ChÃºc Má»«ng NÄƒm Má»›i! Or Happy Lunar New Year! Today marks the beginning of Táº¿t â€”the most important Vietnamese holiday of the year. As the child of a Vietnamese mother and an American father, I have fond memories of this time of year. The red envelopes full of money, the bustle of families coming together, the sticky sweet smell of incense, heaps of steaming food, all accompanied by the sound of fireworks. Growing up mixed race, it was one of the few times a year where I got a glimpse of my mother’s culture and the lives she and my extended family once lived before the Vietnam War made refugees and immigrants of them all. As such, Tet sometimes seemed to be both a celebration of things past as well as the hope of things better to come. Both buoyant and bittersweet, the holiday is symbolic of the ways in which immigrant communities across America weave the old in with the new creating patterns inspired by tales of survival, loss, and the constant dreams of a better life.
As I thought about which books to include in this post, I realized I wanted to highlight books that spoke to this balance of past and present, of love and loss, of hope and despair. All the books below explore the Vietnamese immigrant experience and will hopefully help readers get a glimpse into the lives of the people in this community.
For younger teens and tweens, two novels in verse that complement each other beautifully are Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai and All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg. Inside Out and Back Again, a National Book Award Winner, follows ten-year-old HÃ as she and her family flee from Vietnam after Saigon falls and find themselves in Alabama. The novel unfolds in a series of vignettes that capture the beauty of Vietnam, the utter foreignness of America, and the moments of beauty in between.
Ann E. Burg’s All the Broken Pieces (2010 Best Book for Young Adults) recounts the life of a refugee child, in this case a 12-year-old mixed race boy named Matt who after being airlifted out of Vietnam is adopted by an loving American family. His memories of war haunt him as they do HÃ in Inside Out and Back Again, although Matt is more alone in his grief as his Vietnamese mother and brother were left behind. He must grapple with both the loss of his family , as well as the challenges of fitting into a world that is at times hostile to his presence. The combination of minimalist prose, strong imagery, and a compelling main character makes this a wonderful read. Continue reading Celebrating the Lunar New Year: Books About the Vietnamese Diaspora