Chào Bạn (Hello Friend) and welcome back to Growing Up Nguyen’s second newsletter! I’m virtually embracing you all with a very hearty, warm hug this season.
This year we’ve accomplished so much,
This season we completed a visual component to the podcasts (check out our YouTube).
Lastly, we’re beginning a tradition of quarterly newsletters to keep everyone up-to-date and in the loop with our progress and process.
Working on the podcast has been an exciting endeavor for us. We’re learning about parts of ourselves, developing into our relationships with each other, and our family history together.
We’ve uncovered stories that have been passed down to us and also came across stories from other Vietnamese Americans. There are many, but these three books have touched our hearts while reading.
We want to showcase and highlight these authors in our newsletter because stories are very much crucial to the tapestry of who we are. As Vietnamese-Americans, but also as humans, we build connection, empathy, compassion, and understanding for those who share a similar or different background with us.
1. 10 cents a pound by Nhung N. Tran-Davies
10 cents a pound tells the story of a young girl who finds herself at odds between traveling far to go to school and staying close to family and her village. It’s a heartwarming child’s book that goes to show the sacrifice and care that parents carry forth for their children and their children’s future.
Karin Hạnh: "What I loved the most about this book was that it was so honest. I saw myself in that younger girl who didn’t want to go far from home and protested leaving her mother behind. I could see my mother in the girl’s mother, in the way my mom has made small sacrifices for her children too. The lines alone were poetic, and then the illustrations were magnificent in how they complimented the storyline so well while also being a statement piece on its own. Very much like our love languages quiz, this book made me think: how does one feel and give love in our relationships?"
2. The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui
The Best We Could Do is the debut graphic memoir for Thi Bui. She was born in Vietnam and immigrated to the United States as a child. This illustrated memoir tells a familiar story of the refugee experience and the lasting effects that displacement can have on a child and their family. When the protagonist becomes a mother for the first time, she realizes that there are depths to sacrifice and unspoken love that only a mother knows.
Hương: I was first introduced to graphic novels with Gene Yang’s American Born Chinese so I was thrilled to see one about a Vietnamese experience. The storyline even spoke about being in the refugee camp, something I know my mom experienced while she was waiting for entry into the United States. The most important lessons I learned from this book is that healing is in parts: reconstruction of our memories, finding forgiveness, acceptance, and hope.
3. Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai
The Mountains Sing is an intergenerational story that follows the lives of a grandmother and granddaughter living through the Vietnam War and the personal ways that the conflict shocks their family unit. The story is unique in the way it divulges sharply the pain of Vietnamese civilians and families turning against each other because of political surges of power. Nguyen’s usage of Vietnamese words and phrases throughout, and the nostalgic imagery of Vietnam’s landscape before Agent Orange and other destructive chemicals of war, illuminate precisely how war truly permeates every aspect of life.
Hedda Hiếu: "The Mountains Sing has been compared to books like Yaa Gyasi’s Homecoming and Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko. If you’ve read those books and loved them, you’ll love reading The Mountains Sing probably as much as I did. I haven’t heard many stories like this - especially stories on what happened to the landowners in Vietnam. The grandmother in the book reminded me of my Bà Nội and Bà Ngoại who were both scrappy and did what they could to provide for our families.
The stories of the women left at home in wartime often goes untold, but the way that the grandmother in the book accepts her circumstances and chooses to move forward is exceptional.These characters carried so much trust, faith, hope and resilience, which are qualities I see in my own family. In addition, the author artfully wove together themes of Capitalism and Communism to the motifs of singing, culture, and family."
Hearing and reading other stories allows us to see that there are others, like us, who also struggle with this dual identity. At the same time it goes to show that we’re not boxed in in any way. Just as these Vietnamese Americans became authors too, we (and you too) are storytellers in our own right.
Growing Up Nguyễn is a story of four siblings holding onto our identity while fulfilling our parents’ dreams: the blessings and challenges of being Nguyễn in America.