I Love Yous Are for White People is definitely a great read. I was going to write a review, but my boy Minority Militant has one already, which you can check out here. I just wanted to touch on what I found most compelling about the book, the subject of Vietnamese American identity, and what it meant to me when I was reading the book. There are some spoilers below, because I mention some of the folks in the novel… So be warned!
Lac came over to LA-LA at a time when Vietnamese folks were still new to the states and Westminster was developing as a Little Saigon. So he, like many Vietnamese folks coming over, was jumping from one world to the other (VN to the US) and then discovering his own identity in a city with a ridiculous amount of diversity: A Latino street gang, a Vietnamese American graffiti gang, a predominantly Chinese (then White) high school, a loving Latino American family and Lac’s own Vietnamese family all played prominent roles in his life. The book depicts pivotal moments in Lac’s life where he was given a choice of several different worlds. Because to accept one, is to reject the other. There was hardly any overlap when you’re rolling with a Latino gang or a Vietnamese American graffiti gang. Lac’s description of growing up Vietnamese in America surrounded by Latinos is a unique perspective that not many get to experience in the world.
Reading about Lac’s childhood at that time, in that place, gave me some insight on how the “American transition” for folks back then was like. The way Lac grew up learning about “nhau” felt like he was seeing it as something inherently foreign, but surprisingly familiar. I think we all feel that way about our Asian motherland’s culture when we experience it as Asian Americans. What does it mean when I go to “nhau” spots in OC to eat pig intestines and drink Beer 333 and end up relating to it no differently than when I hit up Korean bars and eat Dukbokgi with soju/OB beer or Teppanyaki with Kirin at a Japanese spot. I feel like I am so far removed from the experience, that although I speak the same language and grew up in a Vietnamese household, in some ways, I am fetishizing my own culture like I grew up as a My Trang. I can’t speak for Lac when it comes to this outsider looking in perspective, but I can definitely tell you that this is how I felt while I was reading his book.
So I would say this book easily appeals to all folks that are close to the immigrant experience, but still on the cusp of both cultures. For all the folks that took ESL classes in school and learned very early on that its hard to stay friends with your elementary school rainbow collation friends forever, this book is for you. For those of you that are repulsed by the mere mention of coagulated duck blood you should probably read The Lost Symbol (doesn’t Robert Langdon get into the craziest situations?!). For those of you that just came over from Viet Nam, and not entirely fluent in English yet, this book is for you if you bug Lac to get the book translated, especially for his pops.
And to Lac, my biggest criticism is the same as TMM’s, I felt the book was cut short. I wanna hear about your life in high school and what it was like during that time to be in an interracial relationship. That would provide a lot of people, including myself, that have tried to figure out if losing the comfort of being two nondescript Asian folks dating or the ease of speaking your native tongue to Vietnamese folk is worth the sacrifice of all the stares you get when you’re out with a girl of a different race. I’d like to say yes, to some degree, for the right person, but I’d like to hear the story from your own perspective, Lac. Your idol, Augusten Burroughs, blessed us with more than one book, and I hope the same for you.
And send me an iTunes playlist of your music too. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Etta James next to Tupac on a playlist before…