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Becoming Refugee AmericanThe Politics of Rescue in Little Saigon$
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Phuong Tran Nguyen

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780252041358

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.5622/illinois/9780252041358.001.0001

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From Grief to Gratitude

From Grief to Gratitude

Reaffirming the Past by Rewriting It

(p.33) 2 From Grief to Gratitude
Becoming Refugee American

Phuong Tran Nguyen

University of Illinois Press

The 130,000 Indochinese evacuated out of Saigon and resettled in America were encouraged to become “good refugees” by forgetting past traumas in order to move forward, the same advice Americans were allegedly giving themselves. This chapter argues that the losers of the Vietnam War, both Americans and Vietnamese alike, affirmed the past not by forgetting it, but by rewriting it. Through camp newsletters and other primary sources, we get a close glimpse of the profound sense of guilt and dishonour that compelled the US to employ selective memory in the shaping of a new collective memory, so that the rescue of 130,000 refugees—rather than the war that killed millions of people—would come to define America. As a result, refugees entered a charitable sponsorship bubble that come to shape their expectations vis-à-vis a guilt-ridden American nation. Refugees were expected to be on their best behaviour—exemplified by gratitude and promises of assimilation—by a country compelled by guilt to be on its own best behaviour.

Keywords:   Phạm Duy, good refugees, bad refugees, collective memory, refugee camp, gratitude, politics of rescue, resettlement, naked life, loneliness, sponsorship bubble

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