Review: Vietnamese Memories Vol. 2: Little Saigon
As 2018 ends, it’s a year where hate in all of its disgusting forms was very prevalent in the news and in every community. World leaders became more vocal about their own biases, it became apparent to all, that tolerance had increasingly became a rare belief.
“Love for your fellow man” and “content of your character” are sentiments that feel like relics in this new world. Instead of defying abhorrence it was welcomed. We find heads of state making excuses for hate mongers and having difficulty with saying their associated actions are deplorable.
This new world that all of us has gotten used to makes it a very scary place for immigrants and especially refugees. Life of the refugee in their intended new world is no longer certain. This is what makes immigrant communities like the multitude of Chinatowns in various cities, Little Italy in New York, Little Manila in New Jersey, and Little Haiti, in Miami, FL, so essential to the endurance of the culture from their home countries. That culture helps form the identity of these new neighborhoods. I personally never grew up in one of these communities but I’ve been to enough of them to know how important it is to those who live there and especially the ones born here. In the second and final volume of Vietnamese Memories: Little Saigon we continue to follow Vietnamese immigrants as they fathom a new reality and try not to lose who they are.
In the first story we meet Xuan, a restaurant owner in Brooklyn, New York, who shares his affinity for Pho and just how it has shaped his love for cooking. We are then taken to San Francisco where we are taken to the Laos area of this major metropolis where most of the people who settled there helped the US military during the Vietnam War. They came over to make better life for themselves but their communities became infested with drugs and the gangs made up of their children and grandchildren who are completely cut off from their parents culture . We’re then taken to San Jose where their “Little Saigon” is actually a large thriving community. We meet Ahn, an older beautiful woman, who realized way too young that beauty was a curse as her path was not without the heartbreak of betrayal, living in two refugee camps, testing of friendships and ultimately arriving in San Francisco, where she weaponizes what she first saw as a curse into a tool to seize her dreams. We also go to Los Angeles, which has a big Asian population and one of the most world renowned “Little Saigon” neighborhoods in existence lying in the middle of Orange County. It’s one where most of the community came from South Vietnam and where we meet Yen, a woman, who was once a national athlete for a post-Vietnam War Vietnam but becomes imprisoned over several different instances. First for trying to flee the country but eventually for escaping prison, where she becomes pregnant with an American expat but is forced to raise her daughter on her own. As her daughter becomes a teenager she eventually decides to move to America to be with her sister and make a better life for her and her daughter. We are also taken to Charleston, South Carolina, where many Vietnamese settled because the terrain reminded many of them of the Vietnamese countryside. There we meet Tam and Nicole, a couple who escaped Vietnam because of the gang violence, the country’s instability, and the growing tensions.
Overall, the graphic novel is a classic tome of the perseverance of the human spirit, as one doesn’t know what one can endure, until one undergoes the fire. The stories by Clement Baloup are heartbreaking, profound, and immense in scope. The art by Baloup is effortlessly beautiful. Altogether, it’s an essential addition to any collection but especially to those of us who know of the struggles our family had to undertake to make a better life for us.
Story: Clement Baloup Art: Clement Baloup
Translation: Ceri Pollard, Hannah Flixter, Alessandra Cazes, and Olivia Hanks
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy