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