In Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War by Viet Thanh Nguyen, Nguyen discusses the stark contrast of Korean American experience and Vietnamese American experience via dominant discourses and the power relations of America. Both ethnic groups were involved in the Vietnam War, however the lives of each ethnic group differed tremendously following the end of the war. Nguyen distinguishes the experiences of both groups via title sections, the Korean experience is entitled “On Becoming Human” while the Vietnamese experience is entitled “On Victims and Voices”. While the Korean Americans transitioned to becoming successful entrepreneurs and a “model for the rest of America’s ‘unsuccessful’ minorities and immigrants” (131), the Vietnamese Americans hid behind the ghosts of their past, letting their histories become forgotten and ignored.
Nguyen starts by commenting on power dynamics in America. The difference between monetary power of the Korean Americans and lack thereof of the Vietnamese Americans. Additionally, the lack of a voice and language barrier pushed Vietnamese Americans into the lower ranks of a hegemonic power structure. Korea benefited from their involvement in the war and relations with the US, helping it become a thriving capitalist society. Capitalism gave a humanness to South Koreans and Korean Americans, something Vietnamese Americans and other Southeast Asian Americans didn’t have. Contrasted with the experience of Vietnamese Americans, their forgotten and suppressed histories give them a power of word and prose. As Nguyen stated the possibility of a minority holding power “may be forgotten or overlooked in the temptation to see the minority as the victim of abusive power” (197). These “ghosts” of our past essentially give Vietnamese power and leverage, they give writers a voice. Rather than affirm America and it’s “greatness” these ghosts of their pasts allow them to present and animate the repressed histories of a war that ravaged families and the nation.
Considering recent events, the ACLU evokes a strong stance against the shifting power dynamics and is seeking to give a voice to repressed and affected groups from the Immigration Ban. The “Muslim Ban” seeks to create a hegemonic power structure, where refugees and green card holders from 9 Islamic countries are under a close eye and even barred from entering the United States.
Question: Do you think it’s acceptable to remain silent and ignore the past? What are your thoughts on the power dynamics in America? Do you feel that the US is a hegemonic power?
Nguyen, Viet Thanh. Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2016. Print.