University of Toronto Press Blog

  • Notes on Ethnographic Situations in Vietnamese American Communities

    Written by guest blogger An Tuan Nguyen.

    Four men standing for a photo outside. Southern California, May 2012: Standing in a parking lot of a motel where I stayed for several weeks during one of my field visits were three young informants and I. All three of them were my former students in Ho Chi Minh City between 2008 and 2009. They also introduced many other informants to my project.

    My article “Global Economy, Citizenship Pluralism, Transmigrant Mobility, and the Sojourn-Immigrant Vietnamese Americans” in Diaspora is a part of a large and comprehensive ethnographic project that started in 2010 during my time in graduate school and is continuing until now. Unlike most scholars in the field of Vietnamese American studies, I came to the United States as an international graduate student and am still a [proud] Vietnamese national. My background profoundly shapes my perspective and decisively helps me probe Vietnamese America from different angles. Whereas this ethnography was mostly written in a small Midwestern college town, the research was conducted in multiple ethnographic sites from Vietnam to the East Coast, the Midwest, the South, and, of course, the beautiful state of California of the West Coast USA. I deliberately extended my project to include trans-community, trans-state, and transnational focus. The various ethnographic sites were intended to provide more comprehensive and inclusive analyses of the varied Vietnamese American/immigrant lived experience.

    Doing ethnography in traditional Vietnamese American communities has always been treated as contentious and risky work. Many ethnographers, often academics who literally live in, and virtually rely on sites of Vietnamese American ethnic enclaves to develop both their research and their teaching career, have admitted their fear of being outcasts once their research reveals some uncomfortable truths and upsets the locals. Such fear might be coupled with a sense of betrayal to those who help them to do the research. This is particularly true when research touches on the controversial and highly heated topic of Vietnamese anticommunism. One researcher confessed, “I too am familiar with the fears […]. [I was] once afraid that my writings would cause me to be labeled a communist and therefore make it difficult to simultaneously research and be a part of the Vietnamese American community.”[i] Another admitted, “My fear of being dubbed a “communist” made me take a safer route.”[ii] Another expressed her anxiety after traveling to Vietnam with “a bunch of lefty antiwar peacenicks” and “spoke with officials of the Communist Party”: “I worry what he [one of her radical anticommunist informants], and other Vietnamese Americans, would think about my travels.”[iii]

    In a tiny college town, I did not live in an actual Vietnamese community. Therefore, such fear did not affect me. I, in fact, lived in an imagined community, to borrow Benedict Anderson’s term.[iv] My status, however, switched accordingly in each site. During my field research in areas of strong anticommunist fevers such as Dorchester, Boston, MA and Little Saigon, Orange County, CA, I was embraced by my entrepreneurial participants as a teacher (many of my informants were my former students, their parents, relatives, and friends) who attentively listened to their lamentations, confusion, and hopes in the foreign land. To the professional informants in many smaller cities, I was a fellow Vietnamese who was predictably following their trajectory: coming to America, striving for an education, and aspiring to be a researcher and a teacher at a US postsecondary institution. I was not a stranger ethnographer who arrived in a community, lived with the locals for years, learned their language and culture, and wrote a book. Neither was I an ethnographer who explored the local community and claimed my “insider” status to conduct a research. I was a site-hopper whose length of stays, ethnographic methods (including observations, participations, and interviews), and sometimes, means of survival, relied heavily on the goodwill of my people: the Vietnamese immigrants who trusted me with the job of telling their stories; the stories that otherwise would not be told and heard. Although their real names can never be revealed in any of my publications, by participating in the project, their bravery and willingness have rendered possible this article and will continue to shape other publications in the future. They in fact have taken all the risks while I took none; and for that I am forever grateful and indebted.

    An Tuan Nguyen teaches in the Asian American Studies Center at the University of Houston. His research interests focus on how histories of Asian immigration forged the making of Asian American ethnic enclaves and identities and how globalization reconceptualized such communities and identities. His past and current research are community-based projects that explore the lived experience of contemporary Vietnamese immigrants living across the country in their socioeconomic struggle, political empowerment, cultural identity negotiation, and globalized transnationalism. His articles have appeared in DIASPORA and Journal of Vietnamese Studies. Amongst several other projects, Nguyen’s book manuscript entitled “Luggage to America: Professional, Entrepreneurial Immigrants and the Twenty First Century Vietnamese America” is under final revision.

    Read his article “Global Economy, Citizenship Pluralism, Transmigrant Mobility, and the Sojourn-Immigrant Vietnamese Americans” in Diaspora Volume 20 Issue 2, free for a limited time here: https://doi.org/10.3138/diaspora.20.2.002.

    Notes

    [i] Kieu-linh Caroline Valverde, “Creating Identity, Defining Culture, and Making History from an Art Exhibit: ‘Unfinished Story: A Tribute to My Mothers,’ Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, vol. 19, no. 2 (2008): 60.

    [ii] Thuy Vo Dang, “Anticommunism as Cultural Praxis: South Vietnam, War, and Refugee Memories in the Vietnamese American Community,” (PhD diss., University of California, San Diego, 2008): 220.

    [iii] Karin Aguilar-San Juan, Little Saigons: Staying Vietnamese in America, (University of Minnesota Press, 2009: 158.)

    [iv] Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, (Verso, 2006).

  • The Politics of Policymaking in Canada

    The Public Servant’s Guide to Government in Canada, written by Alex Marland and Jared J. Wesley, is a concise primer on the inner workings of government in Canada. As former public servants themselves, these authors know the difficulties in understanding how modern government operates, and how hard it can be to find your place within it. In this post, Jared J. Wesley discusses his own experience of working as a public servant, and how The Public Servant’s Guide to Government in Canada came to fruition.


    The longest day of my public servant career featured a layover in the Regina airport.  At a national meeting of government executives, I had spent the better part of the afternoon advising a provincial government minister against appearing before a House of Commons parliamentary committee to support a piece of federal legislation.  “Think of the profile it would give us,” he told his political chief of staff.  “And think of the road trip,” replied the staffer.  “With respect,” I interrupted, “it’s not customary for provincial ministers to testify in parliamentary hearings.  In fact,” I frantically consulted my notes, “Alberta has only sent one minister before a federal committee in the past twenty years.  And you’d need approval from the Premier’s Office.” “We’re anything but customary,” I could read on the minister’s face. “It actually lowers your status,” I went on.  “You should engage your federal counterparts on a government to government basis.  It preserves your authority – your government’s authority – as opposed to being treated like just another federal stakeholder.”

    The last line felt almost rehearsed; I had written a briefing note on it just a day before.  I was told to stand down, as the minister placed a call to the Premier’s Office.  I placed a call of my own, to my executive director.  Within a few hours, the Ottawa trip had been shelved.  I found that out while sitting in the Regina airport, listening to the minister tell insensitive jokes to his staff within earshot of a dozen other travellers.  I tried my best to ignore it, and pretended to be on my phone to avoid eye contact. The situation worsened when we arrived back in Calgary to find that our connecting flight to Edmonton had been canceled due to a blizzard.  While I was on my blackberry booking a hotel for the night, the minister grabbed my phone.  He told me that taxpayers wouldn’t stand for it, and ushered me into a waiting minivan he’d rented.  Over the course of the five-hour, stormy, midnight drive, he regaled us with even more offensive commentary, mostly directed at his political opponents.  I arrived home in time to change clothes for work.  I didn’t tell anyone the story until the minister left office years later, and even then, concealed his name and framed it as a cautionary tale.

    At the time, I had spent my entire adult life studying politics. I’d written a few books and a few more journal articles about party politics and policymaking. But none of it had prepared me for the day-to-day interactions like those just described. While they may not have the privilege of working directly with elected officials, new public servants confront similar knowledge gaps in their first weeks on the job. If they are like me, they quickly realize that government is more complex, yet somehow more informal, than their textbooks and professors described. While useful, theories of democracy, frameworks of public administration, and historical knowledge fit uneasily with the fast-paced, evolving nature of public service in Canada. Core concepts like accountability take on entirely new meanings. Beyond the public sector bargain that dictates you must provide “fearless advice and loyal implementation,” bureaucrats realize they have multiple responsibilities, are accountable to a whole host of people, and are subject to a wide range of forces seldom covered in assigned readings and seminar discussions. Relationships with elected officials, supervisors, deputy ministers, colleagues in other organizations, friends and family, and the general public are all at play in a public servant’s work. Fortunately, ethical dilemmas like the ones I encountered are few and far between. Yet navigating these various modes of accountability can be challenging nonetheless.

    As former public servants, Alex Marland and I know this first-hand.  Learning new subject matter can be difficult enough when you join a new department or unit.  On-the-job training seldom covers the “small-p politics” involved in public service work, leaving you to read between the lines on various organization charts to figure out where you fit into the broader government structure.  This can be vexing for interns and new public servants, and even some long-time bureaucrats lack a firm understanding of how government actually works.  That is why we wrote The Public Servant’s Guide to Government in Canada.

    At around 100 pages, it is a short, practical primer about how modern government operates. The book offers an insider’s perspective on how public service sits at the nexus of theory and practice, politics and professionalism. It is written in an accessible style suitable for anyone seeking to learn more about the Canadian system of government. The book contains a summary of core concepts about government and working in the public service. In it, we explain the linkages between politics, public administration, and public policy, dispelling many myths about how public servants should remain a-political in their day-to-day work. For new or would-be public servants, the Guide offers advice about life in public administration – what to expect and what to do to reach your full potential. We have included tips from bureaucratic colleagues for improving your performance and carving your career path.

    The Guide wouldn’t have provided letter-for-letter advice on how to deal with the minister in the Regina airport, or on that snowy ride home to Edmonton.  But it would have given me a better sense of my own role in the situation.  If you are looking for a concise overview about government in Canada, and your place within it, The Public Servant’s Guide to Government in Canada is written for you.


    If you want to find out more about The Public Servant's Guide to Government in Canada, click here to view the table of contents and read an exclusive excerpt from the book.


    Jared J. Wesley is a pracademic—a practicing political scientist and former public servant—whose career path to the University of Alberta’s Department of Political Science has included senior management positions in provincial public services. While in the bureaucracy, he gained valuable experience in the development of public policy and intergovernmental strategy. He also served as Director of Learning and Development, establishing policies and curriculum to train provincial public servants. As an Associate Professor of Political Science, he studies and teaches the politics of bureaucracy and the bureaucracy of politics.

    Alex Marland is a professor of political science at Memorial University in St. John’s and a former public servant in the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. Alex’s interest in the practical side of governance is grounded in his discreet research interviews with politicians, political staff, and public servants. His book Brand Command: Canadian Politics and Democracy in the Age of Message Control (UBC Press 2016) won the Donner Prize for Best Public Policy Book by a Canadian.

  • The University of Texas Press and University of Toronto Press Merge to Form “Giddy UP”

    April 1, 2019

    The University of Texas Press and University of Toronto Press Merge to Form “Giddy UP”

    Following months of idle speculation within academic circles, the University of Texas Press and the University of Toronto Press announced today that they are merging operations, effective immediately. The two university publishers will unite under one banner, “Giddy UP” (#GiddyUP), to build on mostly superficial parallels between the interests of scholars in the most populous city in Canada and their counterparts in the fourth-most populous city in Texas.

    The merger was not inspired by shared corporate values, but, rather, the near endless confusion on social media regarding the handle @utpress. The University of Toronto Press can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn as @UTPRESS. However, readers have often mistaken @UTPRESS for @UTEXASPRESS and have tagged the Canadian institution in reference to the latest Texas publications.

    To reduce the miniscule amount of staff time spent dealing with messages from confused customers, leadership at the respective scholarly presses opted to overlook geographic challenges. Both teams are excited to join forces and better serve the people of Texas from the colder climes of Ontario. The University of Texas Press social media presences @UTEXASPRESS will continue to post content, but will pivot to purely cute animals.

    The new logo for the combined publishers incorporates Canada’s national sport of hockey with the well-known bovine mascot of the University of Texas at Austin.

    The entire staff of the University of Texas Press will take their talents north of the border, leaving their current office space to be converted to a pop-up shop showcasing artisanal popsicles. The University of Toronto Press will expand their office to include a Tim Horton’s/Smokehouse for staff use.

    To prepare for the move and requisite immigration red tape, the University of Texas Press staff members are all required watch Don Cherry’s Rock’em Sock’em Hockey, Volumes 1-30 and University of Toronto Press staff will all learn how to line dance. Both teams are receiving training in colloquialisms such as how to use “y’all” and “eh” appropriately.

  • The Sentence: The Transformative Power of Storytelling in Diagnosis

    In the diagnostic moment on story is told and another one is triggered. Hon. John Collier. No. 177. Royal Academy and Paris salon. Credit: Wellcome Collection.

    Imagine the following scene. You’ve had some symptoms that worried you. You’ve gone to the doctor who agreed that a diagnostic work-up was in order. You’ve had an X-ray, maybe a scan, and some blood work run. The results are back, and you are in the doctor’s office, awaiting the verdict. On the one hand, you’re thinking “It’s probably nothing. I’ve just been overworked recently.” On the other, you are asking yourself, “Suppose it’s something serious?”

    We have probably all rehearsed this kind of scene in our heads. What would we do/say/think/feel if the doctor were to say “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but you have [name of dire diagnosis].” We might have a list of activities to tick off, people with whom to reconcile, places or things to do or see.  Just getting a diagnosis ends up dividing as Suzanne Fleischman wrote: “a life into ‘before’ and ‘after,’ …[a division]… henceforth superimposed onto every rewrite of the individual’s life story.” She wrote this after her own diagnosis of what was to be a fatal leukemia.

    Imagining this story is not hard, if we haven’t experienced or witnessed it before, because the diagnosis is so common a device in stories of all kinds. Diagnosis is, in itself, a story. It links together a set of phenomena in a usually linear manner, it generates an explanation, a plot line, and a denouement, in which a knotted bundle of threads gets untangled.  It is a trope, or a motif. The stories of diagnosis are told in a particular tone, with an expectation of a particular kind of outcome. This is why we can imagine the diagnostic scene. We’ve seen in before in many other guises: a sombre newspaper report about a celebrity learning about an unexpected cancer, a book in which the protagonist must wrestle with the knowledge of his newly-announced disease, a film in which the main character watches her life wind down after learning she has an early-onset dementia. The picture accompanying this post barely needs a caption. We can recognize this scene.

    Thinking about diagnosis as a story gives us opportunities. Any story can be retold, or reframed. There are many narrative templates, and not all are linked to devastating change.  Importantly, thinking of diagnosis as a story, we have an opportunity to release ourselves from the dominating grip of diagnosis-as-verdict, diagnosis-as-moment-of-truth.

    How about we move away from the contemporary tendency of narrative constructions, be they about diagnosis or something else, to focus on personal change. It is a tendency that my friend and novelist Damien Wilkins laments, as it “leaves out other ways of being in the world.” It’s not that transformation stories don’t have their place, but there are other ways of telling stories.  Save the powerful about-turns for when they matter, he argues: “the notion of personal change – change which is improving – is both disreputable and unmoveable, tarnished and resolute, art’s cheapest trick and its most generous gift.” [i]

    Narratives don’t always have to promise change.  If we hearken back to the Greeks, the dominant narrative form focused on observing what happened to people as they endured trials. The trials were administered by fate, and rather than transforming the characters, they revealed them. They ride on, and through, the chaos of life, with only fate as immovable.  In contrast to the change narrative (like the moment the doctor is going to tell us the name of some dreaded malady), it is not a moment where a power structure is revealed. The narrative affirms, rather than changes the character.

    Diagnosis: Truths and Tales focuses on revealing the prevalence of the change narrative to which diagnosis clings, highlighting its transformative power, and suggesting a re-narration that will make the experience of illness something easier to bear.


    [i] Damien Wilkins, "No Hugging, Some Learning: Writing and Personal Change," in The Fuse Box: Essays on Writing from Victoria University’s International Institute of Modern Letters, ed.  Emily Perkins and Chris Price (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2017).


    Annemarie Goldstein Jutel is Professor of Health at Victoria University of Wellington.

  • #BalanceforBetter: Our Top Titles for International Women's Day

    This International Women’s Day, who will you celebrate? From radical housewives to the future of work, from violence to trafficking to politics and law, this week we’re highlighting top titles that celebrate women’s achievements, participate in a larger conversation, and reflect diverse and global voices.

    On March 8, we’re joining groups worldwide in the call for a more gender-balanced world.

    Let's turn the page.


    Disrupting Breast Cancer Narratives: Stories of Rage and Repair

    Resisting the optimism of pink ribbon culture, these stories use anger as a starting place to reframe cancer as a collective rather than an individual problem. Emilia Nielsen looks at documentaries, television, and social media, arguing that personal narratives have the power to shift public discourse.

    Female Doctors in Canada: Experience and Culture

    The face of medicine is changing. Though women increasingly dominate the profession, they still must navigate a system that has been designed for and by men. Looking at education, health systems, and expectations, this important new collection from experienced physicians and researchers opens a much-needed conversation.

    Wrapping Authority: Women Islamic Leaders in a Sufi Movement in Dakar, Senegal

    Since around 2000, a growing number of women in Dakar have come to act openly as spiritual leaders for both men and women. Learn how, rather than contesting conventional roles, these women are making them integral parts of their leadership. These female leaders present spiritual guidance as a form of nurturing motherhood, yet like Sufi mystical discourse, their self-presentations are profoundly ambiguous.

    Women and Gendered Violence in Canada: An Intersectional Approach

    A significant expansion on the conversation on gendered violence, this new book from Chris Bruckert and Tuulia Law draws on a range of theoretical traditions emerging from feminism, criminology, and sociology. Find compelling first-person narratives, suggested activities, and discussions on everything from campus violence to online violence to victim blaming.

    The Talent Revolution: Longevity and the Future of Work

    This book is a first. Two women from different generations debunk commonly held myths about older workers, showing how the future of work requires engaging employees across all life stages. Work-life longevity is the most influential driver transforming today’s workplace – learn how to make it a competitive advantage.

    Indigenous Women’s Writing and the Cultural Study of Law

    How do Indigenous women recuperate their relationships to themselves, the land, the community, and the settler-nation? Through a close analysis of major texts written in the post-civil rights period, Cheryl Suzack sheds light on how these writers use storytelling to engage in activism.

    Responding to Human Trafficking: Dispossession, Colonial Violence, and Resistance among Indigenous and Racialized Women

    In the first book to critically examine responses to the growing issue of human trafficking in Canada, Julie Kay reveals how some anti-trafficking measures create additional harms for the very individuals they’re trying to protect – particularly migrant and Indigenous women. An important new framework for the critical analysis of rights-based and anti-violence interventions.

    Becoming Strong: Impoverished Women and the Struggle to Overcome Violence

    What role can trauma play in shaping homeless women’s lives? Drawing on more than 150 in-depth interviews, Laura Huey and Ryan Broll explore the diverse effects of trauma in the lives of homeless female victims of violence. This essential read offers not only a comprehensive examination of trauma, but also explores how women may recover and develop strategies for coping with traumatic experiences.

    Lissa: A Story about Medical Promise, Friendship, and Revolution

    Two young girls in Cairo strike up an unlikely friendship that crosses class, cultural, and religious divides. The first in a new series, Lissa brings anthropological research comes to life in comic form, combining scholarly insights and rich storytelling to foster greater understanding of global politics, inequalities, and solidarity.

    Ms. Prime Minister: Gender, Media, and Leadership

    News about female leaders gives undue attention to their gender identities, bodies, and family lives – but some media accounts also expose sexism and authenticate women’s performances of leadership. Offering both solace and words of caution for women politicians, Linda Trimble provides important insight into the news frameworks that work to deny or confer political legitimacy.

    A New History of Iberian Feminisms

    Both a chronological history and an analytical discussion of feminist thought from the eighteenth century onward, this history of the Iberian Peninsula addresses lost texts of feminist thought, and reveals the struggles of women to achieve full citizenship. Learn what helped launch a new feminist wave in the second half of the century.

    Radical Housewives: Price Wars and Food Politics in Mid-Twentieth-Century Canada

    This history of Canada’s Housewives Consumers Association recovers a history of women’s social justice activism in an era often considered dormant – and reinterprets the view of postwar Canada as economically prosperous. Discover how these radical activists fought to protect consumers’ interests in the postwar years.


    Want to keep learning? Visit International Women’s Day for more details about this year’s #BalanceforBetter Campaign.

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