diaCRITICIZE: The Stuff Vietnamese People Like

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Hello. This is the first editor’s note for diaCRITICS, which we’ve decided to call diaCRITICIZE: The Stuff Vietnamese People Like. It’s silly, I know, but you’ll get over it and so will we. Or maybe we won’t and we’ll change it later.

Who’s that girl? Tila Tequila. Why Tila Tequila? I guess if I wanted a picture of something Vietnamese, I could have chosen a flag (but which flag???) or a dragon or a spring roll or a map of the country (but which map???) or a “representative” of the Vietnamese people like certain unnamed politicians in the USA who are no longer our elected politicians after the November 2nd disaster, er, elections. But Tila Tequila will do just as well to represent Vietnameseness, whatever that is. Plus she is stuff that (some) Vietnamese people like. I like her a hell of a lot more than I like those unnamed politicians. Plus we hope to have some more to say about Tila in later posts. She is, after all, to non-Vietnamese people probably the second most famous Vietnamese person in the world, after Ho Chi Minh. In certain circles, she’s probably the most famous. As Tracy Chapman once sang so eloquently, I’m talkin’ about a revolution. These pictures of Tila as a little girl bring tears to my eyes. This is America, folks! All your immigrant dreams can come true, and one day, your little baby can also become a reality TV star/trainwreck.

Why now for the first diaCRITICIZE? It’s November 23rd in the USA, and soon we will celebrate Thanksgiving. For those of you who don’t live in the USA, this is the holiday when American citizens who are not Native Americans thank God that they’re not Native Americans; when immigrants to the USA also thank God that they’re not Native Americans; and when undocumented immigrants wish that they were documented so that they, too, could thank God that they’re not Native Americans. So I anticipate a drop in readership during this time and didn’t want to have any attention fade from our worthwhile upcoming posts (we’ll be back on Monday November 29 with “Eye Level: The Photographs of Jamie Maxtone-Graham,” and his work is really, really eye-catching).

After 35 years in the USA, I still find Thanksgiving a strange, exotic holiday. I can remember re-enacting Thanksgiving in elementary school, when we little kids would stage how the Indians brought food to the starving Pilgrims. Funny thing, we never re-enacted the day when the Indians said, why the [email protected]$& did we do that?! Since then, I’ve been invited to one or two genuine Thanksgiving affairs with homemade stuffing and cranberry sauce, but in my own home, we eat the canned stuff, and mashed potatoes made from dehydrated white flakes that look like laundry detergent. For a while, my parents had kind friends who owed them a big favor and who were restaurateurs, and this meant that we had the most awesome turkey ever–Vietnamese style, with bean thread noodles and water chestnuts and diced Asian mushrooms for stuffing, and basted in some kind of Asian sauce which must have had nuoc mam. Heaven. If anybody has a recipe for an Asian turkey, do share with me (if I get enough recipes, I’ll put them up online here; I did find one for soy sauce brined turkey). Otherwise we get ours pre-made from the supermarket. Or we just skip the damn turkey altogether and eat Vietnamese food with a canned ham.

As for diaCRITICS itself: take the occasion of our holiday to do us a favor. We’ve put in a couple of new functions that allow you to rate the postings and to share the postings on Facebook, email, etc. Please help us spread the word about diaCRITICS and increase traffic to the site. Take another look at your favorite post and rate and share it! You’ll note that on the sidebar you can now see the top-rated posts under “What Readers Liked Most” (as distinct from “Today’s Most Critical,” which tracks highest-read posts).

I’m pleased with what we’ve done with diaCRITICS so far since we began in May. We’ve covered a lot of stuff–just off the top of my mind, singers, movie stars, hit movies, avant-garde artists, mainstream writers, writers with indie press books, political and cultural criticism, exhibition reviews, announcements of forthcoming shows and attractions, Paris by Night’s latest, the local swap meet, and more. We’ve dealt with American and Vietnamese happenings, and just did one on Berlin. We’ve definitely got more to do. I’d like to see more coverage of Viet Nam, and Australia, and Germany, and all the other diasporic locations, and I’d like to see more in different languages, especially Vietnamese. It’s not like I want this to be a US- and English-centered site. You know why we haven’t done more of  these multilingual and international things as much as we’d like? Because we’re a bunch of poor, overworked, underpaid academics and artists who do this on our own time. We’ve asked people who are in these places to write for us, but response has been slow, probably because these people are poor, overworked, underpaid academics and artists.

So: if you think that there are things, people, places, events, books, movies, etc. that should be covered and aren’t, and you know how to do it, then get in touch with us via the “Contact Us” page above. We’re always looking for new writers, either as occasional contributors or as diaCRITICS. The only requirement is that you have to know how to write, because we don’t have much time to edit.

Also: if you can’t write, but you know of some great event that is forthcoming, or book you think we should write about, or artist you think we should profile, or movie trailer you want to share, then get in touch with us. We’re happy to promote Vietnamese and diasporic Vietnamese cultural events and happenings and spread the word that Vietnamese and diasporic Vietnamese culture is taking place everywhere.

Tila Tequila today, with her blue Lamborghini

Lastly I’d like to thank Rebekah Linh Collins for her service as managing editor. Life called and she had to step down, but not before helping us get off to a great start. I’d like to welcome Julie Thi Underhill as the new managing editor. She’s terrific and hard-working.

As you read this, I will be on the road, heading home to visit Ba Ma, lookin’ forward to the dehydrated mashed potatoes and the pumpkin pie in a tinfoil dish and spending time with my family and playing with my adorable nephews and niece and wondering if one of them, one day, will become the new Tila Tequila. Happy Thanksgiving, one and all.

–Viet Thanh Nguyen

p.s. Won’t you donate to the Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network? It’s tax deductible for you U.S. residents. Did I mention the poor, underpaid, overworked part?


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  1. still don’t know who Tila is — and simply don’t much care — how much did those boobs cost? but I like your writing — cracked me up.

  2. Viet,

    Tila is really a “hot mess.” What about her bisexuality ? Asian women are always made to seem hyper-sexual: available for visual & literal consumption. Yes, Tila is part of making herself a commodity. object. fetish. The reality show was as awful , catty as the rest, but like the rest, WOC are made to be demonic, conniving, “angry” … the list is endless.

    I am a little snobby about pop culture and reality TV, so I am sure that factors into my wishing we had fewer of these images to consume. I also don’t want to celebrate her circulation in this way. Still a third wave feminist !

  3. In the early days of the US presence in Ha Noi one of the Americans snapped up turkeys at some lost aid project and had them plucked and dressed and cooked. At the last minute she turned her back and the kitchen cleavered up the poultry Asian style. Best wishes for the holiday –



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