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Teaching Multicultural Literature : A Workshop for the Middle Grades
Workshop 1 Workshop 2 Workshop 3 Workshop 4 Workshop 5 Workshop 6 Workshop 7 Workshop 8
Workshop 1: Engagement and Dialogue
Overview
Authors and Literary Works
Julia Alverez
Biography
Work
Gish Jen
Biography
Work
Tina Lee
Biography
Work
Khot T. Luu
Biography
Work
James McBride
Biography
Work
Lensey Namioka
Biography
Work
Lensey Namioka
Biography
Work
Key References
Video Summary
Teaching Strategies
Commentary
Student Work
Resources
Interactive Workbook -- Explore two poems using strategies from these workshops. Go.
Channel-Talk -- Share your views on the discussion board. Go.


Authors and Literary Works
"Family Ties: Exposing the Lighter Side of the Vietnamese American Experience"

In 1995, Khoi Truong Luu put together this informal collection of "reflections, observations and anecdotes." He recalls how, when he came to America at age seven, he "longed to be a true 'native.' ... Now, ironically, painfully, I'm trying to return to my roots, and sometimes I wish I were a 'real Vietnamese.'"

As a jumping-off point for his musings, he uses a remark from another Vietnamese American editor, Huy Thanh Cao: "Somewhere along the way, I realized that to be Vietnamese means to endure."

Says Luu, "most Vietnamese people ... would acknowledge that suffering and enduring are, indeed, dominant themes of our national experience and character ... but must endurance be coupled with perpetual sorrow?"

Luu thinks not, and thanks his family for giving him "my dignity, an ironic sense of hope and, believe it or not, my sense of humor." He suggests that the Vietnamese expatriate community look beyond the Hollywood treatment of their native country in Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, Platoon, and other films, "and stop for a second and appreciate some of the light-hearted and less-solemn aspects of the Vietnamese American experience."

Luu follows with a series of vignettes, the first about his grandmother, "an incredible woman, full of love, energy and life. I've seen pictures of her from the 1930s when she was a beautiful young woman, adorned with French makeup and elegant clothing... At present, she is part of a rare breed: a 70-something Vietnamese semi-actively learning English." Luu tells of finding her, motionless, in the middle of the night, after she'd fallen down the stairs and broken her hip: "I saw fear in her eyes." Yet, "three months later, she was back on her feet again -- cooking, cleaning, laughing, spreading joy and inspiration everywhere she went." In 1992, Khoi Truong Luu's grandmother became a citizen of the United States.

Luu also shows a different facet of "family." His Aunt Nga was an electrical engineer at Motorola, which has a big family picnic each year. "I observed one important cultural difference: I think the American notion of inviting your family to a company picnic means nuclear family, but of course we brought out the whole clan: uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, cousins, grandparents, grandchildren -- the whole family tree. We were the largest family there, hands down."

"What a Country!" is what Luu calls his story about a middle-of-the-night call from Uncle Tuan, who was new to America and house-sitting at Auntie Nga's. "'I'm sorry to wake you up, but I have something here for Auntie Nga. You wouldn't believe this, but she just won ten million dollars!' I tried to explain to him about junk mail, how it was all a hoax, how some American companies will do anything to grab your attention through correspondence. But he insisted: 'It says right here in big, black letters. Nga Ly is the recipient of ten million dollars.'"

And what could be more American than a top-ten list? Luu's "Top Ten Ways to Become 'More Vietnamese' for the Twenty-Something Generation" includes this Asian American staple: "8. Enroll (in order of parental preference) in: medical, law, engineering, dental, or pharmacy schools. Do not become a creative writer."

Luu concludes, "The road remains long and arduous, and I'll need more than a silly Top Ten list as a guide. But I think as long as I keep my sense of humor, I should be okay. Laughter, they say, is the best medicine."

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