Vietnamese American Art and Community Politics

An Engaged Feminist Perspective
F.O.B. II: Art Speaks image courtesy of the author
Postcard courtesy of Việt Lê.

Co-authored with Isabelle Thuy Pelaud
Publication Date: 2012


What is our ethical responsibility to our own ethnic community? This is the question we posed ourselves when we became embroiled in political controversies concerning Vietnamese Americans, anticommunism, and the arts. Lan Duong was a co-curator for a 2009 art exhibit called F.O.B. II: Art Speaks [Nghệ Thuật Lên Tiếng] in Santa Ana, California, a showing that drew hundreds of protestors because of the exhibit’s display of communist symbols within some of the artwork. As co-president of the Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network (DVAN), Isabelle Thuy Pelaud made the difficult decision of not being involved in the F.O.B. II controversy for fear of community reprisal. In spite of these divergent experiences, we collaborate on this article to explore what a progressive politics belonging to Vietnamese Americans would look like, given the exigencies of the past that bind young and older Vietnamese Americans to Việt Nam and the United States today. This past includes the traumatic legacies of war and the deep scars of displacement that Vietnamese Americans still carry more than thirty-five years since the American War ended. We come together as feminist academics and arts organizers to emphasize the similarities between our respective positions rather than our differences. We are troubled by how many community organizations have self-destructed over the years and continue to do so due to issues related to homeland politics. Consequently, we hope that the dialogue resulting from this collaboration will contribute to a feminist reworking of what it means for Vietnamese Americanists to work in the community.

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