From diaCRITICS comes this piece by diaCRITIC Jade Hidle , who gives us an Olympic take on Vietnamese identity using Marcel Nguyen, the Olympic silver medalist in gymnastics, as the launching point. At the same time, Hidle turns inward and and gives us a beautiful reflection on her own struggles as a mixed Vietnamese. diaCRITICS is the leading blog on Vietnamese diasporic arts and culture, published by the Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network. DVAN promotes the work of Vietnamese artists everywhere, and both DVAN and diaCRITICS are always looking for writers, contributors, and helpers.
On August 2nd, Vietnamese German gymnast Marcel Nguyen won a silver medal at the London Olympics in the men’s Individual All-Around. Straightaway, a friend—one who jokingly, tenderly calls me “halfer” for being Vietnamese and Norwegian, or “Viking,” as he would say—sends me a text message that asks, “What’s up with a German named Nguyen?” I know he is, in jest, ventriloquizing the ignorant, confused questions that strangers always pose to me about my mixed identity and my seemingly misplaced last name. But I know so many of the millions watching the Olympic Games must have been asking similar questions, in earnest, about a Nguyen representing Germany.
So I let my thumbs began to pound the texting keyboard on my phone to deliver a snapshot history of Vietnamese in Western Europe: The French! The 1931 Exposition Coloniale Internationale featuring “Indochinese” people on display like circus attractions. And in WWI? Nearly a hundred thousand Vietnamese soldiers! And don’t forget about Philipp Rösler, the Vietnamese-born current Vice Chancellor of Germany. Recognize, yo! And what about me, the mixed Viet girl with a Norwegian last name? Would murmurs of my ethnic makeup cloud the shine of my silver medal? (Obviously, I would only earn an Olympic medal of any color in some alternate universe operating on a fantastical time-space continuum à la Star Trek.)