A Journey from Vietnam to America

Andrew Lam addresses the Asia Society in Houston. (Asia Society)

HOUSTON, October 1, 2008 — Author and journalist Andrew Lam recounted a personal journey in which his broken heart led him to discover another love—creative writing. 

In his first book, Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora, Lam describes what it meant for him to be an immigrant, a son, and a survivor. Lam's parents fled to America after the fall of South Vietnam, taking their 11-year-old son with them. In Lam's own words, he was a dutiful son, pleasing his parents with good grades in school and beginning a biochemistry degree at UC Berkeley. His parents' hope for a son in med school were dashed, however, when Lam suffered a broken heart and poured out his feelings in a creative writing course. The results prompted his professor to declare that Lam wouldn't be graduating with a biochemistry degree because he was going to be a writer instead.

From such unlikely beginnings, Lam went on to become a syndicated writer and an editor with New America Media (formerly called the Pacific News Service), a short story writer, and a regular commentator on NPR's All Things Considered. He co-founded New California Media, an association of 400 ethnic media organizations in California. His essays have appeared in dozens of newspapers across the country, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Baltimore Sun, and the Chicago Tribune, as well as in magazines like Mother Jones, The Nation, and Earth Island Journal.

Perfume Dreams: Reflections On The Vietnamese Diaspora (Heyday Books), recently won the Pen American "Beyond the Margins" Award and is a valuable contribution to the growing body of literature by and about Vietnamese Americans.

Reading from the memoir, Lam drew his audience into a lost world bound by family ties, community kinship, stories, and legends. It was a story of a boy trying to make sense of his immigrant experience and create a world that allowed him to be the Vietnamese child he was at home and, at the same time, the American youth he was outside of his home. Lam's testimony drew many questions from the audience, who identified with different aspects of his experience.

Reported by Mersing Maitran, Asia Society Texas Center


The discussion with Andrew Lam was the first in the series Creative Voices, Creative Minds: The Vietnamese American Experience, presented by Asia Society Texas Center to celebrate the cultural and artistic contributions of Vietnamese Americans. The series complements the exhibition Exit Saigon - Enter Little Saigon, produced by the Smithsonian, and features Vietnamese American artists from a variety of fields including literature, film, and the visual arts.

Creative Voices, Creative Minds is a program series developed by Asia Society Texas Center. Asia Society Texas Center is funded in part by grants from the City of Houston through Houston Art Alliance. Additional support for this program is generously provided by Houston Community College and Martell Cognac.


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