The past in the present: Life narratives and trauma in the Vietnamese diaspora

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This chapter explores oral history and memory work involving Vietnamese refugees, and the intersection between the personal and the professional in my work as a Vietnamese Australian academic. My research and creation of oral history archives are closely linked to my personal, family, and community history. The process of translating the testimonies of Vietnamese refugees is transgenerational, cross-cultural, and multilingual, and takes place against a context of postwar mass migration, loss, and trauma. Recording and interpreting their life stories is a means of transmitting the refugee experience to the next generation as well as to fellow citizens of resettlement countries. I reflect on my work on oral history and trauma in the Vietnamese community in Australia over the last 14 years, and expand on the relationship between researcher and researched. I then focus on two life narratives, those of a Vietnamese woman and a Vietnamese veteran – both of whom arrived in Australia as refugees – that illustrate salient aspects of the Vietnamese diasporic experience. Oral history provides a means for Vietnamese narrators to convey their personal stories and add their individual accounts to the repository of refugee, migration, and trauma experiences in Australia. The process of collecting these accounts is one of translation, which cannot be separated from my own life experience as a refugee.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTranslating Worlds
Subtitle of host publicationMigration, Memory, and Culture
EditorsSusannah Radstone, Rita Wilson
Place of PublicationAbingdon Oxon UK
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9780429024955
ISBN (Print)9780367111250
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Vietnamese diaspora
  • Vietnamese women
  • Narrative
  • Memory
  • Trauma
  • Oral history
  • Transgenerational transmission
  • Refugee
  • Silence
  • Testimony

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