Vietnamese diasporic literary texts/films


The word “diaspora” has been defined as “the movement, migration, or scattering of a people away from an established or ancestral homeland.” (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)  There may have been minor accounts of the history of Vietnam and its people that relate incidents that would be accordingly called diaspora or that would be characteristic of one in any way, but none would be as rich in history, as significant to Vietnam’s independence and as momentous in terms of impact as the end of the Vietnam War in 1925.

The truth is that diaspora is a sad phenomenon – even if the people concerned would choose to look at the bright side of it and dwell on the exciting part of going through a change or a transition phase that will bring in improvements and all other positive occurrences.

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Diaspora involves one’s departure from the one place that has always served as his home.  Home is where one can be his real self, without constraint from things that one should be free to do, without restraint from things that one loves to do, and without pretending to be what one is really not.  Home, therefore, constitutes one’s identity and usually serves to provide a person his first sense of purpose in life.  Home may well refer to one’s house, one’s community place or one’s country.

Home, once lost to a person, renders him incomplete and makes him incapable of things he used to be able to do.  Diaspora may take place for many different reasons, but its consequences share common elements that every person has to be ready to face and cope with.  One of them is the struggle to find a new place to call “home” and to make it as similar as possible to what “home” ought to be.

Khauh Vo has written, “Sanctuary is sought… (yet) this quest for shelter/safety results in a perception of falseness; every place is a substitution for the original.  A fragile existence arises out of this dilemma.  It is burdened by memories of the past and endless driven in the search for a new space called ‘home’. “ (Min, Susette.  “Remains to be Seen”; 2003).

Why Leave Home?

History has recorded many cases of people whose home countries have become kingdoms or territories of rulers whose principles and values were totally in contrast with those of the original people in the area.  We have heard of Austrians fleeing their beloved Austria when German armies of Hitler have started to seep in the government system and structure of their home country.  Such was the case of Captain Von Trapp and his family.  A patriot who was ever loyal and true to his native country, Austria, Captain Von Trapp chose to leave the comforts of his beautiful home and sprawling estate – taking his wife and children with him – and risk being caught escaping by the Germans.  He very well knew the implications of such action that he decided to take, but it was like he had no other option – he would rather leave home than be subject to leaders whose ways, beliefs and goals were totally not in agreement with his.  (Sound of Music; Salzburg Panorama Tours)  His abode in Austria was his home, luxurious and posh; the friends he had all his life were there in Austria; during his retirement years, it would have been a perfect place for spending his retirement years happily with his new wife and kids… Through it all, Captain Von Trapp opted to be a refugee seeking sanctuary in another country.  With that decision, he subjected himself, his wife and all of his seven children into a diasporic life.

By choice, Captain Von Trapp’s entire family as well had to leave home and start anew in a strange place, but it was something they had to do to support their father.  For her part, Maria, the new wife and stepmother, lovingly succumbed to and embraced the great change in her life for love of her new family.  She has realized that her vocation in life is not in becoming a nun in the nearby monastery that she had wanted to be part of during her childhood years.

Thus, Maria’s story relates her having left her designated home twice, both in search of something that she knew she had to find – her purpose in life, her reason for living and the family that she can share her life with.  As a young girl, she left her home for the sanctuary of the monastery, which she thought would give her the solace and peace she wanted to find.  Watching the sisters in the monastery from afar as a child, she wanted nothing else but to be right in there and to be one of those sisters she could only ogle from afar.  Then her prayers were answered when she was taken in as a novice sister by the Mother Superior of the abbey.  She gladly gave up the “things of the world” and began preparing herself for becoming a full-pledged nun.  She had to give up even things she loved, like music and singing; and she had to get over some traits inherent in her, like being jovial and tardy.  After some months, it was clear to Maria that her place under the sun was somewhere else – not in the abbey as she had always believed.

The second time Maria had to move from her home to yet another home was when she was tasked by the Mother Superior to be the nanny of Captain Von Trapp’s seven children, whose last nanny had to quit the post in such short notice.  It brought in another adjustment phase that Marie had to go through. Being the nanny of the Von Trapp children was not at all an easy task, given what spoiled, pampered kids they turned out to be.  Maria had to learn to not miss the quiet and serene atmosphere of the abbey, and to put up with and be ready for being the butt of all sorts of pranks the children could think of to make her go away, just as all their other nannies did.

Still, all persons are destined to find their homes in this world – to each, his own.  Maria eventually ended up loving the children, and they ended up loving her, too.  In her quest for the place where she would belong to in perfect fit, Maria was finally home in the arms of Captain Von Trapp, as his wife and the stepmother of his seven kids. Maria’s story, then, proves that leaving one’s so-called home is the first step towards finding one’s real home.

The Better Place Somewhere Out There

In the same essay by Suzette Min, she has reiterated how Sigmund Freud distinguished mourning from melancholia.  “Mourning grieves for a literal loss that results in decathexis, the breaking of an attachment, whereas melancholia fixates on an imaginary loss, refusing to let go, and instead relocates the loss in what he (Freud) calls ‘the region of memory-traces of things’.” (Remains to be Seen; 2003)

For the Vietnamese who fled to America in 1975 during the outbreak of the Vietnam War, America was the one place to go to for want of a good and happy life.

Vietnam was their home, the country they grew up in, the place where their family and loved ones were.  Vietnam was the same place they had to leave in search for security and shelter from the ravages of war.  Meanwhile, America was the country of the very people who were causing them despair and misery.  America was where the same soldiers killing their fellow Vietnamese came from.  And yet, America was the very place they ran to for refuge, for want of a new start in life, for want of a chance to live life of much improved quality.  For the loss of their home in Vietnam, the Vietnamese had every reason to dwell in mourning – but it should have been only for a short while.  Life has to go on, and each day is too precious to be wasted on mourning.

A person can leave home and make a strange place his new home.  It only requires letting go of the past and moving on to the present for a strong resolve to work for a brighter future.  Letting go, though, is something many persons have never learned to accomplish. Living in the past has been the unwise choice of most people who would have had the opportunity to live far better lives. Melancholia cripples people who are supposed to have walked on to great new chapters in their lives.  Melancholia hinders their advancement from one stage to the next and makes them stuck in a trance where they find living in the past the only worthwhile thing to do.  Thus, melancholia victims are constantly stuck in frustrated thoughts.

The exodus of Vietnamese to America was rooted largely on the American dream that they have harbored in their minds and hearts all through their years of hardship back in Vietnamese.  Moving to America, then, was seen as their trip ticket to a great, abundant life in contrast to the desolation and poverty that they have lived through in Vietnam.  In Miss Saigon, Gigi and the other girls dancing that fateful night with Kim at the bar where they worked for had very concrete dreams of America.  In a song entitled, “The Movie in My Mind”, the girls sang about their wishes of finding American guys who would love them and take them to America, where they would live prosperous lives as wives of their G.I. husbands and as mothers to their kids who then would “eat too much ice cream.” (Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boubil. 1989; Miss Saigon)

From a similar earlier scene – one bursting with optimism and hope – that is shared by many Vietnamese, different scenes served to have followed as subsequent events.  Some Vietnamese have later led successful lives in America, and some have failed to do the same.  The difference has a lot to do with how they coped with the changes in their lives, and how they coped with the diaspora that served to consequently trigger such many changes.


The Merrian-Webster Online Dictionary; Copyright 2008 Merriam-Webster, Incorporated.  (

Min, S.  “Remains to be Seen” (2003).  United States of America:  Regents of the University    of California.

Rogers and Hammerstein, Sound of Music (2004). Salzburg Panorama Tours.

Schonberg, C. and Boubil, A.,  Miss Saigon (1989).



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