Meet Pulitzer Prize-winning Author Viet Thanh Nguyen

A Q&A on what Asian Pacific American Heritage Month means to Viet Thanh Nguyen

By Google Arts & Culture

Viet Thanh Nguyen Pulitzer GroupCenter for Asian American Media (CAAM)

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is celebrated annually in May in the United States to highlight the history, heritage, and contributions of Asian Pacific American communities. Home to 48 countries, Asia is the largest and most populous continent. 

Over 20 million people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent live in the United States totaling about 6 percent of the U.S. population, representing a wealth and diversity of cultures and experiences within the United States. 

Viet Thanh Nguyen Receives PulitzerCenter for Asian American Media (CAAM)

Read on to discover what Asian Pacific American Heritage Month means to Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen. 

Citizenship for the Arvndrasmy family by Michael HaeringCenter for Asian American Media (CAAM)

GA&C: What does it mean to you to be an Asian American? How would you define the term “Asian American”?

Viet: So to claim being an Asian American gestures at this history of exclusion and of being racially targeted at different times in American history. It’s a way for Asian Americans to turn a negative stigma into something positive - something they can organize themselves around, as the politics or as a culture. 

LA Rebellion Peach March Through KtownCenter for Asian American Media (CAAM)

Viet: Now that being said, I think identities can sometimes trap us, not just racial minorities, but for other kinds of people as well. And that it’s important to have multiple identities because most of us do experience ourselves as different people in different kinds of circumstances. 

Viet: So I’m happy to be called an Asian American, but sometimes I’m a Vietnamese American. Sometimes, I’m an American. An Asian American identity is necessary, but it's not our only option. 

Tereza Lee and Dick Durbin in 2011 by Pete MarovichCenter for Asian American Media (CAAM)

GA&C: The identity “Asian Pacific American”  is inclusive of so many different cultures, celebrated together every May. Could you share your thoughts on - individual identities and collective identities?

Viet: I think that Asian Americans will forever be wavering between a unity of identity, calling ourselves Asian American, and an incoherence of identity, acknowledging that Asian Americans encompass literally dozens of ethnicities and languages, for example. 

Viet: That’s the wonderful thing about the United States, that all these people can be considered American, to rather than simply try to eliminate all those differences and sand over all the rough edges, we should be embracing that. Asian Americans, then, because of their drive, both, to call themselves one thing , but their embrace of all of their differences, is our, in fact, embodiment of what American culture is supposed to be about.  

Viet Thanh Nguyen FamilyCenter for Asian American Media (CAAM)

GA&C: Google Arts & Culture has worked with Center of Asian American Media to bring their collection on the platform for APAHM 2020 - you are featured in their exhibition “Asian American Storytellers” and quoted “I was born in Vietnam but made in America."  Could you elaborate on this? 

Viet: I’ve said that I was born In Vietnam but made in America because I think it’s a good description both of myself but also of many other immigrants and refugees who’ve come to this country - born elsewhere, but made here. Made here by American culture, by American politics, by American history. 

Anjali Kamat and Prerna Reddy, gathering with Prachi Patankar for her birthday at Prospect Park, Brooklyn (2012-06)Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

Viet: They have made themselves into Asian Americans, a term and a population that didn’t exist before Asian Americans came up with it on their own. 

Viet: The making part is so crucial, because it allows us to think about how we don’t have to settle for what we’ve been given or who we are at any given stage either as individuals or as part of communities. 

Viet: We make new communities, and we can make this country into both a better place and a country that lives up to its ideal. 

The Sharma family in San Francisco (1983)Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

Want to find out more? Read on to discover the richness and complexity of cultures that make up this community with 12 stories curated by experts, curators, historians, and archivists from cultural institutions in the U.S. on Google Arts & Culture.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Google apps