The Book of the Week is “Catfish and Mandala” by Andrew X. Pham, published in 1999.
This book is the memoir of An, a Vietnamese native whose family fled to California from Vietnam in the spring of 1975, just before Saigon fell. He alternates chapters describing his family’s history, and his bike trip.
An was born in Vietnam, but has mixed Asian blood, so he looks different from everyone. When he returns to Vietnam in his twenties on his bike trip, having been Westernized, he is called the derogatory term, “Viet-kieu.” He flies to, and then cycles through most of the country, to revisit his childhood memories and motherland.
An writes, “… I grew up fighting blacks, whites, and Chicanos… And everybody beat up the Chinaman whether or not he was really an ethnic Chinese. These new Vietnamese kids were easy pickings, small, bookish, passive, and not fluent in English.” So each Asian group segregates itself by nationality in Chinatowns and Japantowns.
An is still grappling with his racial identity. However, writing this book has made it easier, by making others aware of his plight.