Amplifying the unsung voices of South Vietnam

Soon after I joined Cornell University Press, I met with Sarah Grossman, Managing Editor of SEAP Publications, for a cup of coffee. She happened to mention a book that the Press published in 2015 – Voices from the Second Republic of South Vietnam (1967-1975), edited by K. W. Taylor. As Sarah explained, the book—a collection of essays by Vietnamese individuals who worked to build a democracy in Vietnam during the war—took on a life of its own after it came out. Mostly through word of mouth, news of its existence spread widely throughout various Vietnamese American communities, sparking conversation and remembrances, and serving as a much-needed locus for the kinds of stories about the war that are often shamefully overlooked.

voicesLearning about this book’s reception energized me instantly. As someone who works in publicity, I love the fact that the book reached the readers to whom it mattered the most. It also reminded me of why university presses are so important—we are publishing scholarship that has real impact on people around the world, both inside and out of the academy.

I was fortunate enough to be able to connect with one of the contributors, Tam Phan, to further illuminate the story behind this book, and why it has mattered so much to so many people. Our interview is below.

 

  1. This book developed from a symposium on the Second Republic of South Vietnam held at Cornell in 2012. You played an integral part in the volume’s development by providing the initial inspiration for it and contributing an essay. Why did you think it was important to publish these stories for a wider audience?

I share the feeling of the majority of the South Vietnamese community that the plight to build a free and democratic country in South Vietnam was misunderstood during the war. It was further clouded by a propaganda war that the South Vietnamese simply lost. The voices of South Vietnam have largely been absent from U.S. publications and scholarship on the war, and it felt important to have a platform for sharing another, crucial dimension of that time for the wider public. The 2012 symposium “Voices from the South” [Vietnam], organized by Professor Keith Taylor and coordinated by my son John Phan (who by that time was a PhD student at Cornell), provided us a golden opportunity to tell our stories. Professor Taylor went further and put together a volume that captured the main testimonies of eleven former South Vietnamese officials who served during the second republic. The South Vietnamese community has welcomed the book with appreciation and gratitude.

The interest in the book to this point, according to my understanding, remains chiefly among the first generation of Vietnamese Americans, as well as a very limited American public. We hope that the stories of the South Vietnamese and of their many American friends who helped them build their country be known to the younger Vietnamese American generation and the larger American public as well.

  1. The book’s publication attracted much attention within American Vietnamese communities. Why do you think it garnered such interest?

Since the publication of the book in 2015, we have made a consistent effort to protect its integrity by avoiding any attempt to “politicize” it. Despite the clear absence of large-scale publicity events, I am happy to see that the book has spread widely across Vietnamese communities in the U.S. and to some extent in France and Vietnam. I believe that this interest among Vietnamese communities stems from its healing effect. One reader—a former South Vietnamese military officer—told me during a social gathering in St. Paul, Minnesota that he found great comfort after reading the book, and I believe that this comfort stems from a feeling that a broader range of South Vietnamese experiences and perspectives have finally been represented in a publication.

  1. You decided to translate the book into Vietnamese. What motivated you to personally undertake this project? How can people get ahold of this edition?

The book has generated great interest among the first generation of Vietnamese-Americans, especially the older generation—many of whom are not proficient in English. I received several requests from a number of Vietnamese-American communities, as well as some Vietnamese-American media groups, for a Vietnamese edition of the book. I consulted Professor Taylor and Sarah Grossman and received permission to produce a translation. I contracted with a professional translator and did the editing, along with seven of the other original contributors (two of the contributors have passed away in 2017). The whole process was completed by April 2018, and under the suggestion of some of my colleagues, I had released it on April 30, 2018 in commemoration of the end of the Vietnam war. We quickly discovered a number of minor technical issues following the initial release, which were promptly corrected, and the final edition of the translation (titled Tiếng Nói từ Đệ Nhị Cộng Hòa Nam Việt Nam 1967-1975) has been available via Amazon since May of this year.


 

About the author of this blog post: Cheryl Quimba is the Publicity Manager at Cornell University Press. She truly believes that books can and do change the world (and she’ll rattle off a whole laundry list of world-changing books if you ask her!).

Amplifying the unsung voices of South Vietnam

THE HEADSCARF IN THE UNITED STATES (or the celebration of freedom on this 4th of July)

The Fourth of July is so close you can almost sense it. And to most people, it feels like freedom and independence. But how does it feel to the Muslim American women wearing a headscarf (or hijab) on that day?

The question about the headscarf, its meaning, and, more than anything, the experience of the women that wear it, has fascinated me for a long time. Maybe because some people don’t seem to think much about it, beyond the simple act of wearing a scarf in itself; maybe because to others, it evokes sentiments of distrust and anxiety, led mainly by stereotypical images propagated on TV.

In April 2014 I traveled to Turkey and asked questions about this practice myself. Because I knew little about it, I was surprised to find out that most Muslim women embraced the covering of their hair, and sometimes their whole body, as an expression of their identities. They talked about religious liberty, their sense of femininity carefully embroidered and woven in cloth.

A few years later, as I strolled the streets of Casablanca, Morocco, I was witness to the same phenomena. Arm in arm, gossiping in their burkas, or with smiling eyes in a hijab, women were voicing their beliefs. How is it that I had not seen through the veil of my own cultural bias, unable to understand the subtleties of wearing a head-covering scarf?

HEADSCARF

The issue of Islamic head-covering and the political and social debates on the topic are as multiple as they are complex. This 4th of July, I invite those interested in unveiling its construction and political consequences, to listen to our latest podcast with Bozena Welborne, Aubrey Westfall, and Sarah Tobin, co-authors of The Politics of the Headscarf in the United States.

On this Independence Day, their book provides us with a chance to hear from Muslim American women, to learn about their values and beliefs, and how they express their identities in a country that aims to be the model of democratic pluralism.

 

 

“I love identifying myself as that, as a Muslim American, especially in that order, too, because this is my country and my religion is the most important to me. But after that, like . . .  this is where I was born, this is where I was raised and I was born with these values, American values of tolerating freedom of expression and freedom of religion and freedom of the press, and I think that’s one reason why our country is so successful is because we’re tolerating so much diversity and therefore people from all over the world can come and bring their talents into our country. So, I take a lot of pride in that phrase, Muslim American.”

—The Politics of the Headscarf in the United States (p.162)

 


 

Recommended artist to follow with this post:

http://www.boushraart.com/

 

About the author of this blog post: Adriana Ferreira is the Social Media Coordinator at Cornell University Press. She is grateful to have had the opportunity to travel around the world and meet people from various countries, with different cultural values and religious beliefs, and to be part of a diverse, multi-cultural and heterogeneous community.

 

THE HEADSCARF IN THE UNITED STATES (or the celebration of freedom on this 4th of July)

Political Upheaval: a glimpse into racial politics, state political patronage and the future of Malaysia

Since the early 1970s, capitalism and politics have been organised and rationalised in Malaysia in a distinctive way: the principal stated aim being to transform the comparatively disadvantaged social and economic position of ethnic Malays vis-à-vis ethnic Chinese. Promotion of an ethnic Malay business and state bureaucratic class, together with insistence on Malay political supremacy within the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN, or National Front) coalition, were integral to the strategy.

But in spite of initial improvements for ethnic Malays in general, the model’s real power lay in growing capital accumulation opportunities for capitalists that were closely aligned to the dominant BN party —the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). And as inequality grew, so did BN’s reliance on repression of its opponents and critics. Ethnic and religious nationalism were both used to justify BN rule and discredit challenges to it, but yet this model’s problems would mount.

PARTICIPATION

As explained in Participation without Democracy: Containing Conflict in Southeast Asia, the unequal distribution of costs and benefits of development have exerted political pressures across the region. However, precisely how capitalism is organized affects the bases of support and opposition for particular institutions and ideologies of participation and representation. In neighboring authoritarian Singapore, for instance, the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) interests and ideological dominance link to state capitalism under technocratic rule. Hence, the PAP developed state-controlled consultative institutions and ideologies for incorporating experts, civil society actors and others into public policy deliberations.

Comparable forays in consultative representation in Malaysia were limited and counter-productive. Two national consultative committees—during 1989-90 and 1999-2000—produced governance reform proposals antithetical to the regime’s political patronage systems. As a result, the politically disaffected sought to exploit electoral politics and civil society mobilizations. These peaked under Najib with huge street demonstrations, organised by the Bersih movement pushing for electoral and other institutional reforms.

Malaysia’s May 9 general election result was a shock, ushering in the first change of government in 61 years of independence. To be sure, Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government had been on the nose for years, saved at the 2013 election by massive electoral malapportionment. In 2018, though, the scale and range of obstacles to free and fair elections was unprecedented. These included further racially-skewed boundary changes, barring of key opponents, boosts in phantom voters, deregistration of a major opposition party, and an Anti-Fake News law to blunt debate about Najib’s alleged role in Malaysia’s biggest ever corruption scandal.

Yet still one of the world’s most durable authoritarian governments fell, and the Pakatan Harapan (PH, or Coalition of Hope) formed government. Paradoxically, 92-year-old former authoritarian BN leader, Mahathir Mohamad, is again prime minister.

Mahathir’s political comeback was precipitated by allegations of at least $4.5 billion stolen from the state investment company One Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), including almost $700 million siphoned into Najib’s personal bank accounts. Mahathir aligned with Bersih’s call for Najib’s resignation and co-established Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Malaysian United Indigenous Party) in direct competition with UMNO, as the authentic champion of Malays. And in early 2017, HP elected Mahathir leader.

It is an unlikely coalition of forces, comprising alienated members of the old political establishment combined with popular reformist forces, that has made this victory possible. Many of the latter seek the dismantling of racial politics and state political patronage: foundational pillars of the prevailing Malaysian political economy. But how much will government change translate then to regime change? This depends on the way that contradictions within this multi-ethnic coalition are resolved or managed, and how the PH’s technocratic, nationalist, democratic and even authoritarian elements play out to lead change.

——

Related article: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-44036178

About the author of this blog post: Garry Rodan is Professor of Politics and Director the Asia Research Centre at Murdoch University, Australia. He is also an elected Fellow of The Academy of Social Sciences in Australia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Political Upheaval: a glimpse into racial politics, state political patronage and the future of Malaysia