The Vietnam War: The Contrasting Politics of Representations & History

The most accessible narrative of the Vietnam War portrays the American solider heroically fighting the communist super powers of Northern Vietnam. These depictions are drawn predominantly from perspectives of American soldiers and circulate within American popular culture. The Vietnam War, which lasted from 1957 through 1975, followed the aftermath of World War II (Ferry 2). In this period, the French reestablished colonialism in southern Vietnam while communist leader Ho Chi Minh established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) in the north (Ferry 2). Meanwhile 1960s McCarthy age of postwar America sustained a culture of conformity and anxiety towards communism in the United States. In this age of McCarthyism, the U.S. government deemed any act which challenged the preservation of American culture as untrustworthy or inherently communist. Fear in the spread of communism from Southeast Asia prompted U.S. military involvement (Ferry 3). Antiwar movements followed in the late 1960s when a recorded 500,000 plus American soldiers were documented fighting in Vietnam (Ferry 3).

Cartoonist Thi Bui’s graphic memoir The Best We Could Do (2017), is a 329 page graphic memoir which documents the detailed history of her family’s escape from Southern Vietnam in the 1970s to their new lives in America. Published by Abrams ComicArt in New York City, Bui narrates the text of the graphic memoir in a poetic fashion alongside engaging illustration. Bui titled the memoir The Best We Could Do, from her perspective as an aging mother and in recognition of the two paternal generations which the timeline of her memoir follows. The structure of the memoir begins from the birth of her first born son, backwards through memories of the war. These memories are shared through the eyes of her siblings being raised in the United States, temporarily displaced in a refugee camp off the shores of Pulau Besar, to Bui’s birthplace in Vietnam. In this timeless story of immigration and the Vietnamese diaspora, Thi Bui examines the importance of identity and the meaning of home.

On the theme of representation, NPR host Mallory Yu’s article “Cartoonist Thi Bui Weaves Together Personal and Political History” (2018) offers a biographical framework for examining how the personal, historical, and political amplify the significance in representation of various Vietnam War narratives. Yu’s report which was aired on All Things Considered offers insight into how Bui found closure in her traumatic past after realizing that she is not responsible for representing all Vietnamese diasporic voices of the war. Published by World Literature Today, scholar and professor Alison Mandaville offers a similar framework for examining the politics of representation within American popular culture in her review of “The Best We Could Do/Saigon Calling: London 1963-75” (2018). Mandaville offers the underrepresented narratives of Vietnamese Americans Thi Bui and Marcelino Truong, who share intimate family and political histories which contrast stereotypes of Vietnamese people illustrated in film, pop culture, and American scholarship. By acknowledging the difference between Bui and Truong’s stories, Mandaville demonstrates the politics behind the absence of contrasting representations of the Vietnam War.

In “Chapter 2: Refugees from War” of the book Vietnamese Immigration (2003), Joe Ferry provides a comprehensive political history of the Vietnam War starting at the end of World War II in the 1940s through the 1990s. In doing so, Ferry successfully outlines and draws connections between the politics of how dominant portrayals of the Vietnam war has potentially impacted U.S. immigration policy in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Ferry’s book was published by Mason Crest Publishers in 2003. Mandaville’s analysis of how Bui and Truong’s distinct and intimate narrations of the Vietnam war illuminates the erasure of Vietnamese diasporic voices and histories in mainstream media. Yu’s interview with Bui, which argues that a singular perspective can never accurately reveal the entire truth of the Vietnam War overlaps with Mandaville’s argument of representation politics. Both of these points inform Joe Ferry’s argument of how poor depictions of Vietnamese people in mass media predicted bias immigration policy of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Throughout her graphic memoir, Bui weaves U.S. anti-immigration rhetoric in scenes of tension to highlight the influence in which discriminatory language inhibits freedom of cultural expression and racial, ethnic, and minority acceptance in the United States. After hastily escaping Sai Gon in an evening on the March of 1987, Bui’s family meets a refugee boat docked in Can Tho. After landing on the shores of Pulau Besar, Bui’s family joins a refugee camp holding “hundreds of thousands…flooding into neighboring countries, seeking asylum” (283). Bui’s family waits in line for their name and picture identification to be registered into the refugee camp before Bui’s mother, who is pregnant, returns from the local Hospital Kuala Terengganu. Central to page 267, Bui inserts photocopied passport-sized images of herself and each of her family members holding plaques which function to generically identify her family among thousands of others by “name, boat number, date of birth, and date of access” (267). While Bui is depicted unintrigued, staring blankly beyond the focus of the camera, Bui’s father also appears unamused with a weathered look in his eyes. Bui’s mother is captured supporting the weight of the youngest of Bui’s sisters on her hip. Surrounding the four images, Bui illustrates rough, impersonal sketches of nineteen other Vietnamese refugees also holding their identity plaques which detail their significance. In cursive print, the center of page 267 reads “We were now BOAT PEOPLE-” with an undertone of defeat simultaneous with acceptance and solidarity (267). Although the text is presented in a style similar to a handwritten letter, the font is in fact computer generated. The personalized appearance of this text resembles traces of official documentation through Bui’s artistic choice to present the text deceivingly hand-written. Bui’s unclear presentation of how she wants this page to be observed is constructed intentionally to provoke the audience to inquire their understanding of what “boat people” connotes. Additionally, which context and sources have informed their preconceived notion of “boat people”.

Located in the bottom right corner of the page, is a textbox which reads “—five among hundreds of refugees flooding into neighboring countries seeking asylum.” (267). The sketches of these faces in the background of the text further suggest how policy and news coverage mutes these individual stories. The most easily accessible narratives of the Vietnam War often portray from the American perspective. These perspectives, which circulate within American popular culture insufficiently document the Vietnamese diaspora. Similarly to the discourse which supports anti-immigration policy, Bui argues even the resources of authority such as the news also part takes in minimizing detailed family histories into simple numbered statistics.

The intimate photographs of Bui’s family in contrast to the rough outlines of other underrepresented Vietnamese personal and political histories work to exemplify the subtle ways in which cultural outlets, such as the news, promote and sustain the dehumanization of immigrant and diasporic communities. In critique of the function of anti-immigration rhetoric, which is to dehumanize, Bui intentionally utilizes the common metaphor of refugees ‘flooding’ into the United States. Similar to the language surrounding disease control and epidemics, ‘flooding’ suggests threatening undertones of what can not be contained and is therefore negative or deviant. In the context of the Vietnamese refugee crisis, ‘flooding’ also works to create an effect of negating the human experience while emphasizing the animalistic. Finally, Bui purposefully juxtaposes the individual portraits of Bui and her family to a common example of anti-immigration terminology such as ‘flooding’ to reveal the ruthless way in which anti-immigration language disregards the countless, undocumented voices within Vietnamese diasporic communities. Through this work, Yu’s argument emphasizes the significance inherent within how representation is narrated. While she asserts that Bui’s voice should not forcefully bear the responsibility of retelling the entire Vietnamese diasporic narrative, the intimate photographs Bui shares at this point on her memoir validates the individual in each recount of their lived experience in the diaspora (2). The narration of Bui’s family properly exemplifies how the voices and lived experiences anyone within the diaspora should have been depicted.

Mandaville’s critique of the media’s role in supporting the erasure of the voices directly relates to Yu’s report, which criticizes the lack of recognition which mainstream American cultures gives to the muted voices of Vietnamese diasporic communities. Before beginning her talk at the San Diego Comic-Con convention, Bui shares with her audience that her narrative represents a singular representation of a national narrative which extends beyond herself (Yu 1-2). Until recognizing this truth, Bui was unable to begin the process towards reconciliation of her family’s traumatic past (2). Both of these scholars indirectly acknowledge the damaging ways in which media simplifies the histories surrounding the Vietnam war. Ferry’s critique in the lack of footage documenting the destruction of “once-lush green countryside” now damaged with “land mines; chemical sprays [which] stripped foliage and vegetation” diverges from the fabricated narrative of the American soldier sacrificing himself for the betterment of Vietnam’s deeply entrenched communist society (4). The enhanced representation of the heroic American soldier in the wake of the degradation of Vietnamese ecology validates Bui’s frustration with the political bias inherent within media representations.

Toward the end of her memoir, Bui introduces a painful memory exemplifying how anti-immigration rhetoric has effectively manifested within the Vietnamese diasporic communities into a dangerous competition of who can deviate farthest from their cultural baggage. Upon arrival into the United States, Bui’s family moves into a two bedroom house with her aunt, her husband, their five children and one dog in Hammond, Indiana. From an impressionable age, Bui sensed the societal pressure to assimilate into American culture. Bui’s older cousins, who “had been in America for three years already”, often scolded Bui for behaving like “such a REFUGEE!” when, for example, she ate cereal out of the box (285). In response, Bui blamed herself for “probably embarrassing” her cousins for their “fresh-off-the-boat appearance” (285). Bui illustrates this page into a set of two larger frames stacked on top of one another. The top half of the page distinctly separates into two smaller frames which portray, Bui and her siblings in contrast to her more experienced and assimilated “American” cousins. Bui and her siblings are illustrated barefoot, in simplistic clothing which does not serve beyond the functional use as a protective layer. In contrast, Bui portrays her older cousins, aunt, and uncle, standing confidently united in the aesthetic appearance of 1970s American fashion.

The metaphor of appearing “fresh-off-the-boat” threatens Bui’s cousin, who has already gauged the sacrifice she is expected to make in order to find comfort in the contrasting binds of American culture. Vietnamese people have historically named themselvesat people”. This title reclaims aspects of the shared refugees experience of escaping Vietnam in boats. The boats provided the Vietnamese refugees a means of survival and an opportunity for escape. Floating for weeks at a time in a wide expanse of ocean water, most families were split apart or never had the opportunity to reach land. Bui foreshadows themes of assimilation and the model minority in this scene when her cousin threatens her for her dress and mannerisms which don’t align with American culture. Boats which were once sought-after for protecting refugees, now represent a discarded narrative as an foreigner subject to alienation. Assimilation now dictates how Bui will craft a home for herself in the United States. Although the boat represents a concrete Vietnamese identity distinguished through war history, the drifting boat also connotes an emotional and physical sense of unidentifiable weightlessness. Despite actions of assimilation, the boat in “boat people” is symbolic of the American identity which Vietnamese refugees will never claim.

While the parallel alignment of these frames appear to highlight difference between Bui and her cousins, the arrangement also foreshadows the insecurity which Bui’s cousin feels towards her threatened “American” identity. After dismissing Bui, Bui’s cousin asks, “at least don’t eat like that in front of my house where everyone can see you!” (285). In this bottom frame, Bui’s cousin projects her insecurities onto Bui in the form of unwarranted aggression. The words of her cousin invoke the fragility in their identities as Vietnamese-American immigrants (285). Similar interactions at school inform self-consciousness in her identity. Bui’s cousin reveals the precarious nature of her American identity when she reprimands Bui for harmless mannerisms such as eating cereal out of the box.

In connection to the work of Bui’s memoir, Mandaville’s critique of the media’s role in supporting the erasure of the voices directly relates to Yu’s report, which criticizes the lack of recognition which mainstream American cultures gives to the muted voices of Vietnamese diasporic communities. Before beginning her talk at the San Diego Comic-Con convention, Bui shares with her audience that her narrative represents a singular representation of a national narrative which extends beyond herself (Yu 1-2). Until recognizing this truth, Bui was unable to begin the process towards reconciliation of her family’s traumatic past (2). Both of these scholars indirectly acknowledge the damaging ways in which media simplifies the histories surrounding the Vietnam war. Ferry’s critique in the lack of footage documenting the destruction of “once-lush green countryside” now damaged with “land mines; chemical sprays [which] stripped foliage and vegetation” diverges from the fabricated narrative of the American soldier sacrificing himself for the betterment of Vietnam’s deeply entrenched communist society (4). The enhanced representation of the heroic American soldier in the wake of the degradation of Vietnamese ecology validates Bui’s frustration with the political bias inherent within media representations.

In reflection of how poor depictions of Vietnamese people in mass media influenced bias immigration policy, Ferry demonstrates the influence of pop culture and wider socio-political movements on U.S. policy. He acknowledges President Lyndon Johnson’s conscious shift to “not seek re-election as president” in response to U.S. antiwar campaigns (3). Ferry’s critique of how poor documentation, or a lack thereof, overlaps with Yu’s critique of how an absence in representation obscures some parts of history while exaggerating others. In the latter half of chapter 2, Ferry recounts the suffering which refugees experienced through generations following the war (5-7). Although Ferry does not outright state how mass media has directly influenced the discriminatory immigration laws of the late 1970s and early 80s, he point out the revealing significance and politics of not documenting history of the “bombs [which] destroyed infrastructure that had delivered electricity, clean drinking water, and sanitary sewage disposal to the population” following the aftermath of the Vietnam war (4). Through this point, Ferry correlates how the removal or leaving out of certain histories reflects a stylized prejudice in documentation.

Through his book, Ferry’s analysis of documentation aligns with Mandaville and Yu’s arguments which highlight the politics and responsibility of representation. Through entertaining Bui’s personal inflictions and “academic grumpiness” toward deconstructing offensive and stereotypical cultural representations of Vietnamese people in graduate school at NYU, Yu discusses how Bui intentionally “weaves the personal, historical, and political” in form of a graphic memoir (4). Yu discusses how Bui consciously decided to promote her voice through the frame work of a graphic memoir, which is the most accessible to a wide audience. The singular narrative of the Vietnam War which the Vietnamese people are bound to by Hollywood blockbusters consistently document the Vietnamese in stigmatized representations. The demonization of the Vietnamese aligns symbolically to the negligence of their continued suffering following the aftermath of the war.

The context of Bui’s memoir in conjunction with the connections between Yu, Ferry, and Mandaville arguments advocate and pioneer for the significance and politics of representation within the sphere of multiculturalism. The connection between how Yu illustrates the specific biographical context of how the process of writing this novel while raising her child supported Bui’s reconciliation of her layered identity relationship with her parents, Ferry, outlines the objective political history of the Vietnam War in contrast to mainstream documentation, and Mandaville outlines major debates of how blind American patriotism sustains ignorant representation of non-American perspectives, provides access points of deeper analysis into the role and responsibility of media in representing history. Points of overlap between Yu and Ferry’s arguments have had the effect of further illustrate the extent to which mass media can impact culture and history. Drawing from the overlap in these three source, the essence of how, which, and what narratives are portrayed in the media carries importance. Mandaville’s point of distributing the knowledge of oral histories draws stronger ties of connection between Yu and Ferry’s argument which both indirectly highlight the importance of documenting history in accessible modes of communication. These congruent points of connection broaden the definition of “false representation” to include also a lack in representation. Additionally, on the point of representation, these sources raise the question of how will media continue to impact history moving forward. How will this influx in influence be monitored? Should it be monitored?

Work Cited

Bui, Thi. The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir. Abrams ComicArts, 2018.

Ferry, Joe. “Chapter 2: Refugees from War.” Vietnamese Immigration, Mason Crest Publishers,   2003, pp. 8-14.

Mandaville, Alison. “The Best We Could Do/Saigon Calling: London 1963-75.” Review of The Best We Could Do, by Thi Bui. World Literature Today, March-April 2018.

Yu, Mallory. “Cartoonist Thi Bui Weaves Together Personal and Political History.” All Things    Considered from NPR, 1 August 2018,             http://www.npr.org/2018/08/01/634606313/cartoonist-thi-bui-weaves-together-personal-  and-political-history

 

OpEd: First Draft

Cartoonist Thi Bui’s graphic memoir The Best We Could Do (2017), is a 329 paged graphic memoir which documents the detailed history of her family’s escape from Southern Vietnam in the 1970s to their new lives in America. Published by Abrams ComicArt in New York City, Bui narrates the text of the graphic memoir in a poetic fashion alongside engaging illustration. Bui titled the memoir The Best We Could Do, from her perspective as an aging mother and in recognition of the two paternal generations which the timeline of her memoir follows. The structure of the memoir begins from the birth of her first born son, backwards through memories of the war in the eyes of her siblings in the United States, in a refugee camp, to Bui’s birthplace in Vietnam. In this timeless story of immigration and the Vietnamese diaspora, Thi Bui examines the importance of identity and the meaning of home.


Thi Bui, NPR interview

The most accessible narrative of the Vietnam War portrays the American solider heroically fighting the communist super powers of Northern Vietnam. These depictions are drawn predominantly from perspectives of American soldiers and circulate within American popular culture. 1960s McCarthy age of postwar America sustained a culture of conformity and anxiety towards communism in the United States. In this age of McCarthyism, the U.S. government deemed any act which challenged the preservation of American culture as untrustworthy or inherently communist. Fear in the spread of communism from Southeast Asia prompted U.S. military involvement. Antiwar movements followed in the late 1960s when a recorded 500,000 plus American soldiers were documented fighting in Vietnam.

The Bui’s Graphic Memoir

Upon arrival into the United States, Bui’s family moves into a two bedroom house with her aunt, her husband, their five children and one dog in Hammond, Indiana. From an impressionable age, Bui sensed the societal pressure to assimilate into American culture. Bui’s older cousins, who immigrated three years earlier, often scolded Bui for behaving like “such a REFUGEE!” when for example she ate cereal out of the box (285). In response, Bui blamed herself for “probably embarrassing” her cousins for appearing “fresh-off-the-boat” (285). The words of her cousin invoke the fragility in their identities as Vietnamese-American immigrants (285). Similar interactions at school inform self-consciousness in her identity. Bui’s cousin reveals the precarious nature of her American identity when she reprimands Bui for harmless mannerisms such as eating cereal out of the box.

The metaphor of appearing “fresh-off-the-boat” threatens Bui’s cousin, who has already gauged the sacrifice she is expected to make in order to find comfort in the contrasting binds of American culture. Vietnamese people have historically named themselves “boat people”. This title reclaims aspects of the shared refugees experience of escaping Vietnam in boats. The boats provided the Vietnamese refugees a means of survival and an opportunity for escape. Floating for weeks at a time in a wide expanse of ocean water, most families were split apart or never had the opportunity to reach land. Bui foreshadows themes of assimilation and the model minority in this scene when her cousin threatens her for her dress and mannerisms which don’t align with American culture. Boats which were once sought-after for protecting refugees, now represent a discarded narrative as an foreigner subject to alienation. Assimilation now dictates how Bui will craft a home for herself in the United States. The although the boat represents a concrete Vietnamese identity distinguished through war history, the drifting boat also connotes an emotional and physical sense of unidentifiable weightlessness. Despite actions of assimilation, the boat in “boat people” is symbolic of the American identity which Vietnamese refugees will never claim.

Blog #6

Work Cited

Bui, Thi. The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir. Abrams ComicArts, 2018.

Words As Image

If a picture tells 1,000 words, then many pictures paired with actual text must be worth a million.  In GB Tran’s graphic memoir Vietnamerica (2010), the usage of partially-legible text combines with images to produce an overarching effect of familial enthusiasm that overwhelms Tran.

Image result for gb tran vietnamerica joyride

On page 63 of the memoir, Tran is visiting his family in Vungtau for a meal on his last night visiting them.  In the first panel, Tran is shown eating food with chopsticks, completely surrounded by an array of overlapping speech bubbles, each with only a few to no words visible to the reader.  The flurry of speech that all blurs together is a visual representation of the unfamiliar Tran is experiencing on his visit to an area that is overwhelming and new to him, having grown up in the United States.  The fact that he is not adding to the mass of speech is also indicative of his sense of feeling outcast from a family who is in on a history he knows very little about.

On the following page, the concept of partially-legible text is repeated when Tran goes on a “joyride” on mopeds with some of his relatives (Tran 64).  In each of four page-wide panels on much of this page, speech bubbles, appearing like ribbons, stream from Tran’s mother as she points at the various sites they pass by.  In this example, the lack of legibility of most of what his mother says portrays how all of the words thrown Tran’s way goes right over his head.  No matter how much his family tries to explain to him the contextual significance of certain landmarks to their family, at this point in the memoir Tran seems as though he is too far behind to catch up.  The repetition of speech bubbles the reader cannot understand in this section then emulates the idea that Tran too has trouble processing all that is being said.

Works Cited

Tran, Gia Bao. Vietnamerica. New York, Villard Books, 2010.

B4

Flashbacks of Brightness and Darkness

Have you ever watched a series that didn’t show events in chronological order? It confusing right, you’ll be sitting and watching only to have the episode suddenly change to a flashback or fast forward into the future. In GB Tran’s 2010 graphic novel Vietnamerica, Tran channels this use of “mixed up timelines” to tell the story of his father, Tri Huu Tran. Readers are taken through an erratic mix of bright and dull colors while being transported back and forth from his early life to period of detainment. 

The story opens on page 68 where we see a two dark pages filled with various shades of purple. Tri is being taken into questioning where he is asked about his fathers whereabouts. The story then jumps back to when he was a child talking to his friend about the French Vietmihn. The pages are loaded with bright colors of blues, yellows, reds and greens. Despite the bright colors, we are still made aware of the violence in the streets. This pattern of childhood flashbacks to the time of his detainment reoccur throughout the chapter. It finally ends on page 90 where Tri’s world of color and darkness collide. The top left corner of the page is white, showing a continuation of the happy memories of his engagement shown on page 89. The reality then fades to black as it is revealed to all be a dream Tri is suddenly woken up from as guards throw him out of a moving truck to be a “good Vietnamese citizen”(91). 

GB Tran’s use flashbacks to the colorful fathers childhood is meant to represent a more vibrant time in his life. But can it really be considered a better time? Despite all the pleasant colors we see violence between the authorities and the citizens as well as Tri consistently being ridiculed by his mother for wanting to pursue art. However, none of this compares to the torture he has to endure in captivity. The constant jumping back and forth from sad to sadder is incredibly depressing for the reader. It makes us feel sorry for Tri as he can’t seem to catch a break. 

Reading the dark pages made me want to return to the bright pages, only to receive an equally disheartening story line. But maybe that was Tran’s intention. This is an incredibly powerful representation of what it was like living in Vietnam during the time of war. You can go through the struggles of everyday living under subjugation of the French or face capture to even worse living conditions. Tran shows the reader through his use of flashbacks the reality of a lose-lose situation. 

Works Cited:

Tran, Gia Bao. Vietnamerica. New York, Villard Books, 2010

Blog Post 4

The Color of Family

The wisdom of market psychology tells us that colors affect how we feel about the world around use— for example, McDonalds’ signature red and yellow make people feel hungry and happy. Whether or not this pop psych explanation is true (do people also feel hungry and happy when they see China’s flag?), it points to the significance we assign to colors as conveyors of emotion. In the graphic memoir Vietnamerica (2010), G.B. Tran also makes use of the emotional significances attached to colors by selecting particular colors in conjunction with specific characters, settings, and types of scenes.

Between pages 5 and 39 of his graphic novel, Tran depicts his family arriving in Vietnam for his grandmother’s funeral, then flashes back into his mother’s memories and depicts the lives of his two grandmothers, Thi Mot and Le Nhi. During Tran’s reunion with his extended family, the sky, the ocean, and sometimes peoples’ clothes are light but vibrant shades of blue. This color evokes a sense of peace and carefree joy, like the sky on a day free of worrisome clouds. The blue is complemented by the delicate yellows of buildings, some clothing, food, and incense smoke. The yellow in these scenes, like the sun in the blue sky, communicates straightforward warmth. In combination, these colors suggest a happy and loving atmosphere among Tran’s family.

When Tran’s father, Tri Huu, visits his own father’s widow, Tran complicates the color palette to reveal the pain and conflict of family. In these scenes the yellow darkens and shifts to the sky, while buildings and clothing become gray. Only the sweater of Tri Huu Tran’s father’s widow remains yellow, and this yellow echoes the only other yellow in the room, the star on the Vietnamese flag. The flag evokes the fact that Tri Huu’s father abandoned him to fight for the Vietminh, and the widow becomes a reminder of this. The continuation of yellow in this scene reminds us that the widow is family, but works to emphasize conflict rather than warmth.

Finally, Tran reveals that the family’s blues and yellows represent the confluence of two women’s lives and choices. When he flashes back to the stories of Thi Mot and Le Nhi, Tran depicts Thi Mot’s experiences in blue and Le Nhi’s in yellow. These colors not highlight the personality differences between the two—bold yellow shows how Le Nhi “wasn’t the type to give up without a fight” (37) and calm blues represent Thi Mot’s peacekeeping nature (33) — and represent the women as the family’s origins.

 

Works Cited

Tran, G.B. Vietnamerica. Villard, 2010.

B4

Visual Pattern of Recurring Trees

America is a multicultural society that composes of many individuals and families with binary identities and races. Sometimes this is through heritage, other times it stems from living within multiple cultures and communities that a person feels tied to, or makes up who they are. In the graphic novel, Vietnamerica (2010) by GB Tran, is a family story of Tran’s journey to reconnect with his Vietnamese identity and family after having fled to America with his parents during the Vietnamese war. The choice of a graphic novel allows Tran to tell his story through comic style writing and visuals. One visual I found compelling was the recurring images of trees, often of dark blue and black coloring that can be seen in the background of many of the scenes in the pages.

     Cover of Vietnamerica graphic novelThe visual representation of the recurring black and dark blue color trees within the graphic novel is started after the images of the Vietnamese war that opens up the novel. The recurring dark color trees is the first image we see when Tran’s family escapes to America. This is then followed by the quote on the next page from his father which says, “A man without history is a tree without roots,-Confucius.” This pattern of recurring trees then produces the effect of having the reader’s constantly remember the quote and question what is Tran’s history. It also makes the reader more aware of the dark trees rather than it just being a normal scenery, it stands out as important to the story and the colors makes us question, is the history of Tran’s family dark as well? The quote causes the trees to be re-imagined as history that has to be rooted in something, and for Tran that is Vietnam. The recurring trees also connects the life he had in America to Vietnam because trees are general parts of nature and are seen and reproduced in the scenes of when he is in both places. It then allows us to connect that Tran has history in both countries, and he is traveling to Vietnam to get in touch with his roots here because he has been gone for so long. The quote combined with the recurring trees shows the pathway or journey that Tran must embark on to find his history, his roots.

Being someone in a binary race or culture identity can make you feel like you’re having to find both your identities. It is often a journey to connect to lost family, history, and your roots. Tran is trying to find his history and roots within his multicultural identity, and the importance of history and remembering it acts as his father’s push to remind him of that.

 

Works Cited

Tran, Gia Bao. Vietnamerica. New York, Villard Books, 2010.

Blog 4.

 

Colorful Transitions in Vietnamerica

Cover of Vietnamerica graphic novel
What better way to tell your story than by the creative use of drawings, color, and free-flow structure? From the first few pages, G.B. Tran’s Vietnamerica (2010) emits layers of meanings through its structure, colors, form, and language. One of the noticeable structures is the many blank single-colored pages that act as a separator for different sections/eras of the novel. They have little to no other content on the page and function as a transition for different time periods (past and present).

The pages range in color from maroon, to white, to semi-pitch black, to bright blue, to dark navy blue, and to bright red. The maroon page comes before GB’s trip to Vietnam for his grandmother’s funeral. The white page comes after a portrait of Tran outlined in black with outlines of his parent in blue and red overlapping. The semi-pitch black page comes after the all-white page and appears before a section in which Tri’s family is forced to make the decision to move to a village outside of Mytho. The dark navy-blue page comes before the section that begins with GB packing his stuff in New York. The bright red pages come after a section where Tri is getting tortured for information.

This pattern of using different colored blank pages as transitions from past events to present day allows the readers to get a hint of the tone of the next section and gives reader a chance to read the next section with a blank slate (without thinking too much about previous information they were just given in prior sections). These blank pages remind me of clean slates, which is significant considering the narrative is bouncing back and forth from past and present. It allows readers to digest what they’ve just read and prepare for the next section. The choices of colors themselves also provide some sort of indication of the tone for the following section. For example, the dark navy blue page indicates that the tone of the next section is one of dreariness, routine, or lackluster.

In providing these plain, colorful blank pages, the graphic novel takes readers on a rollercoaster of an emotional narrative. They allow readers to empathize in some way with Tran’s experience, which gives the novel more meaning that just pictures and colors on a page.

 

Works Cited
Tran, Gia-Bao. Vietnamerica. New York, Villard Books, 2010.

B4.

Vietnamerica & The Artistry of Graphic Memoirs

In my experience, graphic memoirs are some of the most informative mediums of cultural text. The illustration, dialogue, framing and colors within a graphic memoir work in cohesive fashion to intensify patterns, emotions, and narrative themes. I find the artistry of how an author uses these creative tools entertaining and at times more helpful than a traditional novel to read from

In Vietnamerica, GB Tran’s use of color, shading, and spacing within his illustrations work successfully to exaggerate the frustrations GB feels after arriving in Vietnam with his family. On page 49, GB Tran depicts himself annoyed at his mother for coddling him over what to pack for their family trip to Vietnam. The neutral shading in this set of frames consists of neutral blues, blacks and whites. Pacing around his home in New York GB disregards his mother’s sentiments.

In the last frame of the page, GB paints himself engulfed in a chaotic blend of orange and black smoke. Suggesting an out of body experience, GB looks as if he is in an illusion where his head is floating into thin air, above his body. The frame transports the audience in an unfamiliar place which one could assume is Vietnam. Given the expression of his face, it is clear GB recognizes he should have listened to the wisdom of his mother.

On the following page, GB is depicted with spinning wheels for eyes, going mad. The unfamiliar streets of Vietnam are now roaring with trucks, food vendors, children, families, store fronts and exhaust. Within these frames, distinct hues of red and orange direct the gaze of the audience to the communist star depicted near the center of the illustration. Through the overt application of bright orange and reds hues covering communist symbolism, GB suggests the disruptive nature of these frames as resultative of the destructive aftermath of communism.

In these frames GB is stripped of his Western comforts and familiarity back in New York. He is framed in harsh juxtaposition against aspects of the Vietnamese culture he is one generation removed from.

All of his interactions within these frames are short,and dismissive. While trying to purchase Pho from a street vendor, his language capabilities are shattered. Nothing he says or does seems to resonate within this space which his family nostalgically roots themselves. GB depicts himself almost escaping the 2-dimensionality if the page to exaggerate the alienation he feels. There is simply no space for him. The singular illustration symbolic of the American culture he grew up around is the red and yellow McDonalds brand presented in the background of a smaller frame. Even this is drowned out behind an excess collection of dust and exhaust.

Works Cited

Tran, Gia-Bao. Vietnamerica. New York, Random House Inc, 2011.

B4