Author Recalls Life as Vietnamese Refugee
March 16, 2007 2:52 PM
Writing is a therapeutic experience for Andrew Lam.
In fact, the reason he began to write was to get over a painful break-up. It helped him to focus on what he was feeling and to move on.
"When I fell out of love, it was so painful I couldn't see the future," said Lam. "Then I took a creative writing class, and the words just started pouring out."
Since then, Lam hasn't stopped writing. Now an editor for New America Media, he also writes short stories and travels the world giving talks about his experiences in journalism and in life.
Invited by the English, journalism and Asian-American studies departments, the journalist spoke to students and faculty on campus Friday about his recently published book, "Perfume Dreams." The book is a collection of Lam's essays detailing his experiences of growing up a Vietnamese refugee in America. For some students who attended, "Perfume Dreams" reflected events in their own lives.
Hoa Hoang, a 19-year-old Vietnamese-American studies major felt a connection between Lam's words and his own past.
"I read the book, and it's really insightful," he said. "I could relate, being a Vietnamese-American, and I could get a sense of what it has been like for him."
The son of a South Vietnamese general, Lam and his family fled Vietnam on the eve of the Fall of Saigon in 1975. Upon arriving in America, Lam tried to assimilate to his new culture, to the point that his mother disparagingly referred to him as a "cowboy."
Lam spoke to the audience about the struggles of being a Viet Kieu, a Vietnamese national living abroad. He addressed the difficulties of finding one's personal identity amid two cultures, something he said anyone living in a society they weren't born into can relate to.
“What I find is that it is most healthy when you don’t discard your past but don’t let it rule you,” he said. “The art of writing is one way to appropriate your past.”
Lam explained the complexity involved in finding his own Vietnamese-American identity, and how describing himself as those two nationalities didn’t come close to portraying the intricacy of his individuality. Through his writing he was able to come to terms with both his Vietnamese and his American identities.
“I cannot be fully American without fully acknowledging my Vietnamese past,” he said.
Some students in the audience were struck by his ability to describe his emotions through his writing. Stephanie Conrad, 19, an American studies major, said she related to the way Lam illustrated emotions that most people feel.
“I really liked the way he compared losing love to losing your country,” she said.
Conrad came to the presentation because she was required to for her English class, but she ended up enjoying it so much that she purchased Lam’s book. Later, she asked him to sign her book for her.
For Lam, it seems, writing is almost essential.
“It painful to write, because you spend so much time in solitude,” he said. “But it has to be cathartic, or else I wouldn’t be doing it.”
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