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Viet Than Nguyen on Books by Immigrants

Cannon Fodder

Books by immigrants, foreigners and minorities don’t diminish the ‘classic’ curriculum. They enhance it.

By Viet Thanh Nguyen

In 1992, as a first-year PhD student at Berkeley, I told the English department chairman, a famous Americanist, that I wanted to write a dissertation on Vietnamese and Vietnamese American literature. “You can’t do that,” he said, fretting over my ambition to teach in a university English department. “You won’t get a job.” Since even my Marxist mentor agreed with the chair, I took the safer route and wrote a dissertation on Asian American literature, a subject in which some people had gotten tenure-track professorial positions. 

Still, this was not an easy path. As a scholar of Chicano literature told me with a note of anger in his voice: “We have to read their literature, but they don’t have to read ours.” He meant that we, in the minority, would always have to know the minds of the majority, a favor the majority knew it did not have to return. Knowledge of this kind meant survival for the minority. Ignorance of this kind was an expression of privilege for the majority. Read more at The Washington Post.