Intrigued by the question of diasporic return, this article is concerned with the cultural politics of what I call “homecoming stories” of the Vietnamese diaspora. In order not to be confused with the imaginary returns that have been practiced in many Vietnamese-US writings, such as Lan Cao's Monkey Bridge (1997) or Kien Nguyen's The Unwanted (2001), this article focuses instead on Vietnamese-US narratives about the experience of physical returns by looking at Andrew Pham's Catfish and Mandala (1999) and Andrew Lam's Perfume Dreams (2005). Understanding that ethnic memoirs are not to be read only as testimonies of war and personal traumas, this article argues that these two texts represent what critic Rocio G. Davis calls “relational life writing” that aims to intervene in the contested terrains of trans-Pacific memories and geopolitics. It further argues that Pham's and Lam's homecoming stories not only reconfigure the “refugee subjectivity” of Vietnamese diaspora but also recast Asian American studies in diasporic contexts by taking the aspirations and concerns of Vietnam seriously, although their journeys “home” are by no means patriotic returns but only temporary visits. These return narratives are significantly framed in the contentious memories of war and survival and are triangulated in the complex relations between the United States, Vietnam, and Vietnamese America. Via a critical reading of Catfish and Mandala and Perfume Dreams, this article seeks to engage with the ongoing conversations about transnational Asian American studies by working through the issue of Asian-US relations.
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Chih-ming Wang; Politics of Return: Homecoming Stories of the Vietnamese Diaspora. positions 1 February 2013; 21 (1): 161–187. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-1894317
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