Author Archives: zopie

What Happened in July: Some News and Events


It’s JULY, Tháng 7. Contributor Julie Nguyễn offers a critical recap of July happenings in the general interest of a Vietnamese American. She most likely missed a few things, Vietnamese and not, so if you come across something you think should be shared with the readers, please send them to Julie via this email: ngujle [at] gmail [dot] com.

[Before we begin: have you heard about our subscriber drive? Win an iPod and other prizes!]

July seems to have passed with an interesting mix of the good and bad. Some of us get to celebrate with the newlyweds of NYC with the passing of the same-sex marriage law; and also on that front, the President ratified the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Meanwhile, on the total opposite side of the spectrum there was the horrifying bombing in Oslo, which sparked consternation about Norway’s immigrants. And then there is USA’s notorious debt plan that precariously passed. Thoughts people?

Vietnamese in the NEWS

Nguyen Cao Ky in 1965, the year he became prime minister.

This title says it better than I can: Vietnamese Americans have mixed feelings about ex-leader’s death, an article about the recent passing of Nguyễn Cao Kỳ, former Prime Minister of the Republic of Vietnam and later, Vice President. If you want to learn more about the man himself, this obituary is more helpful.

I fervently hope that it’s only me, but there seems to be several gun rampages as of late. In Texas, Tan Do gunned down his ex-wife and several of her relatives before turning the gun on himself, at their son’s roller-rink birthday party. The children were not physically harmed.

Out of Garden Grove comes this rather gruesome tale: Woman Drugs Husband’s Dinner, Cuts Off Penis, Throws It In Garbage Disposal. I don’t know what to say.

Ms Tran Khai Thanh Thuy was sentenced to 3.5 years of prison on charges of 'assault ' in 2009.

And then this caught my eye: Trần Khải Thanh Thủy, a Vietnamese dissident journalist, was released in a surprising move from Hà Nội…maybe not so surprising. Rubbing noses with America when China is poking your bordersisn’t exactly unpredictable.

Vietnamese in the ARTS
Foreigners dancing the tango get the cold shoulder in Argentina (And xenophobia gets a kick in the shins! Notice!).

Michelle Phan (make-up guru and Lancôme spokesperson) gets a mention in this NYT article about Asian-Americans on the big screen. It’s a fun read about Hollywack and their insistence that somehow, our Asian American stories are not universal and therefore not very marketable. Youtube can tell us otherwise, in numbers. While mainstream America likes to finance stupid stereotypes (thx Dat Phan…), the rest of Asian America is moving on.

For example: the call is out. Help fund Saigon Electric so it can take over the world. Tired of being labeled with ‘that’ Vietnamese stereotype? Let’s shake things up and put our diverse faces in as many theaters as possible.

Along those lines, if you like to stalk the amazing spoken word artist Bao Phi, check out the APIA Spoken Word Summit happening in the lucky Twin Cities. (Also contributing will be Sahra Vang Nguyen who has some impressing things to say about humanity.)

gratuitous Tila pic

Look out NYC because here she comes! Tila Tequila is on the prowl. You know I’ll be looking for her, lol!

And finally, a short and interesting little documentary about The History of Vietnamese and Nail Salons (streaming video).

(thank you RL and VTN for your help in bringing some of these news pieces to my attention!)

Julie Nguyễn likes toads a lot but only eats vegetables. She kinda loves being Vietnamese even though there aren’t that many in NYC.

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What Happened in June: Some News and Events


It’s JUNE, Tháng 6. Contributor Julie Nguyễn offers a critical recap of June happenings in the general interest of a Vietnamese American. She most likely missed a few things, Vietnamese and not, so if you come across something you think should be shared with the readers, please send them to Julie via this email: ngujle [at] gmail [dot] com.

[Before we begin: have you heard about our subscriber drive? Win an iPod and other prizes!]

THE NEWS:

Michelle Le’s family isn’t giving up hope. It’s been a month since she was last seen and though the police have classified her case as a homicide, her family continues the search.
Visit this website for more information.

Remember Oscar Grant
Oscar Grant’s killer went free after serving 11 months in prison for shooting an unarmed black man in the back.

Remember Vincent Chin
The murder of Vincent Chin is one of the touchstones of Asian American history. He was racially targeted and beaten to death, and the murderers got 3 years of probation and a measly fine of 3000$. They didn’t spend a single night in jail. These murderers are living free among us today.
The documentary Vincent Who? has been made available for free viewing through June and July by its producers, view it here.

On June 3rd, Annie Le’s murderer was sentenced to 44 years in prison.

In Georgia, 22-year old Davis Do was beaten to unconsciousness outside of a bar. Five men have been arrested in this case.

And in San Jose, recent high school graduate Vincent Tran Le was stabbed to death during a gang altercation. Also in San Jose, a settlement was reached between the city and the victim of a police beating.

In San Diego, Philong Huynh was convicted of rape-murder.

And overseas, the Vietnamese have been protesting against the Chinese government over the ownership of the Spratly Islands (a contested area) and the breach of borders. These protests were taken up by Seattle’s Vietnamese community. Read more.

IN THE ARTS:

Gene Luen Yang’s and Thien Pham’s book Level Up on sale now! How do you decide what to do with your life? It’s video games vs. med school.
Yang’s website.
Pham’s blog.

Construction begins on the Vietnamese Heritage Garden in San Jose, the first of it’s kind. A Community Celebration Day is to be scheduled on August 6, 2011 to introduce the garden to the local community. Definitely waiting to hear more about this!

Congratulations to four students from Philadelphia, Wei Chen, Bach Tong, Duong Nghe Le and Xu Lin, who are among 15 awardees of the Public Interest Project’s Freedom From Fear Award for their work on the campaign to stop violence against Asian students at South Philadelphia High School. I am so humbled by these students. Read more.

FURTHER:
My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant, by Jose Antonio Vargas. This journalist admits his undocumented status on the New York Times. He writes a powerful piece, detailing the uphill battles that an immigrant faces and the non-rewards that come for winning those battles.


And finally, congratulations to all couples in NY! Gay marriage legal in New York State after Senate passes historic bill 33-29. Keep fighting!

Julie Nguyễn likes toads a lot but only eats vegetables. She’s currently out in the sun in NYC.

Please take the time to rate this post (above) and share it (below). Ratings for top posts are listed on the sidebar. Sharing (on email, Facebook, etc.) helps spread the word about diaCRITICS. And join the conversation and leave a comment!

What Happened in May: Some News and Events


It’s MAY! Tháng 5! Contributor Julie Nguyễn offers a critical recap of May happenings in the general interest of a Vietnamese American. She most likely missed a few things, Vietnamese and not, so if you come across something you think should be shared with the readers, please send them to Julie via this email: ngujle [at] gmail [dot] com.

[Before we begin: have you heard about our subscriber drive? Win an iPod and other prizes!]

May brings us through some horrible tornado disasters in the midwest, and the death of a terrible enemy.

In Debt, Far From Home and Claiming Servitude NYT
I like how the article has to throw ‘claiming’ servitude in there, to follow the current trend of immigrant-hate in this country. Labor Trafficking happening in a place near you. Support the men in your life.

In Oakland, Redefining Sex Trade Workers as Abuse Victims NYT
Trauma, abuse and the exotification of asian women. Sex Trafficking happening in a place near you. Support the women in your life.

Garden Grove wants cafes to be less sexy LATimes
Kinky Cafes in Orange County getting censored (raided). Can we stop selling women’s bodies please? I’m not even joking, read the previous article if you want to know where this kind of stuff leads to.

Family offers $20,000 reward for info on missing nursing student, Michelle Hoang Thi Le NYDaily

Have you seen this girl?

San Diego Ponzi scammer gets 30-year prison term after defrauding victims of more than $10M Star Tribune
This is why you don’t want to fall victim to greed. Jerks being jerks.

Pret is Making Bánh Mì?! Ahem, I Mean “Vietnamese Baguette”
Mainstreaming (degradation? sacrilege? you decide…) of the Bánh Mì. I’ve been seeing this trend catch on around America but that doesn’t mean that I’ve found a GOOD Bánh Mì recently.

(thanks Richard for bringing some of these news items to my attention!)

Julie Nguyễn likes toads a lot but only eats vegetables. She’s currently melting on the streets of NYC.

Please take the time to rate this post (above) and share it (below). Ratings for top posts are listed on the sidebar. Sharing (on email, Facebook, etc.) helps spread the word about diaCRITICS. And join the conversation and leave a comment!

Trâu, Cọp, và Trí Khôn Con Người – Buffalo, Tiger, & Human Wisdom


What do a tiger, a buffalo, and a farmer have to do with being Vietnamese?  Read on and find out!

[before we begin: have you heard about our subscriber drive? win an iPod and other prizes!]

Viet Nguyen, editor-in-chief of diaCRITICS, had earlier criticized what it means to (not) be Vietnamese, and challenged the notion of authencity.  He mentioned some markers that people use to determine Vietnameseness: phở, fish sauce, Khánh Ly, etc.  The list can certainly go on so where does one draw the line?  What does being Vietnamese include?

Viet was also right in asserting that these are the wrong questions to ask because ethnic identity is amorphous, changing from individual to individual. Anyone can claim any identity, whether others believe it or not.   What we should be asking instead are the “Why” of being Vietnamese.

Why do Vietnamese people do/believe in the things they do?  These questions are more exploratory and will often lead to a better understanding of the Vietnamese identity because they attempt to look at Vietnamese people from the inside out, rather than outside in.

When we ask these questions, though, we inevitably run into Truyện Cổ Tích.  Truyện Cổ Tích are the folklore, legends, and tales of Việt Nam that reveal and explain our mores and day to day lives, like the one about the origin of the Vietnamese people.  Truyện cổ tích  literally means ‘old collected stories’ and some of the stories we tell today will, in the future, be old and explain again why it is that Vietnamese do the things they do now.

Until that time, we hope you will enjoy this feature where we will present English-translated truyện cổ tích so you can catch a glimpse of why it is Vietnamese.

Trâu, Cọp, và Trí Khôn Con Người – Buffalo, Tiger, and the Wisdom of Human

This original piece by Julie is available for your non-commercial creative use.

Long long ago before any can remember, when animals and humans still talked with one another, there sat a bird in a tree watching a farmer struggle to lead his water buffalo with ropes tied to its horns.  Bemused, the bird said aloud to itself, “I wonder why the rope is tied to the horns?  Why not lead the buffalo by the nose-nose-nose?”  The farmer understood the wisdom in these words so he pierced the buffalo’s nostrils and from that day on, led the buffalo by its nose.

Meanwhile, a tiger was sitting in the cool shade at the edge of a pond, admiring its golden coat of fur. This was part of its daily ritual for the tiger was quite proud of its spotless appearance and thought itself not only the most beautiful creature but also the strongest.  By now, it was nearly noon and the tiger was hungry. It came upon the farm hoping for an easy meal but stopped at the spectacle of the hard-working duo of farmer and buffalo streaming with sweat as they pulled a heavy plow through the mud.

His curiosity tinged with greed but as is the nature of cats, he couldn’t help but say first, “It’s so strange Buffalo…you toil for this puny human and let him lead you by the nose, but you are so much bigger and stronger! Why do you listen to him?”

The water buffalo was undisturbed.

“He may be small, Tiger, but he has wisdom,” said the buffalo, flicking his tail in the direction of the farmer.  “Ask him and he will show it to you.”

Wasting no time, the tiger approached the farmer, whose face darkened at the sight of sharp fangs and long claws. Tiger said to the farmer, “Buffalo tells me that you have something called wisdom that makes even a great creature as he obey you, will you show it to me?”

“I’ll…I’ll have to g…go and fetch it,” the farmer said, trembling.  “But I don’t dare leave seeing how hungrily you eye my buffalo.  If you allow me to restrain you…say…tie you to that tree over there, I’ll gladly go and get my wisdom to show you.”

Tiger hastily agreed, for he so wanted to see this thing called wisdom and the hunger was becoming quite unbearable.  The farmer proceeded to tie the tiger to the tree with several spans of rope and ran off.  When he returned, he carried with him only a torch, the fear on his face had disappeared.

“You call that wisdom?” the tiger demanded.  “What nonsense!  Now untie me so I can get my meal.”

Tiger bared his fangs, as if to make the point clear, but the farmer said nothing and lit the tree on fire before leading his buffalo away.

The tiger howled and flailed wildly but the ropes held fast.  The flames bit deep, the rope charred.  Finally, Tiger managed to free himself and ran back into the dark of the jungle.  It was a long time before he would emerge again and what a sight he was!  Great black stripes now marred his golden body, burned into his fur by that thing called wisdom.

Buffalo saw the tiger and laughed.  He laughed so hard that he fell over and broke his front teeth on a rock.  Thereafter and always, water buffaloes have no front teeth and tigers stay deep within the jungle, not wanting others to see their shameful black stripes.

Read versions of this story in Vietnamese at Vietfun, at e-cadao.
Listen to it in Vietnamese at nhaccuatui.

by Bảo Nguyễn and Julie Nguyễn.

Please take the time to rate this post (above) and share it (below). Ratings for top posts are listed on the sidebar. Sharing (on email, Facebook, etc.) helps spread the word about diaCRITICS. And join the conversation and leave a comment! Have you heard this story before?  What memories does hearing this story bring up?  What do you think it says about the Vietnamese people?

Open Thread: Your Chance to Participate


This is a new feature: the open thread! Here you get to bring up your own topics and musings, initiate the conversation and generate your own discussions. This dialogue is open to non-Vietnamese topics so feel free to bring up others.

[before we begin: have you heard about our subscriber drive? win an iPod and other prizes!]

Is there something worth mentioning in current events? Something interesting happening locally? For instance, I just figured out that Macs have an innate ability to type Vietnamese. How come nobody tells me these things? (if you’re interested, here’s a walkthru)

Vui quá! (“Too much fun!”) or, as I’ve seen some kids online write… Vui wá (where is an incorrect spelling of quá, but it expresses the Southern Vietnamese dialect using English phonetics as there is no “W” in the Vietnamese alphabet). Enough rambling from me. What’s on your mind? Type into the reply box below.

And yes, I/we will be reading and responding our best to anyone who posts here.

–Julie Nguyen

Julie Nguyen likes toads a lot but only eats vegetables. She’s still wondering how she got picked up as a contributor on diaCRITICS. She enjoys drawing and creative writing, and has been self-educating herself on Vietnamese history, both the documented and the mythological, as well as improving her comprehension of the language so she can pass it on to her funny daughter. She resides in NYC.


What Happened in April: Some News and Events


What interesting events took place in April (besides getting rained on)? Contributor Julie Nguyễn offers a critical recap of April happenings in the general interest of a Vietnamese American. She most likely missed a few things, Vietnamese and not, so if you come across something you think should be shared with the readers, please send them to Julie via this email: ngujle [at] gmail [dot] com.

[Before we begin: have you heard about our subscriber drive? Win an iPod and other prizes!]

The month of April/Tháng 4, 2011 brings us through a near government shut-down to raging wild fires in Texas and killer storms in the southeast. Civil unrest seems to plague the world at large and Japan searches for her dead.

And from this month, May 1st – as reported from the White House: Osama Bin Laden is dead.

April 30 marks the 36th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon. Diacritics has written more about it here.

Vietnamese refugees run for a rescue helicopter to evacuate them to safety. Photo from Smithsonian Magazine, Bettmann / Corbis

Trần Lệ Xuân was known by several titles. First Lady of South Vietnam. Dragon Lady with her scorching tongue. But she was perhaps most popularly known as Madame Nhu. Dies at 86 in Rome on Easter Sunday.

It’s been a year since the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico. What’s changed? Nothing, according to some. How are the Vietnamese-American fishermen affected by the spill doing today? Read on.

News out of South Philly where there has been a string of violence against Asian students at South Philadelphia High: Asian student from S. Phila High wins Princeton award.

From St. Louis: elderly man, Hoang D. Nguyen, was beaten to death as part of some sick venture called “Knock-Out Game”.

Radio show apologizes again (a real apology from KDWB this time?) for their racist crap targeting the Hmong community.

It’s Film Fest Season!
The San Francisco Diasporic Vietnamese Film Festival took place on April 23rd and was covered here by Diacritics, as well as the Vietnamese International Film Festival in SoCal, previewed here.
(Oh yea, and win free passes to view Saigon Electric, and others at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival!)

More in the Arts-
Houston gets a ballet performance choreographed by award-winning choreographer, Thang Dao, about the dispersed Vietnamese peoples in Quiet Imprint.

Bob Dylan, whose songs of the 1960s were anthems to the anti-war movement, plays his first gig in Vietnam.

Ha-Vasko is a modern day Robin Hood, but not really.

And a follow up: Red Cross aid hasn’t reached Japan quake victims. A friendly reminder that texting your donations and not researching your charity is never a smart way to invest your money.

Thanks VTN, Greenlinh & HBN for bringing various bits of news to my attention! Greatly appreciated.

Julie Nguyễn likes toads a lot but only eats vegetables. She’s currently enjoying the rain without an umbrella on the streets of NYC.

Please take the time to rate this post (above) and share it (below). Ratings for top posts are listed on the sidebar. Sharing (on email, Facebook, etc.) helps spread the word about diaCRITICS. And join the conversation and leave a comment! Did we miss anything? What else happened in April? What do you think of this news? Speak!

LeUyen Pham, Children’s Book Illustrator


Le Uyen Pham has a history like many of us Vietnamese Americans. She was born in Saigon in 1973, left in 1975 on a US transport, bounced around before settling near Pasadena, CA. She briefly attended UCLA for political science before her artwork was recognized for what it is, and she was accepted into the Art Center College of Design at Pasadena. She would briefly work at Dreamworks before quitting even that job to enter the finicky world of children’s picture books. Contributor Julie Nguyen reviews Le Uyen Pham’s work below.

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LeUyen Pham

Le Uyen Pham usually squishes her name together as LeUyen Pham. I’m not entirely sure why and haven’t found out in any of the various interviews or bios I’ve read but if ever I meet her, I’m going to ask. She appears infrequently, seeming to modestly avoid the spotlight, but I recently read on her blog that she’ll be attending some book signings in San Francisco (where she also lives) on April 9th, April 17th, and May 7th.

From her blog:

April 9th
CHARLES M. SCHULZ MUSEUM
Second Saturday Cartoonist Series
2301 Hardies Lane, San Rosa, CA 94503
1-3 pm

April 17th
Books Inc, Burlingame CA
1375 Burlingame Avenue
Burlingame, CA 94010

MAY 7th
Books Inc, Chestnut Street Store
2251 Chestnut Street
San Francisco, CA 94123

And more information about these signings here.

So now I’m going to backtrack and tell you who this lady is. She’s most known for her charming work as a children’s book illustrator. Let me just say that her drawings have more life in them than two hours of Pixar animation. From soft furry creatures under moonlit skies to simple brush strokes of vibrant, exuberant children, Pham puts life to a page like a magician. I’m not kidding. Pick up Big Sister, Little Sister or Freckleface Strawberry to see what I mean. So many of the books she’s illustrated would not be the story they are without her drawings.


Big Sister, Little Sister (2005) was her first authored book, originally written with the intention of being a personal birthday gift for her own chị. Happily, this book was shared with the world, and we get a sweet story that delivers snarky lines like: “The Big Sister thinks she’s always right. I’m the little sister. I know I’m right.” The illustrations are like the cream on the cake, depicting two funny girls exerting their vivacious personalities, caught between looking out for and squabbling with one another.


Pham’s second authored book is a relatively new one having been published in 2010. It is dedicated to her two sons and is titled All the Things I Love About You. I have to admit the prose in this story is a bit trite, but at least it’s straightforward. You’ll get lines like: “I love when you hold my hand. And even when you let go…I know I haven’t.” The story is better told in the pictures, revealing a squirming, restless child escaping bare-bottomed, just out of reach.


These are the only two books that Pham has authored. She’s illustrated several more (totalling more than 30) and has represented a fine array of people of color (and furs) as well as a great diversity in genre and art style. From the beautiful tranquil forests of Can You Do This, Old Badger? (by Eve Bunting) to the rough edges of the violent adventure in the graphic novel Prince of Persia (by Jordan Mechner) to the expressive minimalist of Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things (by Lenore Look) to the optimistic energy of Grace For President (by Kelly DiPucchio). But perhaps she’s most famous for her work in the daffodil pages of Freckleface Strawberry (by Julianne Moore), which was recently adapted into a musical. Her art was plastered across bus stops and taxis for weeks here in NYC, to the delight of my 3-year-old. We’re both fans.

For the most part, we’ve enjoyed the books that LeUyen Pham has contributed to, and even if the story may be boring (as is the case for a minor few), at least we can always count on some endearing art to captivate us.

–Julie Nguyen

Julie Nguyen likes toads a lot but only eats vegetables. She’s still wondering how she got picked up as a contributor on diaCRITICS. She enjoys drawing and creative writing, and has been self-educating herself on Vietnamese history, both the documented and the mythological, as well as improving her comprehension of the language so she can pass it on to her funny daughter. She resides in NYC.

Please take the time to rate this post (above) and share it (below). Ratings for top posts are listed on the sidebar. Sharing (on email, Facebook, etc.) helps spread the word about diaCRITICS. And join the conversation and leave a comment!