My path to research led from my lived experience as a refugee from Vietnam and then as a student attending public schools in Philadelphia. Growing up in South Philadelphia, I bore witness to my parents’ trauma and their struggles to raise a family without resources. My research with Vietnamese American youth in the Philadelphia area emerges from this context –– having experienced institutionalized trauma and racism – and from my activist work in my community. I created a space in which Vietnamese American youth co-labor (García 2020) and co-produce knowledge in order to disrupt the silence surrounding their own lived experience in the United States. Through a series of workshops I designed with the youth, we collaboratively document, remember, and reflect on our experience being Vietnamese Americans using poetry, storytelling, photography, and writing. The workshops with the youth answered the following questions:
1. How do Vietnamese American youth view/narrate their lives and relationship to the past and the present in the U.S. and in Vietnam?
- How do they understand/narrate the experiences of their parents and grandparents in Vietnam?
- How do they understand/narrate the transition/move to the U.S.?
- What does being Vietnamese American mean to them?
- How do they construct racial identity for themselves? How have they been racialized in the U.S., and how have they racialized others?
- How do language/bilingualism, gender, and class shape their experience and identity?
- How have their experiences in U.S. schools shaped their identity as Vietnamese Americans?
2. What do these narratives communicate about their transtrauma? In using the term “transtrauma” I point to how systems of domination play a role in inflicting trauma on marginalized communities and, in this case specifically, on Vietnamese Americans.