Collective Amnesia and Rhetoric of Mobilized Participation (complete version)

In Cộng Đồng, Chính trị (Politics), LittleSaigon - Seattle, Việt Nam on 2010/10/03 at 17:04

A NOTE on the Essay:

This is the VietSoul:21′s original 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 600-word short 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 a short 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.

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

In remembrance of those stories told “by the reed of being separated”, “pulled from a source”, and “longs to go back”… “This reed is a friend to all, who want the fabric torn and drawn away.”
(The illuminated Rumi, 1997)

Reading the opinion essay “It’s time to stop fighting the long-past Vietnam War[1] on July 27, 2010, we are relieved to see that the author was able to go beyond the naïve judgment of Ly Tong’s behavior as an “unacceptable” act of “so-called anti-American culture”—which was used strategically by Dũng Taylor, the show manager, and Đỗ Dzũng/Người Việt Daily News reporter to the BBC [2] to justify for greed and fear, and make excuse 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 groups—the White and non-White Americans who believe in the US superiority of “democracy”, fans of the singer, profitable newspapers and entertainment industrial bodies, and overseas political opportunists as well as the corrupted Vietnamese Communist government. Yet, this “dark” move was carried out with a clear intent led to a successful result— singling out the intergenerational amnesia prevalent within and beyond the Vietnamese consciousness outside of Vietnam. The op-ed piece mentioned above was certainly written as one of such proof.

Not least to say, this judgment of “so-called anti-American culture” was strongly supported (the type of judgment implicated in the Americanized consent of a prevailing Whiteness[3] standard design) by most American-born Vietnamese youngsters 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 in the mind of the colonized in the West during the modern-day process of emptying the social and privatizing its vocabularies[4];

(3) ignorant of Vietnamese history and complex oversea community dynamics due to their socialized learning inherited from the monopolized anti-war and banking education approach[5] toward militarization and corporatization[6] of North America schools;


(4) becoming, more or less, the neocolonialists under the global politics in terms of privilege, power, and status—which are revealed through a willingness (for cooptation) to link with Vietnam by means of entertainment, business, education, cultural, and humanitarian network.

All of the above group thinking, regardless of admitted or not, has heightened the dichotomous split of success/failure of the VCP’s Politburo Executive Order 36[7]. These folks may not want to see that everyday living practice here and there is always about politics.

For the vocal group #4 mentioned above, they deeply feel as if they don’t belong regardless how hard they try in America. This surely applies to many beyond this certain group even though no one likes to admit. However, they do in particular desire relocating in Vietnam—where as long as they do not protest against oppression they could gain an advanced status and mobility because of their English language ability and Eurocentric-technocratic skills. Those specialty skills are abundant; yet, there are no job opportunities or just gained low-leveled positions in the “so-called diverse” societies like the U.S. or Europe.

Eventually, they aim to advance quickly in another “homeland”—where their vague or no childhood memory is re-membered, and skip the institutionalized racism experience in the West. Some even naively assume that if they close their eyes not seeing the vast suffering of veterans’ body limbs of North and South nor witnessing currently operating systemic violence, they would gain acceptance from the Vietnamese government. Then they could act and possess what they want for themselves, and become part of “a once more new liberated Vietnam”—the place where the American war experience could no longer be dialogued[8] because of its relations with the U.S.

Most importantly, we wish that the opinion essay was not a revealing rhetoric piece. Although race was brought into the picture of such enduring post-war conflict (which is not wrong), the author contradicted himself. He was either in illusion or daydreaming with an attempt to rouse and challenge the Vietnamese outside of Vietnam to speak up and protest against injustice caused by the US involvement with other countries—at present or earlier time.

The author appears overlooking the fact that the Vietnamese, like other marginalized communities, are small colonies dispersed throughout America. They mark in their own way an unofficial and untold history of more vulnerable exposure, hidden resistance, flexible strength, and decolonized agency without his involvement!!! Why did he not choose becoming an activist in the US working with the Vietnamese communities and other people of colors? Why chose to become a communication director for the East Meets West Foundation? Why so worrying that “The inhumanity and destruction of war should have been shoved down our throat. But if you do that, people won’t go to see it” at the Oakland Museum of California exhibition in late 2004?[9] To serve which spectators? Because of the artifacts and knowledge production collected through storytelling among the South Vietnamese would strike the American conscience a little?

One should walk the talk of the “real” with “political theatrics” rather than lamenting the “possibilities”. As the communication expert and media consultant, the author would be able to mobilize the OneVietnam Network[10] with more than 6,000 young fans to protest against any local injustice caused by the government officials toward the Vietnamese in New Orleans, Seattle, San Jose, Virginia, Iowa, etc. The author could follow his “calling” for pan-ethnic rallies against the US Congress regarding their utmost trading interests and a pretentious laissez-fair attitude toward human rights issues in Vietnam. He could also advocate for Vietnamese language preservation outside of Vietnam without a disturbing propaganda infiltrated by a cheap exported group of hired teachers from Vietnam to be currently placed in the U.S. higher education environment.

Unfortunately, together with other intelligentsias on both continents the author Le has lobbied these entrepreneurial young founders to assist the Asian Philanthropy network—an embedded web belonged to the “non-profit industrial complex”—a system of relationships between the state, both right- and left-leaning foundations, the owning classes, and conservative social service and social justice-based organizations. This complex system results in the surveillance, control, and everyday management of political movements. A movement-building outside the nonprofit model (that solely serves the desire of mainstream racial politics via funding monitoring and the politics of expertism) seems out of reach and beyond imagination for the author and other Vietnamese youngsters.

The author’s tone appears as if he is speaking from the progressive force for peace and only peace. He forgot his privilege of having choices to choose peace in this country or not—in fact any choices of these ironically cause destruction to the “Other[11]. The tone was also couched with a hidden embarrassment while being forced to face the messes of internal discord and division not only at the communal level. His tone was subsequently endorsed by several paternalistic comments in relations to forgetting and forgiving these few “bad apples” because “the future is key to this problem[12] for the post-memory generation’s sake!!!

The author, like many American-born Vietnamese and majority of the 1.5 generation, desires to be deafening to the inner rage and outer deviance rooted from the Vietnam/American War conflict. They long to cosmeticize the visible scar of the divided generational wounds to satisfy the neoconservative and neoliberal elites’ appetite. They could not arise beyond the charity mentality toward a liberated practice resisting violent force against human rights, here or else where. Their acts even perpetuate the dramatic shifts in power, technology, migration, trade and travel from North to South, from West to East, from the haves to the have-nots.

The author may think that he knows solutions for the dilemma caused by the colonialization of the Vietnamese diasporic psychic space. Does he understand that he is NOT the way out which the Vietnamese communities outside of Vietnam long to seek for?

The San Jose Mercury News should promote with genuineness more than a sole opinion of one media consultant. Advocating for in-depth and reflective alternatives 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.

For more than three decades, if these “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 (and convenient for structural manipulation and cultural erasure). If they are ambivalent but working hard, they are rewarded as the “good” minority to be modeled for other ethnic folks in pursuing “post-racial” American paradise. This catch 22 situation of course fits with the status quo and sustains structures of racial (and class) inequality.

These voices if expressed should not follow the sophisticated template invented by the contemporary “slave masters” (Frantz Fanon[13] and G.W.F. Hegel[14]). These alternative voices should not tailor to the blueprint mechanism functioning to serve the hidden yet domineering desire of Whiteness in the post-civil rights (or color-blind) era. Its everyday code, format, content, and pattern have suppressed the haunting national memories of the American war—a kind of memory lived only at the periphery of North American consciousness against the existing presence of the subjugated–the “FOB losers” seen as the fleeting phantoms.

Indeed, we need those grievant bodies of unchained shouts and mourning silences–rather than the imperial denial and silencing narrated from the official histories. Those bodies are to be acknowledged and performed for all, and definitely, not only in ordinary styles (i.e. elitist and poetic writing and printing) because “It’s time to stop fighting the long-past Vietnam War.”[15]

© 2010 VietSoul:21


[1] Le, Sonny (2010, July 26th). It’s time to stop fighting the long-past Vietnam War. San Jose Mercury News, Retrieved on July 26th, 2010 from

[2] Nguyễn, Hoàng. (2010, July 20th). Hành động ‘phi văn hóa Mỹ’? (An ‘Anti-American cultural’ act?). BBC Vietnamese, Retrieved on July 21st, 2010 from

[3] 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.]

[4] 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),

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

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

[7] 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),

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

[9] Pogash, C. (2004, September 7th). NATIONAL DESK: In Imperfect Compromise, Exhibit Tells of Vietnam Era. New York Times, Retrieved on March 23rd, 2007, from

[10] Minh Anh. (2010). OneVietnam kết nối người Việt toàn cầu (OneVietnam links the Vietnamese on the globe). Voice of America (VOA, Retrieved on July 3rd, 2010 from

The OneVietnam Network was just launched about mid July 2010 from the Bay Area of North California region. It has been advised and supported by the East Meets West Foundation in pushing young Vietnamese overseas’ global connection and work of “non-political and non-past bitter grief,” according to Isabella Lai, one of its founders stated recently to the Voice of America reporter. Retrieved on July 3rd, 2010 from

[11] The “Other” is a philosophical term described in social science as “the processes by which societies and groups exclude ‘Others’ whom they want to subordinate or who do not fit into their society. The concept of ‘otherness’ is also integral to the comprehending of a person, as people construct roles for themselves in relation to an ‘other’ as part of a process of reaction that is not necessarily related to stigmatization or condemnation. Othering is imperative to national identities, where practices of admittance and segregation can form and sustain boundaries and national character. Othering helps distinguish between home and away, the uncertain or certain. It often involves the demonization and dehumanization of groups, which further justifies attempts to civilize and exploit these ‘inferior’ others.”

[12] “From Seattle”. (2010, July 26th). Future is our key to this problem (Reader’s Comment on the Opinon Piece, “It’s time to stop fighting the long-past Vietnam War”). San Jose Mercury News, Retrieved on July 26th, 2010 from

[Originally published with the nickname “From Seattle” written as the following paragraph: “I am 100% with you, Sonny Le, but I wouldn’t worry about that too much. The people like Ly Tong are just a few bad apples in our community. These bad apples wouldn’t look good in the basket for now, but when they are gone, which is not much longer, the sky will be much more blue. I had met with these people before, and trust me, I know, they are the most aggressive and unreasonable people on earth. But after all, they were once our parents, brothers, and sisters, and not much we can do about it. We can just leave them alone, that is in our culture. It doesn’t matter how crazy they are, we learned to respect the elderly and leave them alone, that what we do. The sad thing is that they’ve done so much damages to our community, but that’s OK too. We need to look at the brightside, there are many other good apples in the basket. The name like Ly Tong will be forgotten, but there are many names to be remembered like yourself, Sonny Le, Madison Nguyen, DVH, etc many many others, who had done so much for our community. For now, we just have to watch out and stay away the pepper spray for awhile, hopefully this problem will be vaporized in 5 or 10 years, but don’t let it bother us so much, just ignore them and leave them alone. Thanks Sonny Le!”]

[13] Fanon, F. (1967). Black skin, white masks. New York, NY: Grove Press

[14] Hegel, G. W. F., Miller, A. V., & Findlay, J. N. (1977). Phenomenology of spirit. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press.

[15] See note [1].

Short version sent to San Jose Mercury News:

Collective Amnesia and Rhetoric of Mobilized Participation

Vietnamese version (also posted on talawas):

Chứng quên tập thể

Phản bội hay trung thành với lý tưởng?

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”

Other essays on Da Màu Magazine:

Tháng Tư Câm

Hồn ma và xương khô

  1. Thank you for your kind encouragement!

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