Việt Thanh Nguyễn was born in Ban Mê Thuột (now Buôn Ma Thuột) in the Central Highlands in the Republic of Vietnam. His parents were Vietnamese Catholics who migrated south in 1954 when the country was partitioned. The North Vietnamese conquered South Vietnam when Viet was four and his family fled by boat. They eventually ended up in a refugee camp in Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania in 1975. After a few years in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the family traveled to San Jose, California, where his parents opened a Vietnamese grocery store. Their goal was to provide for their two sons to give them a better life. Viet did well in school, eventually earning a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. Currently, he is a Professor at the University of Southern California in the English Department and the American Studies and Ethnicity Department.
In this interview, he talks about being a refugee, settling first in Pennsylvania and later in California. He describes the challenge of maintaining family ties in a nation split by war. He discusses the normalization of relations between the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and the United States, and various perspectives within the Vietnamese community in America. A Pulitzer Prize-winning author, he reflects on what his award means to the community he represents. Finally, he explains what America and concepts identity mean to him.