Last night had another Asian Australian meet up. Myself, Tseen, Tom, Chi Vu and Susan Lee were there. More stimulating conversation including a question from Suze- how can we get Asian Australians to mobilise? I half jokingly said bring on another Pauline Hanson. Suze wondered why there wasn’t an asian-australian rights movement like in the US. Maybe another comparison would be in NZ where the government apologised to Chinese Kiwis for deporting them in the 19th century. The response was mixed, I read about people who thought they should just move on (they were Chinese Kiwis) and others who thought it was great. The climate in NZ is good for that sort of thing whilst here not even the basic sorry to indigenous people could happen.
The conversations about Peril are becoming more concrete. Our first issue is going to be about nerds- inspired by the fact that all three of us played dungeons and dragons!
I personally think that if there is enough momentum a movement will be born…
Just watched Viet Boys Down Under another Huu Tran and Tony Le Nguyen production from a few years back. Dominic Golding’s character ponders “am I 90% Australian and 10% Vietnamese or 90% Vietnamese and 10% Australian”? Rad Rudd’s character ponders “why can’t I be just Australian? Or can I become full blooded Vietnamese and become more pure?” (Rad is half Vietnamese Half Australian). Huu Tran once asked me whether I was going to become more Vietnamese in the future. The answer is I don’t know. Learning the language is one thing, then choosing which culture influences me is another. I am a hybrid and being a banana split means these things can change.
My on line journal idea is growing legs and I’m meeting with Tom Cho and Tseen Khoo on Sunday with my partner who is doing the IT work. It’s now called “peril” and it’s motif the tsunami wave. Why the wave? Because of the mometum and build up I feel that is out there in Asian Australia networks and artists. Soon we will have an impact of our own accord. I like bouncing my ideas off Tom and Tseen they are both amazing thinkers.
My interviews for my thesis are proceeding nicely. I’ve interviewed Tony Le Nguyen and Chi Vu who haven’t approved their interview transcripts yet so I can’t comment on them. But the 1.5 generation artists I’m interviewing have a different view from what Mandy Thomas’ sample has provided her with- however her work is now 5 years old and the constant that I’m getting with the interviews is that identity and relationships with Vietnam change over time and is something that people revisit. Like Trinh T Minh Ha (a Vietnamese academic and film maker I’m reading up on at the moment) says “Identity is a way of re departing. The return to a denied heritage allows one to start again with different re departures, different pauses, different re arrivals.” (When the moon waxes red p.14) She writes so beautifully I wonder whether I could write as poetically about such topics.
Last night had feedback from a forum about the Children of the Dragon script we’ve been working on. Again there was pressure to be representative this time that the project reflect all the issues that face generation 2 of Vietnamese-Australians. Almost impossible I say. There was some very good feedback about through lines and what the 2nd generation wants to say to the 1st generation. But I’m very aware that we are again being asked to sugar coat it a little, some in the audience wanted to see healing (which is a point but healing may be a long time in coming and not covered in a 2 hour production!) We do have to watch stereotyping which is an issue that has come up in the drafting process. I had a chat with Tony Le Nguyen who told me that Community Cultural Development is heavily contested and challenged and I can see why. Is it more truthful to leave things open ended and not given closure or for the sake of artistic representation to close things and give a positive spin?
this is going to be a mild rant about a review I saw about the “Grave of Thu Le” by Catherine Cole. The review started by saying that there were only a few Vietnamese writers that were not known outside their communities and that Vietnam had not captured the “literary imagination” the way Indonesia had after “Turtle Beach”. Well the first claim is erroneous people have studied my work and David Chiem’s at secondary and tertiary levels. The second claim is dubious. What is the “literary imagination”? Is it only when non-Asian mostly White authors write about the exotic location and it is mainstream successful that it is captured? This review was by Druscilla Mojewska in the Monthly of July.
I’ve been discussing the on line journal idea with Tom and Tseen and both of them mentioned that there may be artists that would not label their work or see their work fitting in to the Asian-Australian niche/category or whatever you would call it. I guess I think about Quan Yeomans who is Vietnamese-Australian and Regurgitator is a mainstream band. I’m so used to being labelled a Vietnamese-Australian writer that I’ve internalised it somewhat. Also in my work it often has a Vietnamese protaganist or issues involved. It didn’t used to be like this, I had written some science fiction and fantasy work in my late teens that didn’t involve ethnicity. Anyhow it’s something new to think about.
I just read from Margaret Atwood’s Negotiating the Dead and she says once you are a known writer then you cannot be invisible anymore. People stick labels on you and maybe project masks on to you that you cannot remove. That’s maybe where my politicisation comes from in a way, I have only had to question my identity in regards to my face as a public writer when I am asked questions about it frequently. I also think it might be why authors have second novel syndrome they have to overcome whatever is projected onto them from the first novel and try and become invisible again to write the second book (if this is possible).
Today i’m thinking of starting up an on line journal for us Asian Australians. Suzie Lee has already started a site for multimedia and arts where people can post up stuff which I’m looking forward to looking at. I’m looking at I guess a bit more conventional literary journal so we don’t have to wait for the special issues of journals to post our work up there. I’d also like to add to the sense of community that the meet ups already have and have a forum where people can post responses to the articles, and opinions etc. I’ve been conferring with Tom and Tseen on this- more about this later when it becomes more concrete.
I saw “Saving Face” a Chinese-American Chinese-American Chick Flick about a girl whose mother moves in with her and her ongoing relationship with a gorgeous dancer and how she has to hide it (trying not to spoil it for anyone here). It was fluffy and non challenging but I thought it was great that such a film was made and got distributed.
I’ve been looking at other Asian-Canadian and Asian-American websites and what they have been doing and it all looks so great…At the AA symposium Evelyn Lee ( I think it was) talked about how in the next 30-50 years we could formalise AA studies within the academe starting with a single subject etc. She also talked about the dangers of it too. Just looking at what gets funded with the two main grants bodies here it’s almost like you have to fit a certain paradigm to even get started and you lose your artistic diversity and freedom (ie having to fit into definitions like literary, having to be a legal organisation etc). I think the AA growth here has been really organic and I’d hate to see it lose that.
I have decided to take an early redundancy from my work thanks to the Voluntary Student Union legislation and apply for a scholarship to try and write and study full time. Also thinking of applying for fellowships overseas with the support of my lovely partner. It’s exciting and terrifying at the same time I have always had a day job or a respectable study path (in psychology) and now it feels like a bit of a gamble.
Yesterday I went to my first Children Of the Dragon workshop for a little while. I’m one of the contributing writers to this project which is looking at Vietnamese-Australian youth at the 30th anniversary of the community being here and where it might go next. The people in this project are energetic and most seem committed to the community and see themselves in thirty years doing something for it. I wonder whether this obligation to do something for the community is prevalent amongst Vietnamese because they are relatively new, the concept of nghia, or do all ethnic communities feel this obligation? One of the challenges popping up in this project is the perception that what we are portraying is too negative. We only refer to drugs once, and not to gangs at all- however we portray a lot of intergenerational conflict and PTSD. We cannot candy coat what is in the community though and I actually think our portrayal is very gentle. The burden of trying to be representative is weighing on the director and it strikes me as being a bit unfair- no one Australian Anglo production is ever expected to be representative of its culture.
I’ve just come back from Varuna Writers Centre where I spent a week reflecting and writing. I also started the interviews for my Phd. I interviewed Binh Duy Ta who wrote the play Monkey Mother about identity, community and home. He emphasised the importance of language for him in establishing identity, as his English gets better he feels his Australian side becomes more pronounced. He also mentioned that a friend of his with better English found it hard to integrate into Australian culture- so it’s not everything.
My own identity was heavily influenced by language or lack of it (I don’t speak Vietnamese)- I have felt that I was just Australian for a very long time and then rediscovered my Vietnamese side when my grandfather died and I was introduced to Vietnamese Buddhism and its rituals. So now I identify as Vietnamese-Australian and sometimes I come across these things in my psyche that my non Vietnamese acquaintances describe as Asian- such as my propensity for silence and introversion.
Today I saw a Visible Ink reading- the compilation put together by RMIT writing students. I was at RMIT in 1996 and from my classes a handful have had novels published. Margaret Bearman and Maria Hyland were in my classes with excellent novels with second ones to come.
Today it was poetry and I saw Angela Costi and Tom Cho read. Angela Costi was lyrical, with arresting images, and Tom was his usual sardonic humourous self.
Today I’d thought I’d write a little about writing process. Ursula Le Guin says that stories have to come to you, that she has moments or little whiles of silences before they come- which other writers might call writers block. She has a fantastic inspirational book out called The wave of the mind which contains some essays about writing and reading.
I have had writers block. Robert McKee says the answer is research. Julia Cameron calls it creative U turns. Nathalie Goldman suggests writing your way out of such spaces.
I think I have had to gain insight into what I write about. Why am I writing? Why am I writing such a story? What is it that I can give that is new and revealing?
I’m working on two projects at the moment. Dream Mapping about a survivor of a shooting who has a psychotic episode for the Australia Council Grant I have, and Digging up the bones for my Phd. Both have moments of silence in them, and I wonder how to express this in a novel.
Critical self reflection periods for all my characters occur when they are alone.
I worry sometimes that these books are too much internal monologue, not enough external world. But that is what the novel you could argue is all about.