Author Chronicles Hardships Faced By Vietnamese Immigrants In New Book
Speaker 1: 00:00 It's been more than 40 years since refugees from the end of the Vietnam war made their new homes in America. Many stayed here in San Diego and in other parts of California, but others were sent across the country. And what was the largest resettlement effort in American history? A new novel explores what that was like for a family of so-called boat. People adjusting to a new and strange life in Louisiana. It's a story with a special significance. Now during Asian Pacific heritage month and at a time when people of Asian heritage are experiencing new outbursts of racism, joining me is Eric [inaudible]. He's the author of things we lost to the water. Eric, welcome to the show. Thanks for having me. Do you have a family connection to that experience of people leaving Vietnam to resettle in America? Speaker 2: 00:51 My parents left Vietnam after the war around 1978, I would say, and they left by boat. They eventually came to a refugee camp in Indonesia, and eventually they found a way to the U S at first they settled in California, but because of family friends, they moved their way to Washington DC. Speaker 1: 01:12 How much of their story is part of your novel? Speaker 2: 01:15 Partly I never really knew what my parents' story was. They're really quiet about their refugee experience with ALS growing up. They didn't want to talk about their past. So actually writing this novel was my way to explore that bigger Vietnamese refugee experience and what they could have possibly been through Speaker 1: 01:33 You. Uh, describe in the novel, how difficult that journey was as people left in these overcrowded boats. Did your parents ever share their story with you? Speaker 2: 01:44 I mean, like through conversations, like I got bits and pieces of it, but they just told me that it was difficult to get here to America and that they wanted their children to have a better future than they had to not have to ever think about escaping by boat like they did. Speaker 1: 02:03 What were the things as described to the title of your book that were lost to the water? Speaker 2: 02:08 I think for Vietnamese refugees, it was definitely the country, their lives that they had, like in my novel, we had a professor as the husband and a beautiful housewife in Saigon ran a very successful household, but all of that is kind of loss after the war. And when they come to America, they basically have to start all over again. The main character takes a job at eight, so to can factory, which would be something that she never would have thought of as a housewife in a middle class family back in Vietnam. So that is partly what they lost. But I think also for my characters, it's also this idea of what it means to be bitten. The MES is lost to them, especially for the younger characters. And you see that as they're trying to negotiate what it means to be Vietnamese living in America. So I think it's twofold a loss of a home also loss of something more intangible like culture. Like how do you belong to a culture that you didn't really grew up in? Speaker 1: 03:10 Why did you decide to use water as a metaphor for what this family has to give up along the way to embracing a new life, Walter, Speaker 2: 03:19 How they left their country? So water in a way meant safety, but at the same time, water is very dangerous. Many people died on their way trying to escape Vietnam by sea. So I wanted to explore the ways that water could be like something that could save you, something that's necessary, but also something that is also very dangerous. As we see in the book Speaker 1: 03:44 You describe in detail how strange the whole world of American culture was to this family down to the itchy fabric of twins, new shirt, or how strange the English language sounds. Now these are not your memories. So how did you learn that? Speaker 2: 04:02 I think I picked and choose what I've did learned from my parents about what their experience was like coming to America, being in America, not knowing the language. So I kind of took from that and I kinda tried to step into those shoes as being like a foreigner. Like I have traveled to like different countries and have been a foreigner there. So I took that emotion of being on the outside of not knowing what to do in a different place where you weren't born. We don't know much about clearing the language. And I try to make my characters experienced that, Speaker 1: 04:36 You know, there's a considerable amount of anger expressed toward Americans by the characters in your book, things we lost to the water at a time when most Americans thought that Vietnamese refugees should be grateful to be accepted into this country. I'm wondering, did your parents' generation often have to hide those failings? Maybe they are true feelings. Speaker 2: 05:00 On the one hand, they were grateful to be here to have escaped, but on the other hand, they knew that they were being treated differently and that if they stayed in Vietnam, they wouldn't have all these obstacles of being of a different race from the majority of having to learn a whole new language like growing up. I remember reframing my parents. My mother in particular said was if only we were still in Vietnam, if only we didn't leave. But of course that's also mixed with the feeling that if you didn't leave something bad would have happened to you anyways. So it's definitely like a mixed feeling within, I guess my family, at least I saw this gratefulness, but also this anger of having to basically start all over again, to learn everything all over again, and also being treated so differently. Speaker 1: 05:49 America's acceptance of refugees has been a hotly debated topic for several years. Now that previous administration, basically our refugee program now the Biden administration has started it up again, considering that refugee status was at best bittersweet for Vietnam war, era people. What do you think about this latest refugee controversy? Speaker 2: 06:14 I think what we're seeing now in the current era is just a repetition of that. Maybe a little bit different based on different races, maybe based on different religion. But I think like stories like mine, stories of refugees will always be resonant, always have a place because as a country, we don't really know what to do with refugees. I mean, we're a country of immigrants of people who come here freely, but we're not sure of what to do with people who are fleeing a country who we don't see ourselves in. And I think that has played out within the last couple of years, especially like in the last administration. Speaker 1: 06:53 This is, as I said, Asian Pacific American heritage month. And of course we're living through a time when hate crimes against Asian-Americans have increased. Do you think much of the Asian American experience is still left untold for most Americans? Speaker 2: 07:10 I feel especially Asian Americans in the South are kind of ignored in the bigger narrative, especially like I felt after the attacks in Atlanta, in March, I felt like that kind of gave a spotlight of Asian Americans live in the South. And my book. I kind of hope that to give a little spotlight that Asian Americans and our stories belong in the South that were part of the cultural heritage, the history of the South and that to ignore the Asian Americans in the South would be to ignore the fuller picture of what it is to be American. Speaker 1: 07:45 I've been speaking with Eric when his new book things we lost to the water will be featured in a virtual event by Warwick's books tomorrow at 4:00 PM. And Eric it's been a pleasure. Thank you for speaking with us. Thank you for having me.