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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Contested Terrains: Family, Intimacy, and War Memories

  • Author(s): Nguyen, Linh Thuy
  • Advisor(s): Le Espiritu, Yen
  • et al.

Contested Terrains: Family, Intimacy, and War Memories—is a multi-genre analysis of Vietnamese refugee families and the memory of the Vietnam War. Sociological analyses of the second-generation typically center family dynamics as either the predictor of social outcomes of adaptation or the source of conflict within the family. I engage family as a mode of inquiry, rather than a unit of analysis, to explore alternative experiences, discourses, and artistic renderings that move beyond state-sponsored social science narratives about assimilation and intergenerational conflict. I challenge the ways these discourses naturalize these problems within the family, and examine these dynamics as expressive of larger structures of racism and the legacies of war. Turning to Vietnamese American second-generation literature, poetry and art as sites of alternative knowledge about family and war, I challenge the social scientific construction of the family as the site of successful assimilation, and instead theorize the refugee family as the site of critical inquiry and knowledge about the Vietnam War.

Engaging cultural studies and literary methodologies in my close readings, I critically historicize the Vietnamese family as productions of a particular historical moment at the nexus of the Cold War—US intervention, and the mobilization of civil rights, I call attention to the racialized meanings embedded in the figure and the ideological functions that refugees and the war have been called upon to serve.

My dissertation’s contributions to ethnic studies has been to examine both the family and Vietnamese refugees within the larger historical and racial contexts from which they emerged, and trace the ideological function of the continued assertion of refugee success. This dissertation also brings together the social science literature on refugee adaptation, feminist and queer critiques of heteronormative family formation, and ethnic studies scholarship on critical refugee studies.

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