"So Lost Between Worlds": Liminality in Vietnamese American Literature

Tina Lynn Powell, Fordham University


"So Lost Between Worlds" is a phrase used in Lan Cao's novel Monkey Bridge to illustrate the feelings of liminality and dislocation in the narratives of the Vietnamese American "1.5 generation." Comprised of Vietnamese Americans born in Viet Nam and coming of age in the United States, this generation must face two distinct narratives of interpellation: refugee narratives of the first generation and what Lisa Lowe calls U.S. national narratives (stories about the development of a nativist, national subject). The refugee discourse of the first generation, in memoirs, the construction of Little Saigons, and political activism, rely on nostalgic versions of Viet Nam, fervent anti-Communism, and acceptance of American paternalism. In many ways, first generation memoirs mirror U.S. national narratives that rely on white nativist American Exceptionalism, for both interpellate the Vietnamese refugee within the ideological framework of American Exceptionalism. The 1.5 generation, however, presents a liminality that destabilizes those narratives. This liminality is a result of the racial and economic hierarchies that underlie both collective diasporic identity and U.S. national narratives, and it works to expose the inequities underlying those models of assimilation. Each of the writers I focus on produces texts that struggle against the elements that make up Vietnamese diasporic identity and against specific U.S. national narratives. These U.S. national narratives – the immigrant Bildungsroman, 1980s consumer culture, the frontier, Vietnam War films, and the Lost Generation – push assimilation within the acceptable boundaries of white nativism, often figured through the model minority.

Subject Area

Asian American Studies|American literature|Ethnic studies

Recommended Citation

Powell, Tina Lynn, ""So Lost Between Worlds": Liminality in Vietnamese American Literature" (2014). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3632748.