Editor’s Closing Notes: Currents

This month I leave diaCRITICS in the more-than-capable hands of its editorial team. We have grown a lot since 2018, both deepening and increasing our content, and it has been a pleasure and honor to work with this team. Eric Nguyen, our reviews editor, will step into the role of editor-in-chief (while continuing to edit book reviews and Out of the Margins literary series). I wish to acknowledge the invaluable and deft support of Amy Lam, our deputy editor, who also edits many of our essays and profiles; as well the contributions from series editors such as Jessica Boyd, whose this is for mẹ series is well-loved, and Sheila Pham, bringing us news from Australia, and long-time contributions from Robert Pham (global news). Here are a few parting thoughts, and in an upcoming post Eric Nguyen will have more to say about what is next for diaCRITICS in 2021.

Be also on the lookout—soon—for a site redesign that will integrate both diaCRITICS and (our parent organization) DVAN’s websites.

First days of January 2020, Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park. Photo by Dao Strom

I began this year in a river wading through jungle. The rain in Vietnam—in Việt Nam—is, to say the least, a volatile element. Thus my entry into the new decade is also a surrender to currents. This speaks to 2020, no doubt. A year that has asked and is still asking us for surrender and reshaping—in so many ways, large and small, global and local, individual and systemic.

What is the value of “stories” in a year like this one? In a time when the very placement of our bodies, how we inhabit and maneuver them in our homes, our communities, amid others in society, is being questioned and necessitates change, the stories we tell ourselves and others become time- and ethos-keeping documents, dreams, instruction or education sometimes, comfort or salve sometimes, pleas, reckonings, all voicings—the ongoingness of communication—that add to the many-storied realm of our collective consciousness. We need stories in order to draw individual anchor in the seas of a complicated collective experience.

And this year, perhaps more than ever, we are being asked to each contend alone—in body, at least—with the enmeshed-ness / mess of our collectivity as humans on this planet.

Over the past two years of editing diaCRITICS (and over the last decade of contributing to both DVAN and diaCRITICS), I’ve given much thought to the tensions between the individual and the collective, in particular to how this is weighted for a Vietnamese person in the diaspora, who must navigate multiple points of pressures, both internal and external, familial and societal. There is much, we all know, for the diasporic being to wrestle with, to try (or not) to break from (or reconnect to). Part of the mission of DVAN—and hence of diaCRITICS—has been to honor the complexity and convolution of that diasporic being, and to do so on the level of “stories”: through validating, nurturing, promoting, sharing individuals’ stories. The foremost method for supporting those stories has been to build community and a sense of collectivity, a strength in numbers, in narrative plenitude, manner of approach. We fortify our individual beings via asserting our collective, our plural, voicing. To put it in slightly more emotional terms: we wanted readers and writers to realize they are not so alone as the outside world or society may’ve led them to feel, and, very simply, to value their own stories. Whatever those may be.

This project of gathering communal strength through gathering together around “stories” suggests that the project of collectivity requires to some degree, also, some alignment around shared values or (at least) around shared experiences—historical, social—that preclude agreed-upon narratives. Simultaneously, if not paradoxically, within DVAN and diaCRITICS there has also underlain an impulse to resist definitive parameters for “identity” or “belonging” or “Vietnamese-ness” or “American-ness”, for that matter. DVAN is made up of the misfits, we like to say; the ethos has been one of inclusion, while also challenging easy concepts of identity, and eroding boundaries both within and outside of ourselves. It is, very much so, a project of holding space for holding open many tensions at once.

Asking us to define ourselves, our group, by our indefinability, can be a tall order. To honor the dissonance of the individual as yet part of the collective is an interesting quandary to ponder.

And, admittedly, it can become tiring, this constant questioning and pushing upon the terms that would bind, that would perhaps even make bonding easier. The desire can arise, in the face of so much contrariness, a wish instead to shut down the plenitude and confusion, to return to familiar markers of identity and inclusion.

I think of these words we toss around: collectivity, community, multiplicity, plurality. They are related but not the same. Community and collectivity have at their root (“com-”) an urge toward ‘togetherness’; while multiplicity and plurality point much more basically to the fact of being “many”, “numerous”, “of or belonging to more than one” (Latin “pluralis”). Harmony is not implicit in multiplicity nor plurality. Our wish for a togetherness—harmony amid our individual stories—is our own addition.

As I look around from amidst this tumultuous year, these seem like relevant observations that beg certain questions, for us as Vietnamese in our respective communities, as well as global citizens. With all the many different “stories” at odds in these times, how will we configure ways to live, not just in collectivity, but in multiplicity, in plurality, truly, viably, sustainably?

Dao Strom is the author of the books You Will Always Be Someone From Somewhere Else, We Were Meant To Be a Gentle People, The Gentle Order of Girls and Boys, and Grass Roof, Tin Roof; and a song-cycle, East/West. www.daostrom.com



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