Yesterday was a very exciting day at Cal Poly. All across campus, faculty, staff, and students participated in the second annual Inclusion Starts With Me Teach In, which is a day of programming dedicated to topics related to diversity, inclusion, and social justice. The day's events culminated in a talk by the renowned author and scholar Viet Thanh Nguyen, who spoke about his Pulitzer Prize-winning debut novel, The Sympathizer (2015).
I contributed to the Teach In by co-facilitating a workshop on critical refugee studies with my colleague Maggie Bodemer, a lecturer in the history department who specializes in the history of Southeast Asia. We chose this topic to honor Nguyen’s presence on campus, since many of his recently published works explore the impact of the war in Vietnam on Southeast Asian refugee communities. The workshop was a great success, attracting several dozens of students and faculty and prompting robust discussion about the field of critical refugee studies, as well as the history and memory of the war in Vietnam. Here is a full schedule of all the Teach In events.
After facilitating this workshop, I had the incredible honor of meeting Nguyen during a small meet-and-greet with a few students and faculty members. I have long admired Nguyen’s work as one of the foremost scholars in the field of Asian American literary studies. I remember reading Nguyen’s first monograph, Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America (2002), with great interest as a Ph.D. student. This past year, I was riveted as I read The Sympathizer, which recounts the history of the 1975 fall of Saigon and its aftermaths from the perspective of a communist spy in the South Vietnamese army. You can probably imagine how excited I was to meet the mastermind behind these great works in person!
In anticipation of Nguyen's visit to our campus, I assigned the students in my Asian American literature course this quarter a couple of stories from Nguyen’s recently published short story collection, The Refugees (2017). My students were thrilled to learn that they would have the opportunity to meet the author of the stories they were reading this week. I am grateful that my students were able not only to read and discuss these wonderful literary works in my classroom, but also to hear directly from the author himself, who was able to enrich their understanding of the material by providing even more insights about his writings. Below is a flyer for Nguyen’s talk and some photos that were taken during the event.