Publication Details

Jacklin, M, 'Southeast Asian writing in Australia: the case of Vietnamese writing', Kunapipi, vol 32, no 1-2, 2010, p 175-183.


Literatures in languages other than English produced by migrant or diasporic communities pose intriguing questions for both matters of cultural sustainability and national literatures. Dan Duffy, in his article on Vietnamese-Canadian author Thuong Vuong-Riddick’s Two Shores / Deux Rives, begins by describing a visit to the Boston Public Library where he chances upon a surprisingly substantial collection of Vietnamese-language publications. Among the twenty shelves of books, he finds not only fiction published in Vietnam before 1975, American editions of post-1975 Vietnamese literature and translations of American novels into Vietnamese, but also a large number of creative works in Vietnamese both written and published in the United States. He pitches this opening as an ‘arrival scene’, borrowing the rhetoric of ethnography to refer to the arrival of the researcher among the subject of his or her study. Duffy is, in fact, an American literary scholar whose area of expertise is Vietnamese literature, and he was in Boston to attend a conference on America’s multilingual literatures, so his encounter in the library is not quite the chance event that it first seems. Nevertheless, he uses it to imply that for most Americans such a collection would be surprising — that few would consider Vietnamese-language works to be American literature — and to make the claim that ‘Vietnamese-language literature in the United States is a great untold story’ (322). A similar claim could be made with regards to literature in Asian languages in Australia. How many Australians would be aware of the number of literary works written in Vietnamese in their country? Are English-language readers at Wollongong City Library aware of the numerous works in Vietnamese on their library’s shelves? Would they think of such works as Australian literature? Transferring Duffy’s claim of an ‘untold story’ to an Australian context, I would like to bring a part of Australia’s Vietnamese writing into focus.