Late Night with Seth Meyers

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen sits down with Seth Meyers to talk about his refugee experience. In part 2 of this interview, he explains the difference between refugees and immigrants and the fears Americans have of them.

Part 1:

Part 2:

 


Here’s the transcript of the interview:

Seth Meyers: Obviously, this is a book about refugees, you wrote a piece in the New York Times talking about the difference between immigrants and refugees and how it … and certainly now, they can get mixed up a little bit. Help us out, give us your definition of why the refugee story is a harder story.

Viet Nguyen: Well, in the United States, we believe in immigration, even though we go back and forth. Sometimes we open our doors, sometimes we close our doors. Right now, we’re closing our doors on immigration. But immigrants are a part of the American Dream and the American mythology.

Viet Nguyen: It’s easy to make sense out of people like me by saying, “I’m an immigrant;” so I have to say constantly, “No, I’m a refugee.” The reason why I have to say that is because I think many Americans think it’s un-American to be a refugee, because the American Dream doesn’t allow for something like that to happen. People like us who are refugees have to constantly remind people of who we are, so that we can humanize who these refugees happen to be. They’re unwanted where they come from, they’re unwanted when they arrive, but we have a great tradition of welcoming refugees and turning them into Pulitzer Prize winners.

Seth Meyers: There you go. I agree.

Seth Meyers: I think memories, and it’s hard for people to remember how things were, but I think Vietnamese Americans, who are obviously now celebrated as this incredibly important part of the American fabric, but you obviously remember a time in 1975 where there were the same kind of fears about Vietnamese refugees as we’re having today about refugees from other parts of the world such as Syria.

Viet Nguyen: Yeah. In 1975, the majority of Americans did not want to welcome Vietnamese refugees, and when my parents opened a grocery store in San Jose, about 1978, I remember going there and not too far away in another store window somebody had put up a sign that said: “Another American driven out of business by the Vietnamese.”

Viet Nguyen: I think that these fears that we have about refugees and immigrants taking our jobs and so on, these are deep-seated fears in the American psyche. Yet, we have time and again proven … immigrants and refugees have proven that when given the chance, we contribute to this country, but the fears keep coming back.

Seth Meyers: That piece was written before the election, if I’m correct?

Viet Nguyen: Yeah.

Seth Meyers: Now, afterwards, we do have a travel ban veto, it was struck down today, but this is what he promised, this is what the president promised. How are you feeling about it now? Now that it’s real?

Viet Nguyen: I feel that this is really also part of America as well. We welcome people in, but we also have a long history of keeping people out with the Chinese Exclusion Act and so on. I think that it is disheartening, it is discouraging that we have this resurgence of xenophobia, but we should look back on our history and realize that the times have been tough before. We fought back. We’ve had a progressive movement. We’ve made the case that immigrants and refugees should be welcome here and should belong here. We’re going to have to make that case again.

Seth Meyers: Well, thank you so much for saying that, and thank you so much for your writing and making the time for being here today.

Viet Nguyen: Thanks for having me.

Seth Meyers: I’m a real fan. Thank you so much.

Viet Nguyen: Thanks, Seth.

Seth Meyers: Viet Nguyen, everybody. The Refugees is available in bookstores now.

Category: Interviews

 

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