I suppose I had vaguely noticed that a book had been published in May last year with the catchy title, “I Love Yous are for White People” from promotion on the Angry Asian Man blog but I dismissed it as a cheeky humourous book not worthy of my further attention.
I even downloaded the VisualizAsian podcast interview with Lac Su–author of what I thought was a funny novel, but a published author, nonetheless–and it took 6 months for me to find the podcast again and listen to it! And while I listened to the hour-long interview, it took me on a journey while I conducted a long run around the city.
Native Vietnamese speakers have a great accent when they speak English. I liken it to a light twangy drawl and when I hear it, my ears perk up and I’m transported back to my Halifax uni days. When I was kind of a mature student in a small city, the goody-two-shoes Chinese community was cold and I wanted to avoid them anyhow for who knows what small thing could get spread by gossip back to my parents; the Vietnamese community, on the other hand, was so fun and friendly and they took me in as kind of one of their own.
As I listened to the interview with Lac Su, I was increasingly impressed with how down-to-earth and familiar he seemed. I knew that I had to read his memoir to get further insight into the stories and histories that influenced my Vietnamese friends in Halifax, and I could tell that he wouldn’t have “attitude” that I despise so much in male-authored memoirs often going on an spiritual or philosophical tangent at the conclusion or sounding way too self-righteous throughout. And as the interview podcast meandered along, I was further surprised that the affable writer is also a painter and a holder of a Ph.D. in psychology and works for a top talent and business organization consulting company, TalentSmart.
“I Love Yous” was a great read. Su goes back to his boyhood voice very well and it is convincing how he can have the dual life of living in an oppressive environment with his refugee family, striving to capitalize on the opportunities of living in America, and rolling with disillusioned Asian gangsters. I found the family life and the gangster parts could be really difficult to read, like the way I watch a horror movie, between my fingers. But there were joyful parts where you were convinced of the strength of the family and refugee/immigrant community regardless, like when he described the nhau (kind of pronounced “ngiao”). It’s an informal drinks and dinner party where the guests get sloshed, eat, and generally talk about the past and I can’t think of a Chinese counterpart to it, that has its own name.
I kind of wish I could come up with such a memorable memoir name for my very-very-distant-future tome… but it wouldn’t exactly be true in my circumstances. My mother was “atypical” Asian for her effusive emotion. But you can still have the same family issues, which makes the memoir resonate with a wide readership:
“[It’s] probably not something the average guy in his thirties would be proud of–hiding his activities from his father–but I’m not your average guy. My world still revolves around a tiny man, and he has a way of bringing me back into orbit when I stray too far.”