diaCRITICIZE: Viet Thanh Nguyen on the uses of rage and anger

What can one do with rage and anger? diaCRITICS editor Viet Thanh Nguyen on why it’s sometimes necessary to rant.

One thing about this blog that’s bothered me is that we don’t have that many comments. Some blogs get a lot of comments but the comments are just awful, the kind that make you despair about the state of humanity and worry about whether democracy is actually better than an enlightened dictatorship, a la Singapore. A few blogs get very nice comments. Actually I can only think of one that I read regularly, and that one is, ironically, about fashion. You’d figure people would be catty, but they’re actually really enthusiastic about what they see.

So we published a post recently that did get a lot of comments, Paisley Rekdal’s “Biracial Rage in Hanoi.” Maybe it’s just me, but I like rage, albeit in measured doses and not in my household. I’d heard of Paisley Rekdal a long time ago, when her memoir came out, the one with the unforgettable title: The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee. Then I ran into her in Hanoi a couple of months ago at Nguyen Qui Duc’s bar, Tadioto, our very own version of Rick’s Café Americain. After that I read her blog, where she posted “Biracial Rage” for the first time. Read it for yourself, but in summary, it’s about the stupid kinds of things people will say to biracial people such as herself. I identified with it because people say stupid things to me all the time. Perhaps more importantly, I’ve been guilty myself of (occasionally) saying stupid things to people, sometimes even when I’m not under the influence. Sometimes people I’ve said stupid things to have done me the favor of telling me I said something stupid. It’s not the greatest thing to hear, but I’ve learned a lot from people’s honesty, probably a lot more than from people’s politeness.

So I reprinted Paisley’s post here and somewhere in the back of my mind perhaps it did register that the post would be controversial. If you read the comments, you’ll see the controversy. I have no problems with people disagreeing with our posts, or the commenters. But at one point one of the commenters crossed the line from disagreement to insult. On the internet, that’s not a very fine line. What it boils down to is that I’d rather have a handful of meaningful, useful, heartfelt, productive, dialogue-provoking comments–including those that disagree with something or someone else–than lots of insults or attacks. How do we get to that point on diacritics? Help me out here. We need suggestions. Better yet, we need your comments.

The problem isn’t one of posting something in which rage was the topic. There are some things we should be angry about, but we need to be artful in expressing that anger. Paisley’s post was artful, but that, too, is a matter of judgment and the eye of the beholder. The issue here is that art and anger are an uncomfortable mix for some readers or viewers. It’s an uncomfortable mix for a lot of writers and artists too. What’s the proper proportion of art to anger? For whom are we mixing this particular concoction? One person’s rant is another person’s honesty, but the flip side is that one person’s subtlety is another person’s obfuscation.

What I’m suggesting is that every minority writer, however defined, has had to deal with this issue of how to mix or balance or address or ignore the relationship of art to anger. Here’s a wild guess on my part: even minority writers who don’t seem angry on the page have had to at least think about the kinds of anger that are tied to being their particular minority and decide to evade it or sublimate it into something else. For those of us from Viet Nam or Southeast Asia, there is so much to be angry about, whether it’s on the vast geopolitical/historical scale of countries and warfare and colonialism or whether it’s on the much more intimate scale of families and love or the lack of love or the loss of love and so many other things. Even on the intimate scale, though, the horizon lines go directly to the macro-history of all the screwed up decisions and events that shaped us.

Like the day I wrote this, I read about how Hillary Clinton visited Laos and met with survivors of US bombs that blew up years after they were dropped on the country. I’m glad she visited, even if it was only for four hours, and that she had pictures taken of herself at a prosthetics workshop and with someone with no hands or sight as a result of a US bomb. But I’m angry too that the US did this to this country that I had the first chance of visiting this past April, a spectacularly beautiful and peaceful country. And I’m angry that the US is contributing all of $9 million a year to help find the tens of thousands of unexploded ordnance that the US dropped in the first place. And I’m angry that the US is considering increasing that contribution to (only) $10 million a year. The Pentagon spends that much money in approximately seven and a half minutes.

How did I get from biracial rage to unexploded ordnance? In my paranoid, angry mind they’re both connected by an understanding that we live in a world where there exists an Orientalist imagination that fetishizes Asian women and sees Asia as weak, feminine territory to be conquered by force of arms (see Edward Said, Orientalism, for the full treatment–you can cheat and just read the introduction–or David Henry Hwang, M. Butterfly, for the pop culture version). This is what anger does–it allows us  to connect the dots we might not otherwise connect. The danger, of course, is that we can connect the wrong dots, and it’s certainly the case that if we don’t agree with someone else’s rage and anger, we think they’re connecting the wrong dots. That’s why the Tea Party version of rage and anger makes me groan in frustration and reach for my pen, while my version of rage and anger makes them reach for their guns.

Few people like anger and rage in general, but in American society, if you’re white, you’ll get more leeway to be angry than if you’re a minority. Some people may not like the Tea Party, but the Tea Party gets major airtime. Compare their reception to the Black Panther Party’s reception and you get an idea of the inequity. A white man (and now a white woman) with a gun is a hero(ine). A black man with a gun is a criminal. In general, people from any given majority, however defined, almost always hate it when a minority gets angry. Men don’t like angry women, whites don’t like angry people of color, straights don’t like angry gays, colonizers don’t like angry colonized, and so on. Generalizations, perhaps, and with exceptions, but still true. So Americans and French generally don’t like angry Vietnamese or Southeast Asians, and westerners don’t like angry Asians. That’s why it’s easier to be a writer or an artist of an Asian background who isn’t angry, on the surface. It’s okay to talk about the problems of history and war and race and gender and immigration and what not if one doesn’t do so in an angry fashion, which is to say, anger at the dominant society. But confusion? To be expected. Disfunction? By definition. Self-hatred? Even better. Sadness? Nice! Melancholy? Terrific. Comedy? We need more of that. Romance? Absolutely. Hope? Of course! But anger? Absolutely not, with one very big exception. If you are angry at other Asians, namely your parents, your family, your abusive husband, your ungrateful children, or your old world country, that’s cool. We can sell that. Anger at non-Asians–oh, let’s be honest and say anger at whites–not so much.

Let’s talk about Vietnamese Americans as one example of how intra-minority anger is acceptable. Who are Vietnamese Americans most likely to be angry about in public? Other Vietnamese Americans or the Vietnamese in Viet Nam. See: any incident charged with allegations of Communism in Orange County. There are a lot of angry anti-Communists in Orange County. They hate Communists of any color, true, but they save all their rage for the Vietnamese American (or Vietnamese) ones. I can see that point of view, but really, the USA had nothing to do with the plight of the Vietnamese people after the war? We can’t be angry about white people? They are, to be frank, the ones ultimately responsible for screwing Viet Nam, from French colonialism to American occupation. And yet, if we don’t get angry with white Americans, we’re plenty angry about those other Americans, namely black people and Mexicans (the Vietnamese use “Mexican” to refer to all Latinos, so far as I can tell). Vietnamese Americans are not not racists, they just speak their racism in Vietnamese so other people can’t eavesdrop. But white people–Vietnamese Americans may not think much of their parenting habits, but that’s about all they’ll say about white people in private, much less in public. And you know what? That makes me angry.

The general public looks at how angry (some) Vietnamese Americans get about Communism and they wonder what the big deal is. Anti-communism is so 1988. But at the same time, “dominant society”–that faceless hegemony, that other name for power–is happy that (some) Vietnamese Americans are angry about Communism because it prevents them from being angry about a lot of other things, like poverty, domestic violence, structural inequality, etc., or asking dangerous questions about things like mega-tons of bombs and Agent Orange and free-fire zones and whether the use of them in Viet Nam was a war crime. (But the Communists committed war crimes, someone is saying…yes, they did. How does that make an American war crime less of a war crime?) Now I’m a little less angry for having said that.

Then there’s the issue of how other minorities see Vietnamese Americans, or Asians in general. (See the comment thread on Paisley Rekdal’s post for one elaboration of this.) Let’s put it this way: it’s a no-no to be angry at white people in America, but if you want to hate your fellow minorities or other minorities, go ahead. Who stole your lunch money? Who seized your job opportunities? Who took your Ivy League college seat? Who’s bringing down property values in your neighborhood? You know who, says Mitt Romney. Not people like me.

So a little biracial rage directed at supposedly monoracial societies and their representatives is not a bad thing. And a little more anger on the part of Vietnamese Americans at American society would be nice, too. Not the kind of anger that only gets spoken of behind closed doors, or that gets spoken in Vietnamese, knowing no one can understand, but the English kind. The kind that Americans can’t say they didn’t hear, even if they don’t like it.

Viet Thanh Nguyen is a Los Angeles-based professor, teacher, critic and fiction writer, author of Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America and numerous short stories in Best New American Voices, TriQuarterly, Narrative and other magazines. He is the editor of diaCRITICS. More info here.

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  1. Ethnic-grievance identity politics isn’t a deterrent, but an enabler, of a Trump presidency. It fueled his rise to power.

  2. What a fine call and response.

    A few years ago my liver stopped working properly. That organ doles out energy so I was often in the same physiologic state as a marathon runner who has “hit the wall”, run out of glycogen.

    For a few weeks there I lost all interest in sex. I no longer even noticed the first thing I look for in a human form, whether it is male or female.

    This state is attested in wisdom literature, where one sage described it as dismounting the tiger one has ridden throughout life. The lack of sensation passed with my illness, but the insight remains.

    It is possible to stop caring about having sex. I have been having a recent experience with anger that is similar.

    For about a year I have lived without insecurity about food, income and shelter. As a consequence, I think, I find myself able to think without anger.

    It’s a novel experience. Most things I know about, you can’t learn about without anger.

    But I find I can think about them now in calm. I can see some positive way to proceed without carelessly or deliberately provoking anger in others.

    I am enjoying the experience. I will have to think about what to say about this thread.



  3. Manifest destiny, in all its supposed glory, was and still is an attitude that disregards the rights of others to life because the ones who are carrying out the invasions do not see the inhabitants of the countries to be equal. When other people are considered to be less than equal, then the value of life becomes lost. This is why the United States, Germany, Spain, etc and so on, found it an extremely easy deed to massacre many people who were in the way to acquiring the much wanted resources that belonged to the people in other lands.

    The victims are angry because there was and still remains to be no logical explanation as to the violence that they received. Many people from the violent actions of others are still reeling with anger because there has been no real action taken from any of the invading countries to try to make amends. There have been no realistic apologies and I doubt if there ever will be, because for the monstrous invaders to actually admit culpability will open the door to all kinds of reparations that the war mongers and resource hoarders do not wish to part with.

    The anger from the caucasian population of today, they are witnessing their control over others to be slipping away. They are fearful that the people that have been harmed, when they come into power, will have the same evil behaviour and commit terrible violence on the used to be “kings”. The control is slipping away. Also, many of the caucasian population whole heartedly believe that their country could not be guilty of heinous war crimes, that just cannot be true. If you put the evidence right in front of their face, they would still deny the actions. They cannot face the truth that the ones they supported are monsters and if they supported monsters, what does that make them? Many people do not like looking into themselves because they are afraid of what they might find. So, they lash out in anger.

    Massacres by the United States were not only committed in Southeast Asia, but also here in the United States, all throughout Latin America, South America, Iran, most recently Iraq, and so on. Now, I understand we have deployed troops to 35 nations in Africa where the precious rare minerals are located…and, so, it continues…

  4. “In general, people from any given majority, however defined, almost always hate it when a minority gets angry. Men don’t like angry women, whites don’t like angry people of color, straights don’t like angry gays, colonizers don’t like angry colonized, and so on. Generalizations, perhaps, and with exceptions, but still true.” You just made a sweeping generalization of multiple demographics and ethnic groups, and your only preemptive defense of this obvious logical fallacy is “but still true.” That’s exactly the same kind of faux-logic used by militant racists, teabaggers, and other fundamentally closed-minded people who don’t understand logic.

    • I’ve never been compared to a teabagger before. Thanks, I think.
      You equate “obvious logical fallacy” with “sweeping generalization.” Generalizations are not in and of themselves fallacies. People generalize all the time, and sometimes the generalizations are right and sometimes they are wrong. In short, a generalization is not necessarily more inaccurate than something specific. Ex: “Asians generally like eating rice.” That is true, and not racist. A racist generalization is: “Asians like eating rice because their civilization isn’t advanced enough to produce enough meat.” That is a generalization advanced in the past by Americans about Asians (“Meat vs. Rice,” by Samuel Gompers, an anti-Asian labor tract). I stand by my generalizations and their exceptions. To pick just one, “colonizers don’t like angry colonized,” I point to Vietnamese history. The French colonizers certainly didn’t like it when the Vietnamese colonized got angry and fought back; these rebels were arrested, imprisoned, exiled, tortured, or executed. Every other example of colonization and decolonization I can think of follows this pattern. The basic logic underlying this and the other generalizations is another one: those with more power generally do not like it when those with less power contest their inequality. The exceptions to this exist; they exist on the right side of history; and their existence and efforts are what changes the generalization.

      • If I understand you correctly, you’re saying [members of ethnic group A] don’t like it when [members of ethnic group B] are angry. Outside of the fact that witnessing somebody else’s anger is generally an unpleasant thing (especially when the observer’s ignorance means they lack context), there’s no way you can know that unless you’re a mass mind reader. I think you’re perceiving responses to anger that are attributable to lack of context and generalizing these reactions along ethnic lines. Using a sweeping generalization to over-simplify a complex issue is faulty/lazy logic, it’s the same type of logic used by racists to whitewash their core motivations which are emotional in nature.

        Another problem with rage in art is that anger clouds the mind, distorting perceptions and hindering logic. An argument made in a fit of rage is often a disjointed and poorly-supported one.

        • The distinction is not one of ethnicity; it is one of power. Members of powerful groups do not like it when members of less powerful groups (that they dominate) are angry. It’s not a surprise that when the less powerful become angry at their condition, the more powerful 1) become even angrier and 2) tell the less powerful they shouldn’t be angry. I’m not making this up from some subjective state of feeling. These are evident in many historical situations of oppression and resistance. Furthermore, anger is not necessarily unpleasant unless that anger is directed at you (of course, there are exceptions to this generalization; I assume some people thrive on having anger thrown at them). Anger that one feels oneself, and anger that one sees being felt by others who share one’s state of mind, can be powerful, productive, motivating. Anger is necessary as one step towards liberation. Is it the only emotion necessary? No, but it’s one of them. So far as anger clouding the mind, yes it can. So can many other emotions, including love. The point is that emotions have many different possible uses, and no emotion has only one use. Finally, art produced in anger or to express anger can, in fact, clarify rather than distort. Punk music comes to mind. Certain kinds of art produced from anger can be much more meaningful than some than other kinds of art produced from seemingly more noble or gentler feelings.

  5. Hello Viet. Your article really rings true for me, at least for my anger against the US hegemony and, of course, intra-minority anger towards my parents and Vietnamese-American community in general. Still struggling to figure out how to express those bottled-up anger in a healthy way. But here is my response to what you said about the Vietnamese-American community’s anti-communism: I’m studying abroad in Hanoi, Vietnam right now. Although I was born in Vietnam, I experienced a lot of cultural clash (I was born in Saigon, VN is VERY diverse for being such a geographically small country), yet similar frustration arises dealing with the culture, identity crisis (am I Vietnamese enough because my Vietnamese is not that fluent, or because I grew up speaking the Southern dialect?), gender role (that I struggle to rage against growing up), and of course, politics and history. I’m concerned about how the younger generation of Vietnamese (at least what I’ve seen at face value) in Vietnam (especially in Hanoi) are not questioning the supposed “communist” government and are confused when they encountered (other) Vietnamese (American in this program or a few southern Vietnamese) i who hate this government. Having to grow up in Vietnam till I was 7-yr-old and experienced the educational system here, I see why this generation grew up not questioning the government and the propaganda images of (Uncle) Ho Chi Minh. I remember having to remember and recite poem praising and glorifying Bắc Hồ, even though I had no fucking clue who he was, what he did, and what he believed in. And traces of Confucianism probably aid the state’s agenda of demanding the people obedience, like a father to a child (anti-protest and other form of political dissent laws in Vietnam are super strict, if not illegal…in fact, I’m kinda paranoid writing in Vietnam this right now).

    It was a culture shock moving to the US at 7 year of age and learning that people hate Ho Chi Minh here. Eventually I learn to pick up the dominant anti-communism and anti-Ho Chi Minh in the US. It was not until college when I finally learn what communism and Marxism really is (along other theories about various power dynamics, such as race, gender, the state, etc.), and how all of these theories about power answer the questions I always asked throughout high school about inequality and inaccessibility, and answer question i had about myself as a woman growing up in a world that demands my “purity” and my body, and why the US government works the way it (does not) work. That’s why I became confused about the Vietnamese-American’s anti-communism, “racism” against other people of color, and feel even more alienated from the Vietnamese-American community who (at least at face value) fail to recognize the terrorism of the US government (before it was just cultural alienation, now it’s political alienation). And now that I’m in Vietnam, I feel the same alienation, both culturally and politcally. It is chilling to see how Vietnamese here are still colonized. A Vietnamese student said she wants to get rid of her Vietnamese accent when she speaks English, and is baffled as to why anyone would want to study in Vietnam when the US is sooooooooo much fucking better. (She was also baffled when my friend said that she is a feminist studies major, saying what is there to learn about women?) And that when I ask the question again: Who is Ho Chi Minh?…and how can I reconcile my political stance and my personal beliefs with my Vietnamese identity…..? And how can I find ways to express that rage!! AHHHHHHH!!!

    • Hi Nhi,
      Thanks for your response and your story. I think the story you tell is an increasingly common one as more Vietnamese born after the war move back and forth between Viet Nam and the United States or other countries. It’s inevitable that there will be a conflict between the dominant stories told in Viet Nam, in the United States, and in the Vietnamese diasporic communities. Everybody’s wedded to their stories and deeply held conceptions, and the Viet Kieu are caught in between. It’s inevitable that that leads to anger! I didn’t even touch on the gender issues you brought up, much less issues of racial diversity in Viet Nam. Much of these conflicts stem from people and societies holding rigid ideological and cultural perceptions, which are fine if one agrees with them, but once one is exposed to other points of view, then confusion arises; and from confusion comes not just anger but also fear. But this place in between can also be a very productive place too, both personally and because you can have insights that other people cannot…it might just take a long time to explore this place.

  6. This is a really great article – thank you for writing on this much neglected topic. My friend sent the article to me and asked me about my thoughts on it. It got me quite riled up! (In a good way) Here was my response to him: Like the author, I don’t deny that I’m angry. One could even argue that my professional/academic track in life has been fueled by me coming to terms with that anger. I love the lines: “For those of us from Viet Nam or Southeast Asia, there is so much to be angry about, whether it’s on the vast geopolitical/historical scale of countries and warfare and colonialism or whether it’s on the much more intimate scale of families and love or the lack of love or the loss of love and so many other things. Even on the intimate scale, though, the horizon lines go directly to the macro-history of all the screwed up decisions and events that shaped us.” After gaining a better grasp on SEA history over the past few years at UH, I really learned first hand how macro and micro issues are so intimately interconnected. My friend did a project on historical trauma for her MSW a couple months ago and asked me to contribute video response for it regarding my experience as the daughter of Vietnamese refugees. Her definition of historical trauma: Collective and cumulative emotional wounding across generations that results from cataclysmic events targeting a community (think the Vietnam War and consequently the fleeing from the country). It really became clear how these “macro” processes are so integrated into the lives of those who have suffered from them, even if the trauma occurred during past generations. These processes tear families apart – both in the literal and figurative sense. There are families who have fled to different parts of the country and and there are families who struggle because of the much more insidious effects of assimilation, the identity politics that follow, and the institutional racism that exists in America. I could barely keep my composure for Magan’s video when I spoke about the guilt I have for having been angry with my parents for not being “American” enough while I was growing up. For making me speak Vietnamese because their English was too broken for us to communicate if we were to use the language of “America.” I blamed all these things on my family at one point and never thought twice to think of WHY these issues exist. It’s easy to be distracted by intra-minority anger to the point where the root causes of these issues (colonialism, war, American militarization & the “empire”, etc. etc.) go virtually unnoticed. It also makes me angry that there is a post-war energy in Viet Nam that at least to me, cannot be escaped. It is buried deep in the land and the psyche of its people. Amongst all the new global development are sites of old battles, old US military infrastructure now utilized by the Vietnamese people, undetonated land mines and the effects of Agent Orange. I know the war was damaging to the US veterans that served there, as well as their families. But most Americans will never have to drink water exposed to Agent Orange, they won’t have to walk those streets once filled with bloodshed, and they will never have to deal with the type of historical trauma that affect Vietnamese refugees and their families. We have to look at our country’s history honestly if we are to heal (I won’t even go into treatment of indigenous people on US soil — that’s a whole different and even much more complex issue). Unfortunately, the current metanarrative in the US is not necessarily hospitable to looking at history honestly. Because of that, there are groups of people who are looked at solely as ANGRY. But what’s so unjustified about that if it’s one of the ways we can get a more honest and just discussion about what has happened in our past? As POC, we have to be responsible for narrating our own histories if we truly want change, cuz those who dictate the metanarrative of America definitely aren’t going to anytime soon.

    • Hi Lan,
      thanks for your very thoughtful and nuanced comment. It provoked me to think of one more issue, which is that it’s easier for those who are powerful not to be angry. They have so many resources and tools at their disposal that they usually don’t need to be angry, and can hence look with wonder and dismissal at those who do. Power is a relative issue here, though. Some people may feel powerless in some circumstances but powerful in others, although they may mistake their power for simply feeling normal. An example here is the rage of angry white people around immigration, or men of any color around feminism. The truly powerful know that they’re powerful and don’t need to get angry unless their backs are to the wall; they have plenty of proxies and subordinates they can use before then. I think that’s one reason why some people may be contemptuous of the anger of those with whom they do not agree–it seemingly signals weakness. And in so far as those of us who are angry let ourselves be debilitated by it, it is weakness.

      • This discussion reminds me of the ways in which a nation-state uses apparatuses to ensure “historical amnesia” which is equated to patriotism. Those who speak out in anger and rage are considered non-patriotic and non-democratic. Americans are expected to adopt “imperialist logic” because we are told that that is what a “good American” does. A “good American” would never speak in anger against his/her own country.

        • hi Mary,
          yes, good anger is directed at external enemies. But one thing about the USA, and not sure if it’s unique, but we do have a tradition of good anger directed at domestic tyranny…an anger which has gotten out of hand (the Oklahoma City bombing) and may one day get out of hand again.

          • Hi Viet,
            Your example of the Oklahoma City bombing is apt. It’s also a good argument for allowing minorities and people of color to voice their discontent and (dis)ease. Perhaps if we were allowed to voice our rage and anger through art it doesn’t have to escalate to where innocent bystanders get hurt (because of all the suppression that ‘polite’ society requires from us). I just hope that we can learn from history and past mistakes so that the innocent don’t have to pay for the actions and abuses of others.

      • Viet ThAmh, I think you have gotten to the crux of the matter. The powerful don’t get angry until they have their backs against the wall. It would be useful to consider different types of power though… the seemingly weak have a power of their own! Neither political or material but the power of their anger. Artists in particular have the power of their creative vision. Anger, if appropriated, becomes the grain of sand tthat is the beginning of our pearl.

      • Thank you Viet. This is one of the finest articles I’ve read. A hard read for this white woman and an important read. The already powerful have the privilege of walking away from what they feel too uncomfortable to listen to and I’m guessing that they might not even feel uncomfortable! I’d rather listen to your historical narrative – after all many of your families and you have lived and are still living with the trauma of what the U.S. did in Vietnam. I can only guess at the impact of this with gratitude that you have been so honestly upright in your expression.

        • thank you, lee, for reading and for your comment. you’re right that one way to define privilege is not to care and not to hear. the powerful have that privilege, and unfortunately some of the less powerful want to have that privilege too.

          • I don’t often spend time on Facebook and I decided to post your article there so that more people could read it.
            Again thank you for expressing your thoughts and feelings. Lee

  7. Hi Viet,

    I always enjoy reading your post. Your voice, sense of humor and sentiment came through in every post. I mostly agree with the premise on your post. I would only add another another premise is that us Asians are taught to respect authority/elders. We are not suppose to talk back even when we disagree with their viewpoints. So as immigrants, subconsciously understood that somehow we are not ‘real citizens’ therefore we don’t dare to criticize or get angry with the authority/host country. It’s one thing to show appreciation for what this country done for us, but we should voice our our discontent when the US’s actions stray away from the founding fathers’ vision. After all, questioning the authority is the basis on how this country was founded.

    There are a lot of GOP Viet-Americans who support the US invasion of Iraq and bomb other countries. They feel the need to support the host country and don’t dare to criticize. It never fail to amaze me how they don’t make the connection with why they had to leave their home land and endured all of the pain a sufferings as the result of the war of choice yet they still wish the US to cause pain and sufferings to others.

    Those in power who control the media are eventually control what’s considered as societal norm. Will you write something about the Danny Chan case and the systematic discrimination from the battle field to the court room. The judge actually stopped the prosecuting lawyer from making the whole presentation. Seriously? Are military courts are kangaroo courts? The NYtimes reporter fail to mention the racial make up of the military juror to give reader a better perspective since this is considered as a racial discrimination case. http://nyti.ms/MD3Tmw


    PS: hope to meet you one of these days.

    • Hi Hai-ho,
      Thanks for the kind words! I totally agree that the Vietnamese stress filial piety and respect for authority, and that this has an impact on how we express ourselves. This is compounded by what I see as a Vietnamese desire for social harmony. So two consequences are, as you say, respect for the US (at least in public) and respect for our elders. One of the most frustrating things growing up in the Vietnamese American community of San Jose was the sense I had as a young person that I could not talk back or voice a different opinion than the older generation. I see that today with many students, particularly from Orange County, who believe, seemingly, every viewpoint of their elders, or at least pay lip service to those viewpoints. And yet there’s always been unrest and the potential for change in Viet Nam. Why not elsewhere?
      I do want to write something about Vietnamese American attitudes towards the US and SVN military. Thanks for reminding me.
      Hit me up when you’re in LA.

  8. Rage and anger? What for? American atrocities? No, let’s just forget about them. So what if America committed genocide and ecocide in Southeast Asia? So what if America was responsible for killing 3 to 5 million human lives, mostly civilians; for violating the Geneva Convention and bombing civilian hospitals; for raping and killing innocent people? America is the most powerful country in the world, and, as such, it can do whatever it wants, including suppressing its past actions and denying its minorities their voices.

    A rapist will deny his babaric act. A killer will deny his murderous act. America will always deny its atrocious actions in Southeast Asia; besides, America is not capable of wrong doing because it is the chosen “City upon a Hill,” a godly society. Never mind that, in the name of god, it committed over 3 million rapes and murders. No rapist wants to be accused of being a rapist. No murderer wants to be accused of being a murderer. No American wants to hear about American atrocities in Southeast Asia.

    I agree that minorities should be able to express their rage and anger, but I don’t think Americans want to listen to their victim’s grievances. After all, the City upon the Hill must stay pure and therefore cannot accommodate any of its ugliness.

      • I am so getting tired of these comments on rage and anger.
        I agree that anyone should be able to express their rage and anger, not just minorities.A better strategy though would be to see that anger clearly and channel it towards something constructive.
        Let me say something incendiary, I was amused more than anything else by the original post ranting against that poor old white man’s good-intentioned but ignorant categorizing of the author. By getting angry, she’d just allowed herself to be “pigeon holed” by him. Isn’t it more important she feels secure in the validity of her views than lose her equilibrium because he can’t get who she is. She’s let him :”get” her then.
        I’m Chinese Singaporean. I married a Viet Kieu. We lived in Orange County California, then moved back to S.E. Asia. My two oldest children went to an International School, my youngest to an American school. They speak English, Viet, Mandarin Chinese, Tagalog and call themselves Asian Americans. My oldest daughter married the son of an English Singaporean and a Trieu Chau Chinese Singaporean. Their child is going to have a really long name! What it will classify itself as I wouldn’t know, but it will thrill me to find out.
        I wonder… would a Vietnamese person living in Hawaii have such angst?

        • angst comes from all kinds of different places, even, I’d imagine, in a place as diverse in Hawaii, where you can worry about land, sovereignty, militarism, tourism, identity, ecology. Bottled-up anger is bad, and so is anger that has no direction. But no anger may be bad too, since there are so many things to be angry about. What I was suggesting in the essay above is that for artists in particular, anger has a very important purpose, and each artist has to find her or his own way to use it. So simply to be angry at someone or something is not necessarily to let that person or thing define or control you, although that could be the result.

        • I’m a Vietnamese person living in Hawaii right now, and I feel that this is the place in which I’ve had the most angst about many of these issues. As Viet said, there are still a lot of issues here. And here, the issues are much more in-your-face. All those things he listed are things I see and think about here in a daily basis – much more than when I’m on the mainland.

  9. I think this was a great post, and Paisley’s was too. I’m glad someone is writing about these issues, and I’m glad that someone is angry.

      • Haha…I think “glad” was an unfortunate choice of word on my part. Makes me think of “don’t get mad, get glad!” But of course that wasn’t what I intended.

        In any case, I think there needs to be more rage in our discussions of racial politics, not less. Politeness is a special kind of silence, and it’s time for it to stop. Re-reading this post and the comment thread on Paisley’s again, ugh…I can’t even. It just makes me mad.


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