Out of the box

Viet Thanh Nguyen

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Viet Thanh Nguyen. Photograph: Carlos Avila Gonzalez

Like others who came before them to America, the Vietnamese have sought to claim their voice in the land they have adopted or found themselves born into.

Speaking up and speaking out are fundamental to the nature of the American character, or so Americans like to believe. The immigrant, the refugee, the exile and the stranger who comes to these new shores may already have a voice, but it is usually a voice that speaks in a different language than the American lingua franca, English. While those who live in America speak many languages, America as a whole — the America that rules — prides itself on its monolingualism. The immigrant, the refugee, the exile and the stranger can be heard in high volume only in the enclaves they carve out for themselves and in their own homes. But outside those ethnic walls, facing an indifferent America, the other clears her or his throat, hesitates, struggles to speak and, most often, waits for the next generation raised or born on American soil to speak for them.

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