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Author Tells Vietnam’s Story Through a Native’s Eyes

By Jessica Wilson

BOONE–A fire burns inside Jade Huynh’s heart, fueled by his desire to write about his past.

Huynh, assistant professor of English at Appalachian State University, escaped from Vietnam when he was 22.

His writings recall his experiences as a young man in Vietnam, including his labor camp imprisonment during the Vietnam War. “I (will) have these stories in my head until the day I die. I’m never going to finish writing all these stories,” he said.

Huynh has published two nonfiction works, the most recent is “Deliverance By Sea: Vietnamese Boat People Tell Their Stories,” co-written by Mary Terrell Carguill. It was released in March and tells about refugees who tried to escape Vietnam by boat in the 1970s and 1980s, many of whom died at sea.

Two other books are in progress.

“South Wind Changing,” published in 1994, was nominated for a National Book Award. The paperback version will be available in June.

“I grew up in Vietnam before, during and after the war,” he said. “I am a living witness from the beginning of the war to the end of the war.”

Huynh’s writing is cathartic and helps him and others work through their painful memories. He hopes his writings also will help connect future Vietnamese generations with their history.

“These stories need to be recorded because the next generation will hopefully be able to understand a little bit about how difficult it was for their ancestors in their struggle. Although they won’t know these experiences first hand, they will at least know of these stories and have something to relate to,” Huynh said.

Huynh received a

$20,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1998 to travel to Thailand and record personal histories of Vietnamese refugees living there.

He currently is writing “My Daughter” is about his aunt’s search for her daughter from whom she was separated when the baby was 2, and editing “The Family Rule.” He also is working on a collection of Vietnamese myths and legends.

Many Vietnamese prefer to forget about their past turmoil, but Huynh believes it is important to document their history. “I want to speak for the nameless and faceless Vietnamese and tell the world what really happened in Vietnam with the murder, rape and genocide of my people. Many of my people just want to let it go and forget about it,” he said of the war. “I have a chance to do something to help my people. I feel like I can help them document their history.”

Huynh also wants to balance Western writers’ versions of his country’s history. “It is so difficult for me to understand how journalists spend such a short time in Vietnam and all of the sudden become experts about the country. Unless they are looking through the ordinary Vietnamese eyes, they will never completely understand it. They will always be on the outside looking in,” he said.

Despite the 25 years that have passed since the Vietnam War, Huyhn thinks little has changed in his native land.

“On the surface it may look like it’s changing, but I don’t think there will be complete change until the older generation dies out and the younger generation who knows about the way life really is there takes over.”

Huynh also has written several pieces that will be included in “Tilting the Continent, Southeastern Asian American Literature,” an anthology of Asian literature, due out in October.