Making coal patties. Selling liquid soap. Shopping at a glittering shoe mecca. She’s done them all living half her life in deprived-post-war-communist-Vietnam-turned-free-market. It’s life in a vacuum when strange types of brainwashing happened. Part memoir and part social criticism, Why Do You Look at Me and See a Girl? is a provocative read about a full-fledged bilingual who fights to get free from the dead past and her ancestors’ sins.
The story starts with her grandmother’s prison visit and moves to a journey through the jungle carried out for family reunion. Drawing strength from her, Hoàng completes her transformation in America from an international student to a free naturalized being. As she sheds her adoration for the impeccable American logic, oscillates between languages, and crosses oceans, she confronts the power play and biases, cultural inhibitors and prejudices that condition human behaviors, be it in Vietnam, America or Thailand. All along, she claims justice for her under-appreciated grandma, straightens male and white patronization, tears down tradition and brainwashing, uncovers the Asian submission to western iconography, and resists the attraction of a white guy. In lucid prose and with a hint of quiet humor, Why Do You Look at Me and See a Girl? is an unflinching pursuit of questions about family, finding one’s voice, home, and freedom.
Anvi Hoàng grew up in Vietnam and taught English as a Second Language for six years before coming to the U.S. for graduate studies. In 2015 she co-founded, and as Chief of Operations has since managed, the Vietnamese American Society for Creative Arts and Music (VASCAM). Why Do You Look at Me and See a Girl? is her debut book. She lives in Bloomington, Indiana, with her husband, composer P.Q. Phan.