Picturing the Vietnam War

One Book One College presented a talk with the author of a graphic novel.

By Aimee Martinez, Valley Life Editor

Photo by Gabriel Arizon/The Valley Star

Hundreds of Valley College students gathered in Monarch Hall, where cartoonist Thi Bui recounted the story behind her illustrated memoir, “The Best We Could Do.”

As part of the One Book One College program, Valley College faculty and staff selected her graphic novel, which was read and discussed in numerous fall classes. One Book is a national common-read program designed to encourage literacy and academic dialogue through a shared reading experience.

“This is a book being read by the entire campus so to have more of a book-club feel,” said One Book coordinator Alicia Bien. “We wanted to have an event where we brought in as many people who have read the book and wanted to know more about it speak with the author.”

The graphic novel is a love letter to Bui’s parents that centers on the artist as she researches her past and explores the memories of her family during war-torn Vietnam. As refugees, they would ultimately leave for America. Bui establishes herself as the protagonist allowing readers to connect with her experiences.

In addressing the audience, Bui commented on the diversity of the campus. She said she was glad to be able to cross cultures through her book. Excerpts from her novel were projected on a screen as audience members voiced various characters.

“It started as revenge against all the bad Vietnam war movies I had to watch growing up,” said Bui. “Then as it evolved, it was also a way for me to ask a lot of questions about my own origins, learn more about my parents and appreciate them in ways I couldn’t really do in real life.”

Bui dedicated a chapter to her father as the hero. It also served as a tribute to Asian-American men who, in her words, “are often emasculated and belittled.” Through the process of writing, the differences with her father were resolved and their relationship was healed. The relationship with her mother, however, remains strained. Ultimately, this glimpse into her struggles has given Bui a better understanding and removed the resentment she had as a teenager.

She addressed her concerns about family separation, her exploration on the issue of deportation and the realization of how it was also affecting Vietnamese-Americans. The more she studied the topic and the laws surrounding it, the angrier she became. She shared the account of a man who was arrested and taken away from his family by ICE because of a crime he committed, as a young, confused foreigner.

Audience member Ruth Morales said she sympathizes with the plight of migrants.

“My parents are also immigrants, so I understand how it’s also hard for people from other countries to come to the United States and feel discriminated against and starting a life all over again and trying to fit in,” said the 19 year old.

In order to erode the stereotypical images of Vietnamese people, Bui decided to replace them with illustrations of her own. She explained that by merely reading the story in prose, the reader might form images that are influenced by American movies.

“I think photographs don’t quite cut it in terms of bringing you close to people so hopefully this new medium is new and fresh enough to cut through those emotional scabs that we carry,” said Bui.