Collective Amnesia and Rhetoric of Mobilized Participation

In Cộng Đồng, Chính trị (Politics), LittleSaigon - Seattle, talawas, Việt Nam on 2010/08/13 at 12:43

A NOTE on the Essay:

This is a 600-word short version of VietSoul:21′s original (and longer) essay sent to the San Jose Mercury News in response to the Op-ed titled “It’s time to stop fighting the long-past Vietnam War” written by Sonny Le. For the complete version, please click here.

The opinion editor Barbara Marshman then replied to VietSoul21,“Thanks for writing. Unfortunately, our word limit is 600, and this is over 1,600. If you would like to try writing a shorter piece that focuses on one or two clear opinions, I’d be happy to look at a draft. Since it would appear some time after the July 27 opinion, I would write it as a stand-alone opinion, perhaps alluding to the other piece somewhere but not framing it as a response.” (On Wed, Jul 28, 2010 at 5:11 PM, Marshman, Barbara wrote).

We sent this op-ed to her (and the whole editorial staff) but they would not respond back despite our repeated requests.

It seems prescient that we’ve asserted:  “San Jose Mercury News should promote with genuineness more than a sole opinion of one media consultant. Advocating for in-depth and reflective alternative of op-ed essays are in fact essential for the role of democratic media. Moreover, a willingness to imprint the power of shouts and silences to rise above the discourse of refugee nationalism and anti-communism should be more than a token inclusion of the unheard dissent voices.

The voices of the “Other” were silenced and unheard.

Sự bền bĩ của ký ức (The persistence of Memory), Salvador Dalí (1931)

The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory (Salvador Dalí, 1954)


The judgment of Ly Tong’s behavior as an “unacceptable” act of “so-called anti-American culture” was framed strategically by the show manager and Nguoi Viet Daily News reporter to the BBC in favor of the discourse of a “whitening” refugee population.

Ly Tong’s individual act could be shamed and demonized as petty, evil and uncivilized by many—the White and non-White who believe in the US superiority of “democracy”, the singer’s fans, the profitable media and entertainment industries, the political opportunists, the corrupted Vietnamese Communists. Yet, this stealth move was carried out with a clear intent led to a successful result —singling out the generational amnesia prevalent within and beyond the Vietnamese consciousness outside of Vietnam.

This judgment of “anti-American culture” was strongly supported (with an implicated Americanized consent of prevailing Whiteness[1] design) by most young or American-born Vietnamese who are either:

(1) assimilated to the updated racial ideologies—grounded yet in consumerism and individualism that led to passive politics masked as liberal cosmopolitan;

(2) internalized of racism alive well during the modern-day process of emptying the social and privatizing its vocabularies;[2]

(3) ignorant of the complex community dynamics and history due to their socialized learning inherited from the banking education approach[3] toward corporatization[4] schools;


(4) becoming, more or less, the neocolonialists under the global politics in terms of privilege, power, and status—revealed through a willingness to co-opt with Vietnam by means of entertainment, business/education, and humanitarian network.

Such group thinking has heightened the dichotomous split of success/failure of the VCP’s Politburo Resolution 36[5]. They may not want to see that everyday living is always about politics.

Most deeply feel as if they don’t belong here. Due to limited or low-leveled jobs here, those #4 do desire also relocating in Vietnam—where as long as they do not protest against oppression they could gain advanced status. Some even naively assume if they chose not seeing the vast suffering nor witnessing systemic violence, they would gain Vietnamese government’s acceptance. Then they could “succeed” in “a new liberated Vietnam”— where the American war experience could no longer be dialogued[6] because of its relations with the U.S.

They desire to be deafening to the inner rage and outer deviance rooted from the Vietnam/American War conflict. Their voices are couched with a hidden embarrassment when being forced to face the social messes of internal discord/division. They long to cosmeticize the visible scar of the divided generational wounds to satisfy the neoconservative/ neoliberal elites’ appetite. They could not arise beyond the charity mentality toward a liberated practice resisting violence against human rights, here or else where. Their acts perpetuate the dramatic shifts in power, technology, migration, trade and travel from West to East, from the haves to the have-nots. The author of the op-ed “It’s time to stop fighting the long-past Vietnam War” is an apt example.

If the “deviants” shout out, they are pathologized as the “sick and crazy”, and told, “Go back to your country!” If they choose silence for various reasons, they are accused of being stupid (convenient for structural manipulation and cultural erasure). If they are ambivalent but working hard, they are rewarded as the “good and modeled” minority pursuing “post-racial” American paradise. This catch-22 situation fits with the status quo and sustains structures of racial, class inequality.

We must include multiple lenses to rise above the discourse of refugee nationalism and anti-communism. Indeed, we need the grievant bodies of unchained shouts and mourning silences–rather than the imperial denial and silencing of official histories. Those bodies are to be performed for all–not only in ordinary styles (i.e. elitist/poetic writing/printing). It’s healing time for the haunting screams of the long-past Vietnam War.

© 2010 VietSoul:21


[1] Cooks, L. (2003). Pedagogy, Performance, and Positionality: Teaching about Whiteness in Interracial Communication. Communication Education, 52(3), 245-257.

Cooks defines whiteness as “a set of rhetorical strategies employed to construct and maintain a dominant White culture and identities” (p. 246). In addition, McLaren defines in his article, Decentering Whiteness: In Search of a Revolutionary Multiculturalism whiteness as “a refusal to acknowledge how white people are implicated in certain social relations of privilege and relations of domination and subordination” (p. 9) [See McLaren, P. (1997). Decentering Whiteness: In Search of a Revolutionary Multiculturalism. Multicultural Education, 5(1), 4-11.]

[2] Robbins, C. G. (2004, September). Racism and the Authority of Neoliberalism: A Review of Three New Books on the Persistence of Racial Inequality in a Color-blind Era. Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, 2(2),

[3] Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed (M. B. Ramos, Trans.). London, UK: Penguin.

[4] Saltman, K. J., & Gabbard, D. (2003). Education as enforcement: The militarization and corporatization of schools. New York; London: RoutledgeFalmer.

[5] Bruin, T. (2004, June 17th). Vietnam’s Manifesto on Overseas Vietnamese Rings Hollow. Partito Radicale Nonviolento transnazionale e transpartito (Nonviolent Radical Party transnational and transparty),

[6] Hayton, B. (2010). Vietnam: Rising dragon. New Haven, CT; London, UK: Yale University Press.


Original English version:

Collective Amnesia and Rhetoric of Mobilized Participation (Complete version)

Vietnamese version (also posted on talawas):

Chứng quên tập thể

Our other essays on talawas:

Bịt Miệng Nạn Nhân

Tôi là người Việt Nam

Chúng tôi (Tự trào – Trí Thức – Tâm Tài)

Những cái nhập nhằng không tênThe Unspoken Ambiguities

Thời cửu vạn, ôsinThe Age of Day Laborer and Housemaid

Lết tới “thiên đường”

Tháng Tư Câm

Phản bội hay trung thành với lý tưởng?

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