Vietnamese Refugee Project

Project Development Studio

09 Feb 2019


The project that I would like to develop is very much an exploration into my own familial history and cultural history. Most of my life I was very disassociated with the Vietnamese community. I grew up in a predominantly middle-class white environment, and quite isolated from the Vietnamese-American community in America. I knew little about Vietnamese culture, spoke only basic Vietnamese, and shamefully uninterested in my heritage.

As a child I had very little understanding about the complexities of US-Vietnamese political relations. As kids, my peers didn’t know any better either. Even now, when my Vietnamese heritage becomes known, I often get sympathetic apologies or ignorant statements about US military might over the Vietnamese with no understandidng that in fact my family was from South Vietnam, fought with Americans, and later persecuted for their US affiliations.

I think that the popular knowledge about the Vietnam civil conflict is greatly stunted because of the widespread anti-war sentiment. Much of the knowledge surrounding the Vietnamese Civil conflict deals with the Civil Rights movement and opposition to America’s involvement to wars in SEA, the intricacies of the Southern-Northern cultural and political dynamic. Even today as more media is created to educate about Vietnam Conflict, it comes from a deeply American perspectivei. While it’s wonderful that there is more awareness about the Vietnam Conflict, I think that the position of South Vietnam is left out in these texts.

Many of American texts approach the Vietnam Conflict by scrutinizing the United States role in the conflict, and the perspective of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The South Vietnamese perspective gets lost because of the nation has been dissolved and the new government dictated the how the history was written, present the South Vietnamese nation as puppets of the West and the people who fled the country as traitors or selfish people. The history of the people who fled Vietnam during this time period has gotten lost.

My project wants to examine this time period and the story of the Vietnamese refugees and be a point of education. I’m not sure about the form or approach that I want to take. Two approaches I was considering was 1. to take a personal or oral history approach where I share real stories about a person’s experience or 2) take a more data-driven approach that is more educational and shares the history about this time period.

As I’m writing this post I’m drawn toward the 2nd approach. I think that it is important to collect and share individuals, I feel that there is not enough historical understanding to be effective. Without some knowledge about the South Vietnam, I think it is difficult to relay the experience. So for this project I may consider a more educational approach in order to set the stage for a personal approach.

I’m quite influenced by how the Jewish community meditates on the Holocaust and the diaspora as way to reflect on the trauma.

Resources that I am looking at right now: