Winner of the Pulitzer Prize

Executive Director S. Alice Mong in Conversation with Pulitzer Prize Winner Viet Thanh Nguyen

Asia Society Executive Director S. Alice Mong interviews acclaimed novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen, a Pulitzer Prize winner and first Asian-American Pulitzer board member. They talk about his upbringing, his work, racism, and more.

Read the transcript below.

S. Alice Mong: So I’m really curious about your own background. You arrive in the States in the ’70s as a youngster with your family, but you were… I think you mentioned before. You’re not just an immigrant, but you’re also
a refugee, kind of a double, others there. So kind of tell us about your experience growing up. I understand you grew up in Pennsylvania, and kind of how was that, arriving as a youngster, very young with your family, and being a refugee as well as an immigrant?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Well, I was four years old when I came as a refugee to the United States, but my parents were in their 40s. They’re younger than I am now. If you can imagine what that would be like, they basically had to
pick up their lives and flee to another country, leaving behind much of their property and almost all of their relatives, and start over in a foreign land, and in a state they’d probably never heard of before. For me, as a four year old it was an experience that was for the most part, not too bad because when you’rea little boy, a child, you can adjust pretty easily, as long as your loved ones are with you.

I think the hardest part for me though was what happened initially when we got to the United States. We were there with 130,000 other Vietnamese refugees, and we were put into one of four refugee camps. Ours happened to be in Pennsylvania. In order to leave one of these refugee camps, Vietnamese people had to have an American sponsor. It could be a church. It could be a family, for example. Typically, the sponsor would take an entire family, but that didn’t happen in our case. One sponsor took
my parents. One sponsor took my 10 year old brother. One sponsor took four year old me. When you’re four years old, you don’t really understand the complexities of what’s happening. I was being taken away to give my parents time to get on their own feet, and then be able to take care of their children. But again, when you’re four years old, you only understand the sense of abandonment that’s taking place.

So, it was a very painful experience for me, initially. I was taken away for a few months. My brother, who was 10, didn’t come home for two years. He likes to tell me that’s how we know mom and dad love you more because they couldn’t stand to be kept away from me for too long. But he came out okay. I mean, he went to Harvard. Okay, everything’s fine. He’s a doctor, so I think the experience was all right. But for my parents, I think it must have been very difficult to start over. They were already established people, and then they had to become… Their first jobs in Pennsylvania were as custodians, and then they became blue collar… My dad became a blue collar worker. My mom couldn’t find a job. They had to rebuild themselves in the United States and live the typical immigrant story, except that they were also refugees who had been forced to come to this country.

Immigrants choose, typically, to go to a certain place with a different psychological mindset, I think. So in many ways it was a really, really difficult experience. As I got older, I became more aware of how difficult the experience was, especially by the time I was 10 or 11, watching them work in a grocery store that they started in San Jose, California, for 12 to 14 hours a day. I could see how physically exhausting that was, and to bear the burden of having to try to carve out a new life for themselves and their
children, and support relatives in Vietnam who were desperate for help during the 1980s. So that experience has left an imprint on me, in terms of memory and emotions that I’ve never forgotten.

S. Alice Mong: And then you kind of… You mentioned your older brother at Harvard, and you didn’t do too bad yourself, going to Berkeley. Your family kind of fulfills that model minority myth that as Asian Americans, we hear all about. It’s a curse and a blessing. How do you feel your family… I mean, as you said, your parents… My parents had the Chinese restaurant. We had it in Ohio, so I grew up working in the restaurant business and seeing how hard they work. I think they ended up sending you to a private Catholic school, right? School, education, education, education. So you guys obviously have done really well. How do you kind of… Talk a bit about the model minority myth. It’s served us well, but it also has been a curse, hasn’t it?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Sure. Yeah. I think you can obviously look at people like my parents who became eventually, very financially successful, my brother and me and the jobs that we’ve had, and you could hold us up as some kind of emblem of the good refugee or a good immigrant story, which I think is really pernicious because a good image immigrant or good refugee narrative requires its opposite, the bad immigrant or the bad
refugee. Certainly we see that being deployed in many countries today, but especially in the United States, its desire to keep out a certain class or kind of people based on their economic standing, their cultural background, their religious beliefs and so on. So the good refugee or good immigrant is always going to be used in this way. My brother and I both resist this kind of idea because I think if you base a refugee or an immigrant policy on people like us, my brother who became a doctor and a professor, and me became a writer and a professor, you’re going to have a refugee or immigrant policy that doesn’t admit very many people at all.

I think that’s the exact point. I’m all for a refugee and immigration policy that is based on a different set of criteria. Of course, it’s important to take into account people’s economic abilities, and education, and so on, but refugee and immigration policies also need to be based on humanity, and on common sense, and on a belief that I strongly hold, which is a belief in equality that refugees and immigrants have the right to be mediocre, just like every other American.

In the case of Southeast Asians, Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians, who came to the United States because of the fallout from the Vietnam War. What we see is that certainly there are some of them who became the so-called model minority, but still high degrees of educational, economic issues. Partly that’s due to the level of war trauma that people suffered, and also that a lot of these people came from rural backgrounds that were not prepared to quickly assimilate into American life, unlike these people coming here with educational visas, engineers, and so on and so forth. So, that helps to dispel some of this idea of the model minority myth that all Asian Americans are predisposed to excellence, in some way.

I think what’s happened, obviously, is that the United States has socially engineered the model minority myth by admitting a certain class of Asian immigrants or Asian refugees who tend to predominate. But I assume in Asia, that there are a lot of mediocre people. Asians are not looking around their countries, I think, thinking, “God, we’re all really good at math, and we’re all going to be doctors.” It just can’t happen. So as typical, the United States has skimmed the cream of the crop, done the brain drain to get a certain kind of Asian to come to the United States, and then they fit into a certain narrative here in the

Viet Thanh Nguyen:
Now the Asian American project today, I think, given the huge changes that have taken place after 1965 because of civil rights and immigration, has led to the overwhelming majority of Asian Americans arriving here or being born here after 1965. They, I think have perhaps a different understanding of Asian American history than those who were formed through the Asian American movement of the 1960s, or who had some understanding of what Asian Americans have gone through since they’ve been here, whether it’s the 19th century with the rival Chinese immigrants or the 18th century with the rival Filipino sailors on Spanish galleons. My task is not simply to praise the Asian American community and to advocate for it, but to locate us within this very long global history. That’s why what happened in Minneapolis with George Floyd is so crucial because we would totally misunderstand this if we thought this was only a contemporary event, like it’s only now that white police officers are killing black men while Asian Americans are watching, or guarding, or on the sidelines.

This incident has so much power because it embodies centuries of global history that brought black people to the United States as slaves, and that brought Asians here to the United States, oftentimes either as menial labor, or in the case of people like Hmong refugees, the parents of Tou Thao, as people who wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for American wars overseas. When we see this graphic horrifying image, we have to unpack it so people understand the history that has led us to this point. That’s where I see my role in the public face, as someone who can try to articulate this, try to defend and advocate for Asian Americans, but when they’re responsible for injustice, to hold them and us to account as well.

S. Alice Mong:
Well, I just saw your tweet from two days ago. You said, “If Asian Americans are on the side of justice, our job is to criticize our own community. I have no problem calling out Vietnamese Americans for the racism, their complicity, and their hypocrisy.” So you kind of do it both ways, telling the story, but also calling it out. In terms of, I mean, Asians… It’s not just whites who are racist. I think Asians are as well. You also have been able to do that. You teach at a very, very prestigious university, and you are… In fact, I know quite a few of my intern… One of my interns used to be your student, and were very much inspired by your class. How do you now teach the students, in terms of their role in America and in society?

I’m sure it’s not easy. We arrived in the ’70s, and it hasn’t been easier, in some ways, materially, I think Asian Americans… You pointed out. I think we’ve been a lot more fortunate than African Americans, and definitely Hispanic and others, but how do you now… I mean, in there, the students are probably out there protesting. We’ve seen protests here in Hong Kong as well, this last year. How do you kind of teach them? Are they curious, or are they really interested in the… It seems to me, identity is something
that they are maybe more interested in than previously. I don’t know. I’m just really curious.

Viet Thanh Nguyen:
Well, it depends on the context, but in general, of course, they’re curious. Then, it depends what kind of class they’re going to take. In my Asian American literature course, Asian American students, and non-
Asian Americans come because they’re intrigued by this idea of Asian Americans and Asian American writings. Most of them know nothing about it besides having read one book, perhaps. It’s my job to take
that curiosity and educate them, but also to expose them to this long history of Asian American literature, Asian American history, and our connections to all of these historical events that I never knew anything about when I was in high school. I don’t think I ever was taught about Japanese American
internment, for example, or Chinese immigration, and so on. You mentioned Hollywood earlier. This is what we’re up against. The force of American society, but the force of most societies is not designed to
educate their people about what really happened in their history. The force of the public culture, and general education, and so on is mostly about trying to reinforce a narrative that pleases national audiences. Americans want stories that affirmed them as Americans. We’re working against so much, those of us who want to tell the stories of Asian Americans, in this case.

I also teach a course on the Vietnam War. And again, there, the students I’ve heard about the Vietnam War. All they know about it is, kind of a bad war. That’s about it. But they’re there because they’re either curious, or because it’s a requirement that they have to take. My job is to both elevate the curious, but also grab the ones who are there for the requirement. I think I can do it because the point of teaching a course like that is not simply to say, “I’m Vietnamese. I come from the Vietnam War. Therefore, it’s important.” The point of the course is to say, “Look, the Vietnam War, like almost every other incident you can pick an American history if you unravel it, shows everything about the United States. Why are we a military industrial complex? Why are we in Asia? Why are there refugees from that country here? Why are these wars fought disproportionately by poor men, and especially poor men of color, historically? These are ways to get to the students and to show them that these things are not isolated at all.

Then finally, I’m always trying to learn, myself, to understand my own limitations. I’ve never thought a lot, for example, about our relationship to indigenous populations and Native Americans. I’m teaching a graduate seminar now though on decolonization, because I want to understand where do Asian Americans fit into this history of the United States if we take into account, or if we start from the fact that this country is born from colonization, and genocide, and the conquering or the near conquering of
native peoples? It’s a very uncomfortable story for Asian Americans to hear because we come to the United States primarily through the immigrant and refugee experience. We think… Well, we affirm the American idea of the immigrant story and making America great. It does, but at whose expense? I mean, it’s a total contradiction in regards to the fact the country was built and is built on colonization. It’s a very challenging topic to try to think through, but I think it’s absolutely crucial.

S. Alice Mong:
Well, we’re here in Hong Kong so we know decolonization these days very well. It is something that we’re still dealing with, and I think we’re going to be dealing with it for a while. But, but one of the question I wanted to… Curious, I think, is when did you realize you were an Asian American? I mean, because Asian American is a very American term, right? Here in Asia, I mean, either you’re from Philippines, or you’re from Korea. People don’t… Maybe more these days because of rise of Asia and so on and so forth, but it is defined by a national boundary. But Asian American, I know when I became aware that I was an Asian American was very much the Vincent Chin case because I was living in Ohio in university, and seeing that protest, and somebody like Helen Zia leading the way. That was when I realized I’m an Asian American, and very proud of it. But I’m curious for you, when did that happen, that you realized you went from being Vietnamese American to an Asian American?

Viet Thanh Nguyen:
I remember when I was growing up, my parents had a small business that was called the Oriental Funding Corporation. That was my first sense of us being something besides Vietnamese. But even then, I thought that was kind of weird. What is an Oriental? Then I got to high school, and it was primarily white high school, but there was a good percentage of us who were of Asian descent, but we didn’t know what to call ourselves. We knew we were different than the white mainstream of this school, but every day at lunch, we’d gather in a corner of the campus and we call ourselves the Asian invasion. We were starting to get to some kind of consciousness. It wasn’t political, but there’s sort of a cultural sense of exclusion and the need to belong with each other.

Then I got to Berkeley, and that’s when I became an Asian American. I was very fortunate to arrive at a campus, which was one of the major centers of ethnic studies and Asian American studies thinking, and had some of the pioneers of Asian American studies, like Ronald Takaki, Elaine Kim, Helen Wong. All ofthem I took courses with, Maxine Hong Kingston. That’s how I became an Asian American. You’re right. It’s a very American phenomenon. You have to explain this to basically anybody else outside of the
United States. Yet I think it’s a very powerful pivot to be on. It has its blind spots, like I said, in regards to Native Americans and other issues too, but it allows for a critique of race, and class, and immigration, that is useful in other contexts.

For example, I have a new novel coming out called, The Committed. It’s a sequel to The Sympathizer. It’s set in Paris of 1982, and it’s about Vietnamese and ethnic Chinese refugees in Paris. Now there in Paris,
they don’t have the possibility of a hybrid identity. It’s bot a part of French culture to think that you could be a hybrid kind of person. So here I am introducing a hybrid kind of perspective that allows me to criticize some of the blind spots of French culture. The French have a very hard time dealing with race and colonialism, and perhaps introducing an Asian Asian-American perspective from the writer, not from the character, allows me to point out certain kinds of hypocrisy and contradictions in French culture that the French have a hard time reconciling with.

Likewise, in Asia as well, I’ve experienced this, being an Asian American or Vietnamese American in a Vietnamese context. It, I think, allows me to see that some of the ways in which minority relations in Vietnam are deeply problematic. Vietnam has 53 ethnic minorities, and they could really benefit from an ethnic studies approach to what’s going on there. I think that might be true for other Asian countries as well. So, we have our limitations and we have a lot to learn when we go to Asian countries, obviously, but at the same time, bringing an Asian American perspective, especially with its political lineage and its political history of being able to critique power and racism, it can be really useful elsewhere.

S. Alice Mong: Now that you achieved… You really achieved fame. I remember watching you after, I think Sympathizer. I read Sympathizer. You were interviewed on Charlie Rose, and I just was riveted in watching the
interview, and then subsequently, you’ve really become quite well known in the Asian American community. But I’m curious, how has that translated to in Vietnam? I mean, are you hearing… Do they know who you are? Are they inviting you for things, or are you something that they don’t want to deal
with? I mean, just curious. You have been back, I assume, to Vietnam since you left as a child.

Viet Thanh Nguyen:
I’ve been back to Vietnam several times, but not since the publication of The Sympathizer. I think partly that was because if you read The Sympathizer, it’s fairly critical of Vietnamese communism and the legacy of the Vietnamese revolution. It’s a very sensitive topic in Vietnam. So the novel was published in 2015, we’re now 2020, and it still hasn’t been published in Vietnam. I don’t really want to get into the details because I don’t want to imperil the possibility of getting a book published, but it’s challenging to
talk about a narrative that is not totally endorsed by the state, or that has not totally endorsed the state view of history. So I think for the Vietnamese in Vietnam, when I won the Pulitzer Prize, it was kind of interesting experience because they mentioned that a Vietnamese person had won the Pulitzer Prize, but didn’t say what it was for.

It’s really interesting that the Pulitzer Prize had somehow got so much cachet that non-Americans care about it, but they do. That was one sign that, even beating these people, registered that this was something prestigious and that they were proud of a Vietnamese person for having won it, but it was still too difficult to talk about what the actual thing was. For Vietnamese Americans, it’s kind of also complicated because the majority of Vietnamese Americans fled from communism, are descended for people who fled from communism, and I chose to write a novel from the perspective of a communist spy. For a good number of Vietnamese Americans, that’s literally a red flag. They just will not read this
book because they just don’t think it’s possible to tell this kind of a story without endorsing communism.

Of course, that is partly the kind of worldview, both from Vietnam and Vietnamese Americans, that the book wants to criticize, but the history is so complicated that people even… What is it? 45 years later, are still entrenched in some of these political divisions, but nevertheless, Vietnamese Americans, a good number of them are also proud that a Vietnamese American won the Pulitzer Prize. Now the issue
though, like you mentioned earlier, is I can’t keep my mouth shut. I criticize Vietnamese Americans for supporting what I think of as racist policies, white supremacist policies, and so on, and this will really upset a lot of Vietnamese American. So, I have a lot of fights on my hands.

S. Alice Mong: Well, I’m glad you’re speaking up. No, I think it’s… We’ve all been taught to, well, some of us who are older, kind of keep quiet and all, but then we find that we do have a voice. As Americans, freedom of
speech, which is something we treasure, and we can speak up. Also, we and our parents don’t sometimes see eye-to-eye, and that’s okay. I’m glad you’re speaking out and I want to, again, congratulate you on the book, and also continuing to speak up.

I now want to kind of touch upon a little bit about the election, the U.S. presidential election coming up, because one of the reason we are also picking the date October 3rd, not only because of the 55th anniversary of the Immigration Act, but it’s also a month, exactly a month from the U.S. presidential election.

I won’t ask you who you’re voting for. We’re just curious, in terms of our responsibility as Asian Americans to get out and vote, regardless of who you support, but in terms of our responsibilities, and also speaking out. I think those are the things that as Americans, we have right to do, and it’s also…right now, what has been disturbing has been seeing the images in the United States, and then I refuse… I did not watch the debates, recently. I think part of this discussion, this Asian American, is really the voice of Asian American. We do need to exercise that voice when the time comes, not just presidential election, but also being involved in politics.

Can you kind of talk about that a little bit, in terms of your… You’re very well, as a writer, recognized. When you think about representation, and you also mentioned earlier the board of Pulitzer being very much a white elite. Right now, if we’re invited to sit on board, invited to do certain things, kind of the… I think we need to be less shy, in some ways. I’d like to hear your views on that.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: I think obviously everybody who’s a citizen of a country, or even a resident of a country, has an obligation to that country, to work for its own betterment. The least we could do is vote, and then obviously also participate in civic organizations of whatever kind, whether they’re joining ones that already exist or starting ones of our own. Both my brother and I have done that in the Vietnamese American context. We looked around and for my brother, it was, he didn’t see a progressive Vietnamese American organization out there, so we started the Progressive Vietnamese Network. For me, because I’m a writer, I didn’t see since I was in college, the existence of Vietnamese American arts organizations
to support young Vietnamese American writers and artists, so I co-started with others. These are all parts of civic engagement, whether we want to be involved on the electoral side, and politics, and law, and the government, or whether we want to be involved in arts and culture, which is also a crucial way to make our voice heard.

Going back again to the Hollywood example, how many Asian Americans have been deeply damaged by growing up in a culture in which they don’t see their own stories, and in which they see themselves depicted in racist, horrible ways? Now, we see the power of stories in movies, for example, that that can tell our stories, reflect our faces, and make us know that our lives are worth talking about. So that being said, obviously, I think Asian Americans are the same in that regard, as other Americans. We all have an
obligation to participate civically and politically, and Asian Americans historically have not done that on par with Americans as a whole. We’re not alone in doing that. Numerous reasons, including our immigrant and refugee backgrounds and our parents wanting to focus on survival and being afraid of speaking out politically, because they could see what the consequences were in their countries of origin for speaking out politically.

But, times are changing. I mean, again, since 1965, we’ve been in the United States in increasing numbers for 55 years now. Second and third generations of Asian Americans descended from that 1965 moment are gaining more power and more influence. We can see changing political attitudes from younger generations versus older generations. I can see that division in the Vietnamese American community. It’s the only Asian American community that has a plurality of people supporting Donald
Trump. Younger Vietnamese Americans are very confused and hurt about this because many of them, the majority I believe, do not support Donald Trump and they’re torn because their parents and grandparents do support Donald Trump. It’s actually really, really emotionally damaging for people.
People are realizing that we just can’t talk about these issues internally. We have to speak up, as you were saying.

For Asian Americans in particular, that act of speaking up is really crucial because historically in the United States, we’ve been associated with silence, and that’s partly due to the fact that for many decades, our population was really very small as a percentage, but now I think we’re about 6% of the
American population. That’s a tipping point, and that number hopefully will grow, although obviously current Trump administration policies are designed to stop that growth from taking place. There’s so many reasons why we need to speak up against cultural perceptions, against stereotypes, against government policies that are aimed to hurt the Asian American population and its growth, and its standing in the United States.

I think there are people… I mean, there are many people who obviously recognize this in the younger generation, so I have some hope for this, that we are seeing something of a seat change. And again, especially that we’ve been working on multiple fronts. We have politicians, we have lawyers, but we also have actors who are speaking up for these political causes, are using their platforms to try to encourage people, to participate, to speak up and be a part of American life.

S. Alice Mong: Now we have writers, and one of the question I have for you is really… You talked about Hollywood. I grew up watching movies, learned my English watching American movies, love Hollywood, but you’re right. Growing up, there was very, very, not a lot of Asian representation. One of the things I’ve always felt was there was not… Our parents, our family don’t encourage us to be writers. It sounds like your parents… Did they encourage you to be a writer? Now that you are a writer, first of all, your book, did somebody option it in Hollywood? I certainly like to see that movie.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Well, I think my parents treated me with benign neglect when it came to my education. I think they sent me to school-

S. Alice Mong: Well, you were four years old. I think your brother probably got most of the attention. Yes.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Yeah. Well, he was the older son, so I think there was a lot of pressure on him.

S. Alice Mong: He became the doctor. Right.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: He became a doctor. I think I benefited from that. I also benefited from having parents who were…They’re deeply conservative, but the one place where they had some liberalism was education. They
thought we’ll provide an education for the kids, and then they can do what they want to do. My brother became the doctor, and I think that that opened a pathway for me. I fended off my parents for a while by saying I’ll be a lawyer or I’ll try pre-med for a little bit, and then before they knew it, I was an English major and I was getting a PhD. But at least it was a doctorate, so again, they were actually kind of cool with a doctorate on a subject they understood nothing about, which is literature.

S. Alice Mong: Right.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: But they didn’t encourage me to be a writer. I think that would have been a bridge too far for me to come home and say I want to be a writer, although that’s what I was sort of doing on my own time. I
think they were… I was just happy with them being happy that I had a job as a professor, and then one day I sprung it on them, “Hey, I’m a writer. Here’s a book, or here’s a story, and so on.” I remember I gave my father once a translated short story, before I had fiction books published. It was a story about a Vietnamese refugee who comes to San Francisco in ’75 and discovers he’s gay. My parents are deeply conservative Catholics, never mentioned that story to me again, even though they could have read it
because it was translated to Vietnamese.

So, I bring up back home, all my books for my parents, and my dad… My mother’s passed away. My dad has all of my books arranged on the shelf behind his bed. I know he’s proud of these books, but I don’t think he’s read any of them. I don’t expect him to. I mean, he already provided for me. I don’t need to impose more on his time to make him read my books, but I think he’s happy. CBS is going to do a video with me in about a week or 10 days in San Jose, and they wanted to know if my father wanted to be part
of it. I asked my father. He said, yes. They’ll include them in this video, so I think he is proud.

The adaptation issue, a very complicated story. It’s been years in the making, but hopefully we’re in the final stages of getting to an agreement with TB. The Sympathizer was actually born out of be watching a
lot of serial television, like the Sopranos, the Wire, shows like this, not from movies. So it makes sense that if it’s be adapted, it would go back into an episodic TV format.

S. Alice Mong:
Well, I’m certainly looking forward to it. Tell us more about the sequel. You said it’s coming out in March?

Viet Thanh Nguyen:
March 2021. Already done for quite a while. It was supposed to come out in October, but the pandemic has pushed everything back in the publishing world. If you’ve read The Sympathizer, you know it ends with our sympathizer being cast out to sea out of Vietnam, and we don’t know where he goes. I think a lot of people thought, “Oh, he must be going to the United States. If he’s fleeing communism, he must be going to the United States and getting a happy meal.” That was never in my intention. I finished the book without knowing that I wanted to write a sequel, but I thought I’m not done with this character. I’m not done with him and his story, or the issues that the book raises. His father is French, so I send them to France, to Paris of 1982.

The Sympathizer is a so-called genre novel; spy, thriller, politics, history. It’s also a philosophical novel. So, it’s meant to be serious, but a lot of fun. Likewise, with The Committed, he’s deeply traumatized when it gets to Paris after everything has been through, and he makes really bad choices. He becomes a drug dealer, or as he calls it, a capitalist working for an ethnic Chinese crime boss in Paris. There’s still a lot of the crime story going on with drugs and violence and all the big gangster stuff to keep you entertained, and then there’s also a pretty serious, a philosophical thread about race and colonialism, and French identity and its relationship to Vietnam and all of the French colonies that these issues were really present in the ’80s, as they are still today.

S. Alice Mong: Well, I’m looking forward. In fact, that will be our book that I’m recommending to our book club in March. We’re really looking forward to that. I don’t want to take up much for your time. I am so, so happy, so grateful to speak with you. Keep those books coming. I want to end by asking about your son and your daughter. You’re now a father, and you also write quite eloquently now as a father, kind of being maybe more sympathetic to what your father has went through. So tell us, I mean, what is your American dream for them?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Yeah. Well, I grew up with parents who were very supportive in the sense that they provided for all my material needs, but very little of my wants and desires, so a very typical immigrant and refugee story. As a father, of course, I hope that I can achieve a better balance. For example, I had the typical Asian American story where the parents never said, “I love you.” I sort of grew up emotionally stunted, I think, as a result of that. It took me a very, very long time to be able to say, “I love you,” without stuttering, and getting all nervous, and everything like that. Now, I’m very proud that my brother and I have worked hard on my dad, and he, at 85 years old, is very affectionate and is always saying, “I love you. I
miss you,” and things like that. I think we just chipped away at him.

With my kids. I think… I want them to… My American dream for them is the dream of the second generation, I think. I want them to be successful of course, but I don’t really care if they go to Harvard or anything like that, but more to be emotionally happy people who are happy in what they do. Happiness, that’s a luxury. That’s a luxury that I hope that we have. At least with my own son, who’s seven, we have a good emotional relationship. He spontaneously says, “I love you,” and I say the same to him. We wrote
a book together. We spend quality time. My daughter is nine months old. She loves her mommy more than me at this point, but hopefully that will change.
Speaker 3:
Yeah, maybe she’ll become a daddy’s girl, eventually. So, yeah. But, but I want to thank you…


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