằng nói ông ghét chế độ cộng sản Việt Nam và mong muốn cái chết của mình để kêu gọi sự chú ý đến sự tàn ác của cộng sản. Nhưng ông cũng làm bạn bè của mình tại San Jose, California, quay cuồng từ cái chết của ông. Đó có phải là một hành động yêu nước? Một khách du lịch đi qua chụp một hình ảnh của người đàn ông trên lửa, và ngọn lửa nhắc nhở người kể chuyện của hoa Thiên Điểu - như một con chim phượng hoàng, như một ngọn lửa và một đoá hoa.

Tiếng Anh là ngôn ngữ thứ ba của anh, sau khi Việt Nam và Pháp. Làm thế nào mà anh đã đến viết bằng tiếng Anh - "lưỡi mẹ ghẻ" của anh?

Tôi có một câu chuyện vui để nói về tiếng Anh và làm thế nào tôi đã rơi vào tình yêu với ngôn ngữ. Khi tôi đến Hoa Kỳ vào năm 1975, tôi mười một tuổi, và trong vòng vài tháng giọng nói của tôi phá vỡ. Tôi đã tuyệt vọng để phù hợp và nói tiếng Anh tất cả các thời gian. Vấn đề là, trong gia đình tôi nói tiếng Anh đó là một không-không bởi vì bằng cách nào đó nó là thiếu tôn trọng để gọi cha mẹ và ông bà là "you, you" – nó có vẽ như dùng để tấn công bằng tiếng Việt. Nhưng tôi không thể nghe lời.

Tôi đọc quảng cáo như một con vẹt, tôi nói tiếng Anh tiếng không ngừng. Anh trai của tôi một đêm nói là, " mày nói quá nhiều tiếng Anh, đó là lý do tại sao các hợp âm giọng nói của mày tan vỡ. Bây giờ mày nói chuyện như một con vịt.”

Tôi nghĩ đó là sự thật. Tôi từ cậu bé Việt Nam ngọt giọng khi nói tiếng Việt và tiếng Pháp biến thành một thiếu niên lên tiếng vỡ giọng. Tôi nghĩ, "Wow, tiếng Anh là giống như ảo thuật." Nó không chỉ tan vỡ giọng nói của tôi, nó còn thay đổi sinh lý. Tôi tin rằng điều này cho nhiều tháng, tin rằng tiếng Anh kỳ diệu trong ngôn ngữ. Tôi không bao giờ rơi ra khỏi của quan điểm này .

Andrew Lam

Grandmother's Last Lesson -- Seeing Time As a Trick of the Mind

By Andrew Lam, Feb 21, 2013 10:40 PM


Nearing the end of her life and plagued with senility, my grandmother fell into a strange state of grace. At 95, she believed herself a young woman again living in her hometown in the Mekong Delta. One day when I visited her in her convalescent home in San Jose, California, where she lived out the remaining years of her life, I asked grandma to name the names of her four children and she looked a bit astonished: "Children?" She said in her frail, hoarse voice, "Mister, but I am only 17."

Receding from her memories are the years in America, years full of longing and grief for her lost homeland. Lost, too, mercifully, are her memories of the war and the incredible suffering it had caused her. The garden outside her window teamed with life, butterflies and bees hovering over gardenias and roses, but her vision had begun to travel far beyond its walls. In her mind, Grandmother had already gone back to a happier time, rowing her boat down the river in the old country, singing some folksongs, watching white cranes fly above the green rich rice fields, celebrating Tet with relatives and neighbors -- to an unhurried world of long ago.

My parents and aunts sighed and shook their heads whenever they visited, feeling guilty for not being able to care for her at home, sad that their mother no longer knew them. I, on the other hand, took a different attitude altogether. I saw that there was a mixed blessing in her senility and forgetfulness. After all, grandmother had, in her own way, managed to conquer time.

Years ago, when she was still lucid, Grandma bought a wooden clock carved in the S shape of the map of Vietnam from a Vietnamese store in Little Saigon in Anaheim. Above her bed, the clock ticked mournfully, a constant reminder of how long she'd spent away from her home and hearth. Sometimes she would watch that clock tick as she counted her rosary and then cried silent, bitter tears.

Indeed, America's concepts of time only helped to confuse her. She did not know why, for instance, a grandson had to leave home at 18. When I left home for college, she wept. I overheard her protesting to my mother in an incredulous voice: "How can you let him go? He 's immature at 17 and now he's 18, somehow he's mature? Not everyone is a real adult at 18 or 21 either. It's not so simple."

Once, I remember, she asked me how far Vietnam was from California. I shrugged, "Well, I guess it's about 18 hours." Hearing this, grandma, made a scowling face and snapped: "If our country is only less than a day away by your measurement, then tell me how come I've been waiting for 15 years, seven months and eight days now and I am still here in America?"

If since her exile to America at the end of the Vietnam War time had been her enemy, telling her how long she'd been away from the country of her birth, it finally lost its grip on her that last year. That year before she died, she was no longer ruled by the clock. She traveled freely most of the time to the distant past and she seemed, if not happy, then at peace.

The last time I saw her alive, we held hands. Perhaps grandma thought I was a beau from the next village come courting or a distant relative, but she blushed when I told her that she was beautiful.

"Let's hurry," she said, her eyes staring at an impossibly far away place, "we're going to be late for the celebration at the temple."

Perhaps she is there now. As for me, since she passed away I am, I must say, not as fearful of old age as I once was. When I grow old and senile, I, too, should like to forget all the sorrow and sadness in my own life. Memories of heartbreaks and great losses will be dissolved like smoke in the morning wind. Like grandma, I'll relive instead all the moments of intense happiness: walking with my first love down Bankroft Street in Berkeley at dusk; singing silly songs with my siblings on Christmas eve when we were kids; luxuriating in my mother's arms as a child after a warm bath; watching the moonrise with my cousin over the ocean on a tiny island in Thailand.

And above all, I should like to return to that windblown pine hill of Dalat, Vietnam, a plateau of forests high above the sea where I grew up. I will sit again with my best friend in fourth grade, the two of us leaning against a pine tree and looking up at the clouds drifting by, our sweaters and hair stuck with pine needles after a game of hide and seek.

It was on that same hill that I later lost my first watch, a Mickey Mouse watch which I got for my seventh birthday, Mickey's arms pointing at the hours and minutes that slowly led me away from my childhood wonders and eventually my homeland. I had cried for days afterwards, but I now think that it's apt that the watch should lie decaying somewhere on that lovely hill.

For perhaps there is something that the adult forgets and only the very young and very old could know: That time and space are an illusion, a trick of the mind...

See me then as a starry-eyed child among pine trees, staring at the shifting sky, enraptured by an impossible sense of beauty, delighting simply to be in the world.
The above essay was originally published in New America Media where Andrew Lam is one of the editors. He is the author of "Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora" (Heyday Books, 2005), which won a Pen American "Beyond the Margins" award, and "East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres". 2013-01-29-BirdsofParadiselostcover.jpg Cover of Birds of Paradise Lost His latest book, "Birds of Paradise Lost," a collection of short stories about Vietnamese immigrants struggling to rebuild their lives in the Bay Area after a painful exodus, was recently published by Red Hen Press. He has lectured and read his work widely at many universities.

Andrew Lam

Remembering A Broken Romance on Valentine's Day

By Andrew Lam, Feb 14, 2013 1:48 AM

 What do you do when you graduate from Berkeley with a broken heart and a B.A. in biochemistry? You break your immigrant parents' hearts and become a writer.

In my freshman year at Berkeley I fell hopelessly in love; in the year after I graduated my heart shattered. While working at the cancer research laboratory on campus I took to writing, in part, in order to grieve. Daytime and I bombarded the mammary tissues of mice with various carcinogens to see how they grew; nights and I gave myself to memories, to heartbreak. I typed and typed. I got good at writing, bored with science, so I dropped the test tube and kept the proverbial pen.

Berkeley had indeed radicalized me. But I do not mean that in a political sense. No, the quiet, bookish, apolitical, obedient boy who didn't date in high school left his Vietnamese household and found sexual liberation in college, found carnal pleasure.

More important: I fell in love with "M." In "M's'' embrace and kisses, what I had thought important until then turned out to be trivial. My desire to please my chronically unhappy mother was trivial, good grades were trivial, the path toward medical school, too, was trivial. "M," whose smile made me tremble, who was all there was, stole me away from my familial sense of duty. I found a new country, a new home.

What I remember, too, was an incident during my freshman year that, over time, marked me. A studious Chinese student tried to jump from the Campanile. He was from my dorm unit. He wanted to kill himself because, well, so went the gossip, he had never gotten a B before, until chemistry or some such difficult class overwhelmed him. I remember the entire dorm talking about it. I might have been momentarily horrified. But I was too busy being in love to let it really register. I do, however, remember thinking, and not without a certain vanity, that he wouldn't have considered jumping had he discovered love instead.

Other bubbles are coming up randomly now from under the deep dark waters of my college life: Professor Noyce in organic chemistry dragging on his thin cigarette, the smoke twirling in the air as he draws the nicotine molecules. "Don't ever smoke," he admonishes his audience. "It's bad for you." My roommate, Tony, who plays trumpet in the band, coming home from the big game, '82, crying with happiness. The Bears have just trampled the Stanford Band to score that spectacular and bizarre turn- around in the last seconds. I am walking down Telegraph Avenue at two in the morning and the street cleaner is spinning like some lazy grazing animal and the mist is rising at my feet. The bells of the Campanile ring out one humid afternoon and for no reason at all, I drop my backpack and, while spectators look on, dance.

Above all, though, the salty scent of "M."

Then "M" was gone. And my heart was broken.

Wasn't it then that I began to write? Wasn't it then that I began to bleed myself into words?

Yet it was not the larger world, nor my Vietnamese refugee experience, nor the Vietnam War that I wanted to address. I wrote about my unhappiness. I tried to capture what it was like to lose someone who had been my preoccupation throughout my college life; who was, in fact, my life then. Yet I was too close to the subject, too hurt to do the story justice. But the raw emotions unearthed another set of older memories simmering underneath. When one loses someone one loves, with whom one shares a private life, a private language, a private world, one loses an entire country, one becomes an exile.

But hadn't I been exiled before?

I had. The brokenhearted adult slowly found himself going back further, recalling the undressed wounds of the distraught child who stood alone on the beach of Guam, the camp with its khaki-green tents flapping in the wind, the child missing his friends, his dogs, fretting about his father, whose fate he had no way of knowing, and wondering if he 'd ever see his homeland again.

My sadness opened a trapdoor to the past. A child forced to flee. The long line for food under a punishing sun. People weeping themselves to sleep. The family altar, where faded photographs of the dead stared out forlornly, the incense still burning but the living gone. A way of life stolen, a people scattered. I yearned for all my memories. I wrote some more. I began to go back.

Some years passed...

"These are Andrew Lam's awards," said my mother one after- noon to her friends when I was visiting and eavesdropping from upstairs. Sometimes my parents wouldn't say my Vietnamese name to their guests. "Andrew Lam" became someone else-- related but somewhat remote, and yet important. For visitors, especially if it was their first visit, there would be an obligatory walk by the bookcase before sitting down for tea. On it were the various trophies and awards and diplomas, but chief among them, Andrew Lam's journalism awards.

"My son the Berkeley radical" became my father's favorite phrase when he introduced me to his friends. "Parents give birth to children, God gives birth to their personalities" became my mother's oft-repeated phrase, as a way to explain her youngest son. I don't take offense. I take it that this was their way of accepting how things can turn out in America, which is to say, unpredictable and heartbreaking.
 
                            **
I can't remember for sure how long he stood up there, or how he was talked down, that studious Chinese boy from the dorm. I do remember that around that time they put up metal bars on the Campanile so that no one else could jump.

A few years ago, after having revisited the Berkeley campus, where I was invited to give a talk about my books, my writing life and about my various travels as an author and journalist, I had a dream. In it, it is me who finds himself atop the Campanile alone at sunset. I hesitate butI am not entirely afraid. I am not gripped by fear. Below, people are gathering. Before me: a beatific horizon. I leap. And soar high over the old campus before heading out to where sky kisses sea.

I haven't landed yet.
 



New America Media editor, Andrew Lam is the author of "Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora" (Heyday Books, 2005), which won a Pen American "Beyond the Margins" award, and "East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres" where the above essay was excerpted. His latest book, "Birds of Paradise Lost," a collection of short stories about Vietnamese immigrants struggling to rebuild their lives in the Bay Area after a painful exodus, was published March 01, 2013. He has lectured and read his work widely at many universities.

Andrew Lam

Birds of Paradise Lost: Stories about Vietnamese Immigrants in California

By Andrew Lam, Dec 27, 2012 12:03 PM

 The thirteen stories in Birds of Paradise Lost shimmer with humor and pathos as they chronicle the anguish and joy and bravery of America's newest Americans, the troubled lives of those who fled Vietnam and remade themselves in the San Francisco Bay Area. The past?memories of war and its aftermath, of murder, arrest, re-education camps and new economic zones, of escape and shipwreck and atrocity?is ever present in these wise and compassionate stories.

Andrew Lam

The Post-Colonial Presidency: Our Man Obama

By Andrew Lam, Nov 7, 2012 1:26 AM

   

As a refugee from Vietnam, a country colonized by the French and then fought over by the Americans and the Soviet Union, I see the Obama presidency as spelling the end of a five-hundred-year-old colonial curse.

Decades ago, English still unruly on my tongue, I read a spin-off of Daniel Defoe’s The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, but I read it not as most of my American peers did. I saw myself, on one level or another, as Friday, his servant.

A British sailor participating in the slave trade, Crusoe was shipwrecked off the coast of Venezuela. He was alone for some years but managed with his guns to rescue a native prisoner who was about to be eaten by his captors. He named him Man Friday, taught him English, and converted him to Christianity. He taught Friday to call him “master.”

James Joyce once noted that Defoe’s sailor is the symbol of the imperial conquest, that “he is the true prototype of the British colonist. . . . The whole Anglo-Saxon spirit is in Crusoe: the manly independence, the unconscious cruelty, the persistence, the slow yet efficient intelligence, the sexual apathy, the calculating taciturnity.”

Likewise, all those who have been colonized and oppressed in the age of European expansionism are embodied in Friday. Indentured and “saved” by Crusoe, Friday becomes, over the centuries, a political symbol of racial injustice, of victims of colonization and imperialist expansion, of slavery. Friday was African, Native American, Asian, Latin American. And Friday was all the children born from miscegenation.

Louis Nevaer

Mo Yan on Bullfighting

By Louis Nevaer, Oct 24, 2012 1:21 PM


In 2011, Chinese author and recent winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Mo Yan, was invited to speak before the Cervantes Institute in Beijing. Mo chose to speak about a Chinese view of something emblematic in Spanish/Hispanic society, namely bullfighting.

Andrew Lam

Salad Days: Becoming A Vegetarian To Remember Grandma

By Andrew Lam, Oct 23, 2012 10:11 AM

 SAN FRANCISCO -- For a period of a month sometime ago I became a vegetarian. Some people won't eat meat because they think it's cruel to animals, or because of health concerns. My reason is a little different: it is love.

I simply wanted to honor my grandmother's memory by not eating meat. A devout Buddhist, grandma spent a large part of her life as a vegetarian, and some of my fondest childhood memories in Vietnam were sharing a meal with her.

In fact, as a child, I learned how to appreciate food not from fancy dishes my mother regularly whipped up, but from the simple meals my grandmother prepared. In her presence a piece of crunchy green pickled eggplant was incredibly delicious, and fried tofu dipped in sweetened soy sauce delectable.

Andrew Lam

Ode to the Bay: My Life as a Vietnamese Immigrant in California

By Andrew Lam, Oct 18, 2012 4:32 PM

 My first California moment: I am 12 years old. I do not yet speak English, only Vietnamese and French. Fresh from the Pendleton refugee camp, I am quickly enrolled in an ESL class in summer school in Colma, south of San Francisco. On our second day we all learn to parrot this phrase: I am from... Thus, shyly, in various accents, the world introduces itself...


...the Philippines
...Mexico
...Nicaragua
....Greece
...Taiwan
...Vietnam.


For the summer I am wedged between Mexico and Taiwan. Taiwan is timid and bookish, but boisterous Mexico, whose name is Juan, and I immediately bond. Communicating with our hands, facial gestures and a few shared words, we manage to joke and banter. "I am from Mexico," Juan keeps whispering in various cadences, as if trying out a new song, until I fall into a fit of giggles. Mrs. H., our teacher, who is beautiful and blond, and married to a black man from Africa (she shows us pictures of her wedding the first day), makes us sit outside of the classroom for disrupting the class.


And here's the moment: A redhead stops by as Juan continues his antics outside. "I'm from here," she says, and then she shakes our hands as if we had just landed on the tarmac. "Welcome to America," she says. She then gives us each a stick of cinnamon gum. Juan and I look at each other and shrug. I pop the gum in my mouth and chew.

Spicy. Sweet.

Three decades later I can finally say what I intuited at that piquant instant: to live in the Bay Area, where I am now from, is to live at the crossroads of a global society. It's many a tourist's mistake to define the place materially, and it is true that the things it is known for -- arching bridges and grand ports and famed high-tech companies -- evoke, in many ways, what often transpires here: the ability to span distances and transgress borders.

A magnificent terrain, certainly, and full of golden promises, but so much more: a place where human restlessness and fabulous, alchemical commingling are becoming increasingly the norm. The entire world comes to the Bay Area, and the Bay Area, in return, assimilates the world. The Central Pacific Railroad ended here, but more than a century and half later, the majority of the construction of that far-reaching new undertaking, the information highway -- Yahoo, Google, IBM, eBay, Sun Microsoft, Cisco Systems, Craigslist, Apple, Pixar, Netscape, Intel, Oracle and a myriad of others -- while centered here, is everywhere, virtually.

Gertrude Stein once observed about Oakland, where she spent her childhood, that "there's no there there." But having grown up here and traveled the world, I'd like to add this corollary: nowhere is as both here and there as the Bay Area.

Go to the San Francisco Airport on any given day and you'll see what I mean. A world in motion, in flux: the number of people who pass through those gates at SFO each year exceeds the entire population of the Golden State. At last count there were 112 languages spoken in the Bay Area. On warm summer afternoons, Nob Hill, where I live, turns into the modern tower of Babel. The languages of the world -- Chinese, French, Spanish, German, Russian, Thai, Japanese, Hindi, Vietnamese and many more I do not recognize -- waft in through my open windows, accompanied by the cable cars' merry cling-clanging bells.

These days Shanghai, Bombay, Cairo, Paris, Buenos Aires and the likes are much closer to the Bay Area than we ever thought possible. There's a transnational revolution taking place, one right beneath our noses. The teenage girl in Marin County is flirting in the chat-room with the teenage boy in Islamabad. The Chinese businessman in Silicon Valley is talking to his grandmother in Guangdong on his cell, while answering e-mails to his business partners in London and Rio de Janeiro. And when a woman at a cocktail party told me casually that she was bicoastal, she did not mean the tired New York-San Francisco trajectory. She summers in San Francisco but winters in Shanghai.

Or try on this scene, another California moment: in their high-ceilinged SoMa flat, two friends of mine are conversing with the world. An Austrian H1B Silicon Valley computer wiz chats with his parents in Vienna on his webcam; his Singaporean boyfriend, who is holding his hand, is gossiping in mixed Mandarin and English on his cell phone with his sister in Melbourne. On TV, which neither one is watching at the moment, characters from their favorite Japanese anime are fighting a bloody battle in some futuristic metropolis.

California's diversity is, of course, nothing new. Multiracial, multicultural and multilingual -- even if differences were not historically celebrated, all these delineations were part of the Golden State from the get-go. Latin and Anglo America came to an epic collision, and California was the result.

Long before Webster acknowledged the word, globalization had already swept over the Bay Area. Gold made the state famous around the world, and the world rushed in and greeted itself, perhaps for the first time. Since then, layers upon layers of complexity -- tastes, architecture, religions, animals, plants, stories, music, languages -- have been piled onto the place, making it in many ways postmodern even before the rest of the world struggled to enter the modern era.

Before I came to San Francisco, I too knew it, as most East Asians knew it, as Old Gold Mountain, with the Golden Gate as the entrance to a wondrous America. Living on that mountain now, I too have seen my share of the gold rush made new by microchips and startup companies. "Try to imagine," a Vietnamese American entrepreneur friend of mine, once a refugee, tells me. "A new wave of Indians and Chinese and Vietnamese software programmers building the information highway, and you have the repeat of when poor Chinese laborers were building the railroad." Except for this: he retired at 38, having sold his startup company, and now manages his portfolio and collects art.

Diversity may not be new, but it has certainly been intensified by the degree of interactions, and by the rate of change we are all experiencing due to the forces of globalization. And new too is the way our society has gone from being overtly xenophobic -- many Chinese railroad workers were murdered when they finished building the railroad -- to celebratory about our differences. While racism will always lurk in many a resenting heart, and fear of the other will always be part of the human condition, cultures that were once considered proprietary have spilled irrevocably into the mainstream, mixing with one another, transforming the landscape.

Think about it: three decades ago, who would have thought that sushi -- raw fish -- would become an indelible part of California cuisine? Or that Vietnamese fish sauce would be found down Aisle three of Safeway? Or that salsa would replace ketchup as the most-consumed sauce?

We slowly give up blandness to savor the pungent lemongrass in our soup, feel that tangy burn of red curry on the tongue. Tomorrow's classics are today's bold experiments: tofu burrito, hummus guacamole, spring rolls with salsa dipping sauce, lamb in tamarind sauce, lychee martini, wasabi bloody mary.

Juan of Words

Raising a Bilingual Kid: Getting Your Kids to Buy into español

By Juan of Words, Apr 15, 2012 12:30 AM


Juan of Words

He tries. He really does. We all do. It’s become an entire family effort to maintain Edgar’s bilingual skills. Even more so to ensure he is fluent in Spanish. Inevitably, as much as we try to avoid it, we always end up talking to him in English instead of Spanish. It’s not that we don’t feel comfortable speaking in only español, pero cómo que the words come out easier in English.

Marisa Treviño

New Latino Literary Magazine Breaks Ethnic and Gender Stereotypes

By Marisa Treviño, Dec 15, 2011 7:21 AM


LatinaLista

How many Latino writers are there in the United States?

It’s a question that many of us would answer with two hands since it seems that it’s only a handful whom mainstream publishers continually recognize as having any talent. Yet, there are so many more talented Latino and Latina writers who, try as they might, just can’t break down the glass walls of mainstream acceptance.

Andrew Lam

Eating, Reading, and Writing: An Interview with Andrew Lam

By Andrew Lam, Oct 28, 2011 12:27 PM



By Noelle Brada-Williams

Award-winning author and New American Media editor Andrew Lam discusses his work, contemporary journalism, the complexity of cultural exchange, and what he hopes to see when his work is read in a classroom.

Asian American Literature: Discourses and Pedagogies: I first met you in person when you came to San Jose State to read from Perfume Dreams in April 2007. As we were leaving the reading, a woman asked you for a good place to eat Vietnamese food in San Jose. I was horrified that someone would essentialize this San Francisco-based writer as a native informant for her culinary desires. As I contemplated tackling her, you very calmly suggested several restaurants and even mentioned that you were working on a book on food. Is that a common experience for you?

ANDREW LAM: It is. I usually don't take offense. I do find, however, that it is annoying when assumedly smart, worldly editors would make that same mistake about me. As a writer, I am capable of writing about many subjects beyond the area of my own cultural background and have done so. I've written about other countries and their troubles- Japan, Thailand, Greece, etc. But when I am asked to write something, or when I am interviewed for something, it is only about Vietnam and the Vietnamese Diaspora.

That is the crutch of being an ethnic writer - one is seen as a cultural ambassador from that community, and then a writer. The only way to break out of that mold is to be big enough in the literary circle so that one can address issues beyond one's biographical limitations.

AALDP: Journalists are often expected to cover a certain beat and to thus be an expert on a particular area, while creative writers frequently assert the uniqueness of their voices or perspectives rather than their representation of a whole group. Alexander Chee in Asian American Literary Review last year comes to mind. Do you feel that these identifications are valid?

AL: I think that used to be more valid than it is now. Part of the reason has to do with the fact that the media world has gone through a major shake up and fewer newspapers exist and while some still practice traditional journalism, that space between reporter and commentator (or essayist) is blurring. Reporters have opinions, after all, and the idea that Fox network seems to spearhead with great success is because people want their supposed reporters to have opinions. The Comedy Channel proves that journalism can in fact be practiced with humor and lots of running jokes and gags and biting observations. So while we still need reporters in the traditional sense, I feel many now are moving sideways across the various spectra of journalism. I myself write news analyses, do straight-forward reporting, and write op-eds. I never feel that I need to restrain myself to one genre. I think as long as I am fair and balanced, and honest with my own biases, I fit in with the new media.

AALDP: This next question also feels old-fashioned now that you have me thinking about Fox News: how do you negotiate between being a fiction writer and being a journalist?

AL: Not an easy task. I often compare journalism to fiction as architecture is to abstract painting. In the former, one needs to have all the logic and facts at hand.

One needs to build a strong frame and foundation. One needs all the supporting arguments and examples planned out. In the latter, one immerses oneself into the imaginary - but just as real - world, and one needs to step back to let characters grow into well rounded people with their own will. One needs to accept them and then describe them. One needs to feel deeply, empathize deeply. It's very different.

For me, writing nonfiction has become routine. It is still difficult to do creative nonfiction and ideas sometimes refuse to clarify themselves, but overall the process is not daunting. Doing fiction on the other hand, requires lots of time, and solitude, both of which I don't always have since I work as a journalist and editor. Fiction writing can be a foreboding task. Yet the unfinished story calls out for attention and when neglected, characters show up in dreams, in reveries, as if asking: "When are you going to come back to let the drama play out?" They nag at the soul.


AALDP: In your essay “California Cuisine of the World,” in East Eats West, you discuss how Asian food culture has been embraced by the mainstream, at least in California. You write, “private culture has—like sidewalk stalls in Chinatown selling bok choys, string beans, and bitter melons—a knack of spilling into the public sphere, becoming shared convention” (81). You use this image of the private spilling into the public sphere at least two other times in your most recent collection. Do you think of this in terms of loss or gain—as nostalgic loss of the personal and private space or as triumphant claiming of the mainstream as one’s own?

AL: There is something gained and lost in any exchange and it's inevitable. It's a kind of cosmic law of creation. Often immigrants bring their traditional practices with them - think Chinese railroad workers who introduced bamboo and acupuncture with them in the 1800s - and they are always astounded at how quickly those private practices get adopted and transformed by others as well as by their descendants. If I do feel a certain visceral sense of loss seeing pho soup being made by non-Vietnamese I am also generous enough to know how much my cosmopolitan life is so much the richer because other cultures have been integrated into my own life. I think without that sense of generosity one cannot navigate in this complex world of ours. One would have to hide and retreat behind the walls of Little Saigon and Chinatown and treat the larger world as unknown territory.

AALDP: The title for your book, East Eats West, reminds me of listening to Richard Rodriguez speak in the 1990’s. He talked about interviewing a white supremacist about the man’s views on Mexican immigrants while the man ate a burrito. He described the encounter in highly sexualized terms of the supremacist eating the “other.” Do you see the mainstream popularity of Asian cuisine as a marker of the rising cultural power of Asians or Asian Americans, or is it just cultural appropriation?

AL: The verb “eat” is so loaded. One can swallow the other, and one can also be swallowed by the other, or be transformed by having ingested something powerful. I play with the idea that both is happening at the same time, which is the essence of my collection of personal essays: It is the story of how a refugee boy from Southeast Asia swallowed America - its myriads of food and movies and language and literature and humor - and is in turn transformed by it. Conversely the other transformation is also happening. Since my arrival in America, I have watched the American landscape be transformed increasingly by the forces of immigration from Asia.

As to your question, in the ‘80s we were terribly afraid of the rise of Japan and consequently we became enthralled with Japanese culture - even as hate crimes against Asians became endemic and that famous case of the murder of Vincent Chin (mistaken for a Japanese) united Asian Americans. I remember falling in love with sushi and Japanese anime in the ‘80s. Others I knew were learning Japanese. Nowadays, it's Korean and Chinese cultures that are becoming global phenomena.

In MBA programs, one is strongly advised to speak another language, and usually it's Mandarin. "You know your cultural heritage is a major success when someone else is selling it back to you,” a friend of mine quipped after I noted the irony that Steven Spielberg produced Kung Fu Panda, which became an all-time box-office hit in China. Kung fu and pandas are both part of China’s heritage, but it probably requires the interpretation of an outsider to make you see your own cultures in new ways.

Cultural appropriation happens both ways as well. Hong Kong used to steal Hollywood blind until they started making really original inventive films and then it was Hollywood that started copying Hong Kong. It cannot be helped. There's a lot of exciting things that can happen when things are "appropriated" because they also get reinvented in the process and newness - ideas, tastes, sounds, movements - come out of that "stealing." All writers "borrow" too from their favorite writers and then find their own voice as they grow. Again, I'd say be generous and see that nothing is really original in the first place. The idea of cultural preservation seems to me a little odd. Cultures that need to be preserved are not fluid and are pickled, as it were. The real culture is what is reinvented to fit the present time, the present palate.


AALDP: I went to high school in Orange County and graduated in 1985—ten years and a month after the fall of Saigon. The class valedictorian, David Nguyen, was perhaps the most confident person I have ever met. I have certainly seen Vietnamese Americans of the 1.5 generation do amazing things in a relatively short space of time after coming to the United States, but what amazes me about your family’s story is the fact that not only your generation but your father managed to achieve so much in such a short time: an MBA and an institutionally and economically powerful position. How did he manage to do this as an older man and recent immigrant?

AL: My father, Thi Quang Lam, is something of a super-achiever. He was a three star general in the South Vietnam Army (ARVN) and studied French philosophy. Then he spent twenty-five years in the Army. In America he also wrote three books on the Vietnam War in English (then translated them back into Vietnamese for the community). He wrote his first two while working as a bank executive and raising a family of three kids. He just finished his third at 77 last year. He always mourned the fact that he came to the US in his mid 40s instead of mid 20s- because he would have gotten a PhD at the very least and not an MBA.

One of his secrets to success in America is a military trained discipline – which never left him even though he was forced to leave it, his beloved army, at the end of the Vietnam War, which unraveled in 1975. In America he studied nightly, he got up at 5 in the morning to do homework, and exercise. He went to night school while working full time. When he got his MBA, he moved toward writing his memoir and analyses of the Vietnam War, giving details from the South Vietnamese General’s perspective. That sense of duty is chased with an iron will and became key to his success. I can still see it: my father sitting straight back, ramrod, at his desk for hours on end.

Even after retirement, he went on to teach high schools for seven years, and he taught Math, French, Physics. With a third degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, he even broke bricks in class to demonstrate he was not lying about discipline. He’s quite a self-actualized person in many ways, perhaps an exception for his generation in the US. But his generation was full of brilliant people who never got a chance to achieve their potentials because of the many wars that took place in our homeland. So many were drafted and killed. In fact, that’s one of Vietnam’s greatest tragedies the lost generations. It is no wonder Vietnamese parents in the US are so forceful about their children making it in America – they are haunted by the robbed opportunities experienced by their own generation and those of previous generations.


In Perfume Dreams, I talked about being a Viet Kieu – Vietnamese expat – in Vietnam and how people measured their lost potentials in my own transnational biographies. They touched me. They marveled at my passport and all the entry and exit stamps. I hear phrases like, “Had I escaped to California…” or “If I came to the US at your age, I would have …” all the time. Their bitterness is extra deep because they know so and so who left and achieved great success in the West. Vietnamese, if anything, are a driven, ambitious and competitive people who are cursed with bad luck for being in a place where the superpowers never left them alone to develop in peace.

AALDP: Although you wrote about your father in Perfume Dreams, I think your second book actually made me think more about your father because of the powerful scene in which you tell your family that you want to be a writer. That passage struck me as an almost archetypal image of the parent-child dynamic with you mirroring your father’s own iron will and writing ambitions even as you distanced yourself from his expectations for you.

In East Eats West you provide a great metaphor for the economic progress of your life: “I left the working-class world where Mission Street ended and worked myself toward where Mission Street began, toward the city’s golden promises—and it is in one of those glittering glassy towers by the water that I live now” (28). Readers do not need to be familiar with San Francisco’s housing market to get a sense of what an achievement this is. How do you think your own class position has affected how you view American culture? How does economic prosperity affect how one deals with issues of assimilation or identity?

AL: I came from a privileged background, growing up speaking French, and with servants, chauffeurs, lycée and country club in Vietnam. Perhaps it’s why, having that experience, I am not particularly interested in wealth and status. I have no romantic notion about wealth and status. But I also remember what it was like to go from having an upper class status to being a refugee subsisting at the end of Mission Street in Daly City with other refugee families, and surviving on food stamps and the kindness of various religious charities. In other words, I have been both rich and poor, and now, yes, I am established, with established friends and so on, and my position as writer and journalist enables me to travel the world.

Admittedly, all that makes me feel connected to the cosmopolitan world and people would often describe me as “worldly.” But I hesitate to bring class into discussion about my writing since it often makes human reality seem abstract. Looking at stories through the “class” lens often makes people jump from one ideological conclusion to another. Often enough it never gets to the real stories – the human stories regardless of your economic status– that I want to tell. Economics play a strong part of everyone’s life and yet it also restrains narrative to some ideological bend, which is not what I’m after.

Besides, cosmopolitanism isn’t part of some upper class experience anymore. The migrant who slips across borders learns new ways of speaking and of looking at the world. His children, growing up with two, even three languages in the household, navigate various cultural expectations all the time. People’s fascination seems to be transnational these days, especially among the young. Kids who want to learn Japanese because they watch anime for instance. There’s a Korean restaurant in Berkeley that’s owned and operated by Mexicans who once worked in Korea – we have become, in some way, the other.

AALDP: You have a very optimistic view of cultural hybridity in much of East Eats West. But when you mention all of the terms we now have for mixed race people, you also include terms that can be used pejoratively. Would you say that there is any negative impact from cultural hybridity? How would you characterize Vietnamese attitudes toward the Amerasian children born during and after the war? Do you have a sense of Vietnamese American attitudes toward racial and ethnic mixing?

AL: That’s quite a lot of questions woven into one. I have been accused in the past of painting a rosy picture of East-West relations, especially in the area of cultural exchanges. It is not that I am not unaware of the more sordid, exploitative side of that equation, but it is because I’m interested in what hasn’t been fully explored. Certainly as a reporter and news analyst I’ve written quite a bit on the problems of globalization – racism, exploitation, human trafficking, unfair trading practices, copyrights infringement, accelerated environmental degradation, human rights abuse and so on. But in East Eats West, I wanted to explore what is barely being touched upon –the space where East and West intersect. And I’m not interested in the parameters that the pessimists would insist upon, where the conversation should take place within certain egalitarian ideals. After all, I am westernized by experience and choice, and am Eastern by original inheritances and my marvelous Vietnamese childhood. Part of that enormous complexity came from terrible tragedies – colonization, war, exodus, life in exile. You can be bitter about it, or you can pick and choose, integrating what’s workable into your own life. It’s all about how you synthesize the differences.

Yes, there are terrible combinations of hybridity that shouldn’t even be repeated. Some food combinations are a disaster. But that said, if one frowns on the mixing, the openness to inter-exchanges, one is missing out on the energy that is fusing the major part of the 21st century.

AALDP: I first became familiar with your work through my teaching. First the two short stories anthologized in Watermark: Vietnamese American Poetry and Prose (1998) and later Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora (2005). How do you feel about your writing being used in the classroom? Is that a space you envision at all when you write? What would you want students to take away from your texts?

AL: A good essay can be as much a visceral experience as it is one in which ideas are transferred. I want readers to feel what it is like to lose a country and all the cultures and societies and customs that went along with it, then have to learn a new language, a new set of behavior, and reinvent a new self, then thrive – that’s the story I want people not only to understand, but experience. But I’d be happy if students went away from reading Perfume Dreams and East Eats West understanding that identities are not fixed in stone, and that after having gone through epic losses one also gains something as well, and new ways of looking at one’s self in place of history.

Perfume Dreams is sadder because it’s closer to the refugee experience, but East Eats West is more celebratory, it’s a regard of life when East and West not only met but became intertwined, creating a hybrid space, as it were, from which new ideas emerged. It is both an internal space, within me, and a cultural and political force of the 21st century.

AALDP: Is there anything you definitely wouldn’t want teachers and students to do with your texts?

AL: Well, I hope they don’t burn them. But seriously, I think that people often see my work as particularly ethnic and on one level that’s fine. On another, however, I put a lot of effort into playing with language, and structure –and one thing I hope they do pay attention to is the various literary styles in which the essays were written – ranging from the reportorial, to the highly personal, to the little vignettes. I am always thrilled when my work is taught in a literature class because it seems to break some personal barrier for me – to be recognized as a writer in English and not just as an ethnic writer.

AALDP: I have anxiously been awaiting a collection of your short stories. Now I understand Birds of Paradise is due out next year. Will this collect your previously published fiction or will it be pieces we have not seen before?

AL: Many have been published in recent years. But there will be unpublished work as well.


AALDP: Will it include some of my favorite stories such as “Grandma’s Tales” and “Show and Tell?”

AL: I hope so but I fear they might be "eliminated" depending on the tastes of the
editor. But never fear, there are other pieces that might thrill you as well.

Andrew Lam

Afghanistan Can't Wash Away Vietnam: Obama & the Ghosts of War

By Andrew Lam, May 30, 2011 6:15 PM

New America Media's editor, Andrew Lam, reads from "New California Writing" - An anthology of writing from Californian writers by Heyday Books. He is the author of "East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres" and "Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora."

This video is produced and filmed by Steven Chiem.

Andrew Lam

Andrew Lam reading from East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres

By Andrew Lam, Apr 4, 2011 1:23 PM

Author Andrew Lam read excerpts from his new book East Eats West and discussed the unexpected consequences of the Vietnamese diaspora. He concentrated not only on how the East and West have changed, but how they are changing each other. Lam is an editor and cofounder of New American Media, an association of over two thousand ethnic media outlets in America. Followed by a film crew back to his homeland, Vietnam, he was featured in the documentary My Journey Home which aired nationwide on PBS in 2004. His book Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora won a PEN American Beyond Margins award in 2006.

Andrew Lam

Maxine Hong Kingston in Conversation with Andrew Lam, journalist & author, "East Eats West"

By Andrew Lam, Jan 26, 2011 10:11 PM

Maxine Hong Kingston is the daughter of Chinese immigrants. Growing up she was active in antiwar activities in Berkeley, but left the mainland for Hawai‘i in the late 60’s, where she then wrote The Woman Warrior, and China Men, which earned the National Book Award. Her most recent books include a collection of essays, Hawai‘i One Summer, and her latest novel, The Fifth Book of Peace. Kingston was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 1997 by President Clinton. She is currently Senior Lecturer Emerita at the University of California, Berkeley.

Andrew Lam is an editor and co-founder of New America Media, an association of over 2000 ethnic media organizations in America. Born in Vietnam and living in the US since the age of 11, Lam’s essays have appeared in newspapers and magazines across the country and his short stories are widely anthologized. He was a regular commentator on National Public Radio’s "All Things Considered" for eight years. Lam’s awards include the Society of Professional Journalist Outstanding Young Journalist Award and The World Affairs Council's Excellence in International Journalism Award. His book, Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora, won the Pen American Beyond the Margins Award in 2006. His new book East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres was published September 2010.



Listen to the conversation



Andrew Lam

East Eats West: A Cultural Dance

By Andrew Lam, Nov 24, 2010 10:09 PM

Andrew Lam, Vietnam-born author of "East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres" and "Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora," will discuss the cultural consequences of immigration from Asia to the West including the effects of Asian taste, cuisine and martial arts on the American imagination and issues of religion, identity, and family in the new world where East and West overlap. Lam is also cofounder and editor of New American Media, the largest ethnic media association in the United States.

"East Eats West," Andrew Lam from Visual Communications LRN RES on Vimeo.

Dec. 7th, 2010 - Andrew Lam talks about East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres ($14.95). In this collection of 21 personal essays, Lam, the award-winning author of Perfume Dreams, continues to explore the Vietnamese diaspora, this time concentrating not only on how the East and West have changed but how they are changing each other.

Location:

1 Ferry Building

San Francisco, California

94111

Andrew Lam

Generation Gap Among Vietnamese Americans

By Andrew Lam, Aug 17, 2010 10:22 AM




WEB.InterviewLam.mp3



Today, California is home to the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam, many of whom are Vietnam War refugees and first-generation Americans.

Bay Area writer and editor Andrew Lam remembers leaving Vietnam in a C-130 cargo plane when he was eleven. Today, Lam writes about the Vietnamese Diaspora, and about the struggle for cultural identity as a Vietnamese-American. His newest book is East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres.

KALW's Holly Kernan sat down with Lam to talk about Vietnamese identity.

Andrew Lam is an editor with New America Media. Read his previous book Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora.  And buy his new book, East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres, due out in September. 

Sandip Roy

Eat, Pray, Love aka I, Me, Myself

By Sandip Roy, Aug 13, 2010 5:20 AM

For the longest time I thought Eat, Pray, Love was a sequel to Eats, Shoots and Leaves.

Now I am enlightened. One is about the search for the meaning of life. The other is about the meaning of a comma.

(Interestingly the book was Eat, Pray, Love. The film is Eat Pray Love. Where have all the commas gone? )
I confess I never read Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestseller except for browsing through a few pages in a copy sitting on a friend’s bedside. I enjoyed the writing. Gilbert is warm and sympathetic. The story of picking yourself up after losing your way has universal appeal even if we all can’t recharge under the Tuscan sun.

It’s not Gilbert’s fault but I have an instinctive reflex reaction to books about white people discovering themselves in brown places. I want to gag, shoot and leave.

Eming Piansay

Love in the Time of Twilight

By Eming Piansay, Jul 7, 2010 3:52 PM

After going through the stressful progress of moving my life out of my parents’ house and into my new pad, and then getting my wallet snatched, I really needed to turn my brain onto autopilot. Thankfully, I figured the new flick Eclipse would satisfy my mind-numbing needs.

Laura Goode

No, There Are No Vampires in My YA Novel.

By Laura Goode, Jan 13, 2010 12:15 PM

The Twilight phenomenon has monopolized media chatter for over a year now, and while many have vetted, bemoaned, and dissected the complicated sexuality of the ballad of Bella and Edward, few have done so in the greater context of Twilight’s paramount position in popular young adult fiction. Twilight, and our culture’s current vogue of vampires, reveals a subtly toxic sexual messaging still being slipped into the literature young American women are consuming en masse.

Full disclosure: I am a recovering teenage girl with a YA novel, Sister Mischief, coming out next year. In the early stages of conceptualizing SM, I realized that writing the book was a way of putting my money where my mouth was: giving young people access to candid, high-quality literature is important to me, so I figured I should try to produce some.

Laura Goode

Naming the Barbarians

By Laura Goode, Dec 14, 2009 1:46 PM

Today’s New York Times publishes a new and confidential report, released by an unnamed “state agency,” that substantiates the shortcomings (to use a generous word) of the New York juvenile justice system.

Though little of it would surprise anyone who’s ever worked with the American juvenile justice system, it’s hard to know what horrifies me most about the new report’s findings. Is it the fact that an estimated half of these young people suffer from diagnosed mental illnesses, one-third have developmental disabilities, and the system fails to employ a single psychiatrist who can issue medication?

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