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Place, memory, and identity in the Vietnamese diaspora




Thomas, Mandy

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This thesis traces the twin themes of place and memory in the lives of a displaced people who experience life in Australia through the life left behind. This study begins with the notion that identity is spatially encoded , and that the modes of defining the self are physically and metaphorically grounded in space. The ongoing relationship with Vietnam connects people through time and space with a mythologised place that lies within the landscape of memory but has existential immediacy. I examine the degrees of separation from the symbolic landscape of Vietnam that are invoked in the reconstruction of identity that occurs after migration. The significance of the spatial dimension of migration has been explored in several different domains. I begin by providing a background to the displacement process through a historical account of the transformations in Vietnamese national identity, and the events that led to mass migration out of the country. Through the personal accounts of these processes by Vietnamese people, I detail the response to the arrival of Vietnamese people by Australian society, and the changes within the Vietnamese communities over the last twenty years. I then examine the construction of Vietnamese spaces within Australia beginning with the embodied differences of Vietnamese-Australians, leading out through domestic spaces, and streetscapes to the use of public spaces. I reveal the way in which both fragmentation and consolidation of family ties are experienced spatially. I explore the spaces in which the body moves as well as the spaces of Vietnamese homes to draw out the explicit and implicit meanings encoded in domestic landscapes and the material arrangements of social space. Relationships between different Vietnamese familes and communities are also examined in spatial terms as is the relationship of Vietnamese communities to the broader Australian society. The relationship that Vietnamese people have with Vietnam is examined through people's memories as well as through their ongoing relations with their homeland and with family and friends elsewhere in the diaspora. By studying the changes in the relationship that Vietnamese people have with their homeland I explore the geopolitical landscape that invests the lives of Vietnamese-Australians with the past, in another time and space. Borderlands are formed within the broader Australian community as well as in relation to an imaginary past and present homeland. The creativity of diasporas in constantly changing circumstances is tempered by the will to create immutable borders on both sides of a cultural divide. The chimera of boundaries is revealed through the highlighting of diversity and transformation in individual people's lives, in relationships within and beyond families, and in the Australian urban environment. By tracing the power and potency of 'home' and the memories of other times and places in the lives of Vietnamese migrants in Australia, some of the threads in the complex weaving of identity in the lives of Vietnamese Australians are revealed. The capturing of the past in the present is explored, particularly in relation to places that have been lived in in the past, and spaces in urban Australia which Vietnamese people now inhabit. Constructions of the past are unravelled through a study of memories, fantasies, narratives and myths. The hidden dimensions of marginality are examined through a study of the spatial politics of difference within urban Australia, within the overarching historical and political contexts of Vietnamese migration. The identities of Vietnamese people have been infused with new meanings as people's lives undergo transformation within the changing environmental and cultural worlds of Australia where they are impacted upon by the expectations and responses of mainstream society. The spatial configurations of Vietnamese-Australian identities are explored in order to understand the possibilities for both freedom and subjection offered by a new country and to evaluate the multiple meanings of home.






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