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Manoa 14.1 (2002) ix-xii
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Twice a year, Mänoa's editors gather new writing from throughout Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. Each volume highlights authors of a particular country or region, placing them alongside other international writers of distinction. Two Rivers, guest-edited by Kevin Bowen and Nguyen Ba Chung, features works by contemporary Vietnamese and Vietnamese American writers.
Historically, Viet Nam has been a country of confluences—not only because of its two great waterways, the Red River in the north and the Mekong River in the south, but also because of the coming together of important cultures, religions, and ideas. Sometimes the confluences have been peaceful and at other times traumatic. The country has a lengthy history of being invaded and colonized, as well as being divided by political and military rivalries. Therefore, many streams and rivers crisscross and create change in this place where the words for nation and water are homonyms. In spite of differences in ideals and ideologies, the people of Viet Nam have maintained a sense of nationhood that has long withstood the powerful forces that would divide them.
Viet Nam's foundation myths bring together the concepts of unity and division. The narrative of the fifteenth-century collection Linh-nam trich quai describes the Vietnamese people as the offspring of a Dragon King, associated with Water, and an immortal woman, associated with the Mountains. The parents produced one hundred children, who were sent in opposite directions: half with their mother toward the northern mountains, and the other half with their father toward the southern sea. Though separated, the children were told to protect each other and to reunite in time of need. Separation, wandering, and homecoming have remained themes in the poetry and fiction of Viet Nam.
For over two thousand years, the children of the mountains and the waters reigned over the country they called Van Lang. For the next thousand years, the Chinese dominated and occupied the country, until they were driven out in the tenth century. There followed cycles of invasion—again by the Chinese and later by the French, the Japanese, and the Americans— [End Page ix] and, after each wave of invaders, the reassertion of independence. In his story "Rivers," printed in this volume, Nguyen Qui Duc renders these cycles as a series of dreams flowing into one another, across time and geography: the Vietnamese-French War flows into the Vietnamese-American War, and both flow backwards into the triumphant expulsion of 200,000 Chinese troops by a smaller Vietnamese army in 1788.
Near the end of the twentieth century, Viet Nam endured one of its most traumatic periods of war and social displacement. When American forces withdrew from the Viet Nam conflict in 1973—an event that led to the collapse of the South Vietnamese government two years later—tens of thousands of refugees fled the country in anticipation of reprisals by the government of the North. Of this first wave of emigrants, about 130,000 settled in the United States. They included ex-soldiers, government officials, their families, and others who had supported the Southern cause. When they arrived on American shores, fewer than 20,000 Vietnamese were living here; thus, there were no Vietnamese support groups or large immigrant communities to help them adjust to their country of refuge and cope with defeat and displacement. Many had been educated professionals at home, but during their first years in America were forced to survive on menial jobs as they struggled to keep their families together and raise their children.
In the following decades, additional thousands of Vietnamese had reason to leave the homeland; waves of new emigrants made their way to America. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, an unknown number of so-called boat people fled Viet Nam's harsh, post-war economic conditions and a government policy of discrimination against ethnic Chinese citizens. Tens of thousands risked their lives at sea in unsafe vessels, and as many as half may have died; the more fortunate ones reached refugee camps throughout Southeast Asia. In some cases, people in these camps were detained, robbed...