DVAN’s Holiday Fundraiser—Reckoning with a Tour de Force

A managing editor of diaCRITICS remembers, in writing and in photographs, the holiday fundraising party celebrating the release of Isabelle Thuy Pelaud’s long-awaited book this is all i choose to tell: History and Hybridity in Vietnamese American Literature.

Originally I was supposed to fly to Seattle that night to visit my little sister, but I delayed my flight in order to attend something I just couldn’t miss, and to help with the silent auction. On January 14, the Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network held its first annual holiday party and second annual fundraiser in San Francisco. The night was an enthusiastic celebration of the release of Isabelle Pelaud’s book, this is all i choose to tell: History and Hybridity in Vietnamese American Literature. With a cover designed by artist, writer, and curator Viet Le, incorporating the exquisite artwork of Binh Danh, this book is not only groundbreaking but also an aesthetic treasure, much like the Vietnamese American literature described therein.

Honored by novelist Monique Truong as “immediately indispensable, exactingly researched, and beautifully written,” Isabelle’s volume represents a landmark achievement as the first book exclusively centering the literature of the Vietnamese American diaspora. The release of  this is all i choose to tell: History and Hybridity in Vietnamese American Literature is indeed a tour de force, and its reception created an air of festivity that set the mood for the evening.

Isabelle was first introduced by Elaine Kim (above,) UC Berkeley professor and acclaimed pioneer of the study of Asian American literature, who chaired Isabelle’s dissertation in the department of Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley. Elaine reminisced about her early impressions of Isabelle as a shy student newly immigrated to the U.S. from France, and expressed deep pride in watching Isabelle develop, throughout the years, into a nuanced scholar and author. Lorraine Dong, the chair of the Asian American studies department at San Francisco State, where Isabelle currently teaches as an Associate Professor, also remarked upon her respect for Isabelle’s work and its timely contribution to Asian American scholarship.

Then Isabelle (above) read from this is all i choose to tell: History and Hybridity in Vietnamese American Literature. These excerpts were situated within the larger context of her life story and her immigration to the United States. The audience learned that her mother was among the first Vietnamese to move to the U.S., where she lived in San Francisco before relocating to Isabelle’s birth country of France. In a lighthearted way, Isabelle offered anecdotes and insights as she read. She also thanked those whose support she’d received during the inception, development, and writing of her book, many whom were in attendance that evening. As in her daily life, Isabelle’s personal touches were warm and engaging, and her observations were profound and heartfelt.

DVAN members Lan Duong and Viet Nguyen (above) also presented Isabelle with a cake decorated with the book’s cover, in honor of her achievement and its impact on Vietnamese American studies.

The night also encouraged broader support for the writings and artworks of women from Southeast Asian descent. The silent auction of art, photography, and goods raised money specifically for the publication of DVAN’s anthology Southeast Asian Women in the Diaspora: Troubling Borders in Art and Literature. As expressed by contributor Quyen Truong, “By publishing their works and pushing the boundaries of literature and art, we want to demonstrate the global connections that bring such disparate groups of women together.” Editors Mariam Lam, Lan Duong, Kathy Nguyen, and Isabelle Pelaud (below) each eloquently spoke about the importance of this effort.

Throughout the evening, a slideshow featured visual works from this forthcoming collection of artists, and these images screened in the background as Isabelle and others read. She was followed by Jai Arun Ravine, Gayle Romasanta, Karen Llagas, and Andrew Lam (all below). Jai, Gayle, and Karen are all contributors to the forthcoming anthology, and Andrew has published Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora and East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres.

The readings were an important part of the holiday party and fundraiser, adding to both the festivity and the meaning of the night’s events. Behind the readers, the slideshow featured the compelling visual works contained within the manuscript-in-waiting. And by bidding in the silent auction of donated artworks and services, those in attendance also contributed generously to the future publication of Southeast Asian Women in the Diaspora: Troubling Borders in Art and Literature. At standing-room-only capacity, the reading and silent auction were both quite successful, and many attendees lingered until late in the night, including David Palumbo-Liu (below), Stanford professor and director of Comparative Literature. He is also the editor at Temple University Press who encouraged Isabelle to write her book.

DVAN concluded the night with a champagne toast to Isabelle—whose efforts inspired not only the inception of DVAN itself, but also the involvement of DVAN’s members and advisors, and the wisdom of her students, her colleagues, her teachers, and her reading audiences. The long-awaited release of this is all i choose to tell: History and Hybridity in Vietnamese American Literature allows us to celebrate the impact of a stunning achievement—the first book devoted exclusively to Vietnamese American literature. As James K. Lee (UC Santa Barbara) explains, “The poignancy of this benchmark is not to be missed.”

Yet the fundraiser also looked to the histories, memories, and identities of a broader community. The future publication of Southeast Asian Women in the Diaspora: Troubling Borders in Art and Literature is a crucial collaboration of Vietnamese Americans with other diasporic artists and writers descended from the sometimes-disparately-joined map of what constitutes Southeast Asia. This includes women of Vietnamese ethnic minority descent, such as the Hmong and the Cham, as well as those who trace their ancestry to Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Indonesia, Burma/Myanmar, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and East Timor—whose stories, until now, have scarcely been told or visualized.

DVAN is still raising funds to cover publication expenses, since the collection is filled with quality color images requiring higher printing costs. And your donations are entirely tax-deductible. More importantly, you’d be supporting groundbreaking humanities work by Southeast Asian women in the diaspora. Fundraising efforts are ongoing, until the financial goals are met and the anthology is warmly welcomed within and beyond the Vietnamese diaspora, just as these publications by Isabelle Pelaud and Andrew Lam have been.

— photographs and commentary by Julie Thi Underhill, managing editor of diaCRITICS

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