Center for Asian American Studies
Center for Asian American Studies

Students to collect Vietnamese American stories

Mon, January 28, 2008

As part of the upper-division course for undergraduates, students will interview local Vietnamese Americans. Fifteen to 20 oral histories will become part of a one- day exhibit and reception at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum on April 27, three days before the 33rd anniversary of the fall of Saigon. Afterward, the exhibit is expected to travel to libraries and schools, including the Little Walnut Creek Branch library in North Austin, where many Vietnamese Americans live.

Because the class will provide a connection to the local Vietnamese American community, "the whole community is very excited," said Nancy Bui, president of the Vietnamese American Heritage Foundation, which has collaborated with UT's Center for Asian American Studies on the class project, helping identify potential interview subjects in Austin and other Texas cities.

At UT, students of Asian ancestry, including international students, make up about 20 percent of the student body, said Madeline Hsu, director of the Asian American studies center. And most students in the new class identify themselves as Asian, said Linda Ho Peché, the class instructor.

"Students are at a time when they are thinking of issues of identity and how they fit into the United States," Hsu said.

Peché, a doctoral student in the anthropology department who is researching Vietnamese American ancestor altars and who also works at the Bullock museum, has 25 students in class.

During a recent class, students learned about historical stereotypes of Asians in popular culture. They also learned how Vietnamese Americans fit into the historical framework of Asian immigration to the U.S.And they talked about how they identify themselves.

"Are you more Asian or more American?" senior Sehjong Hamjong asked. "Are you more flesh or more bone? ... You can't make that distinction."

The daughter of a Vietnamese father and Mexican mother, Peché said that growing up in El Paso, she was called "La Chinita," a reference to her Asian heritage.

Most of the oral history interviews will be done next month. Students will be given the option of interviewing Vietnamese family members or people from the list being compiled by the foundation,a national group based in Austin that is working to preserve, promote and celebrate Vietnamese American history and heritage. The list includes Vietnamese Americans of different migration periods.

There is Tran Dinh Tru, a convenience store clerk in Dallas who was a lieutenant colonel in the South Vietnam Navy and imprisoned for 13 years, and state Rep. Hubert Vo, D-Houston. Chat Thiet, who founded Austin's Walnut Creek Elementary School bilingual and cultural programs in 1968, also will be interviewed for the project, Peché said.

Though Texas has the third largest Asian population in the U.S. (behind California and New York), Hsu said few people have studied Asians in Texas or in the South.

Vietnamese language classes have been offered the last couple of years and are popular, Hsu said, and UT hopes to offer more classes in the future. But "there has been a real need for this class, a real demand," she said.

"This is the kind of class we've wanted to offer for a long time."

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