Author Thi Bui visited California State University, Monterey Bay’s (CSUMB) University Center on Oct. 8 to discuss this year’s Common Read Experience Book, “The Best We Could Do.”
If you’re unfamiliar with the Common Read Experience, it’s a book chosen for all incoming freshmen at CSUMB to read over the summer before fall classes begin. Bui’s memoir is a graphic novel, which tells her heart-pounding experience of immigrating to the United States from Vietnam in the late 1970s and assimilating to life in America.
Bui highlighted how she created her book, described the content within it, and revealed her present anxieties about global warming and topics relating to refugees around the world. It was made known the trauma that her family endured as they made their journey to America to escape communism overtaking her native country and likened it to today’s refugee crisis, advocating against families being separated.
“There are heartbreaking stories about families being separated,” Bui said. Her present research regarding climate change in Vietnam was also discussed, as she informed the audience that in 30 to 50 years, rising sea levels will displace millions citizens in the Mekong Delta. Those people will have to become refugees in order to survive.
On the topic of refugees in the contemporary world, Bui stated there are more refugees now than when she was a refugee herself many years ago and during World War II.
“According to the United States Department of Homeland Security last global trends report, there are 70.8 million displaced people in the world right now,” Bui said. “That’s not including Venezuela, which probably adds another four to five million. Clearly, there is a trend that’s not going to stop – no matter how high you build walls, no matter how few refugees we take officially.”
Bui also spoke about the ways in which she presents her work to evoke change in the world.
“This takes me back to how important it is to think about how I present people whose stories they want to uplift – if I want to honor their stories and illuminate stories that have been held in the dark. I think I decided I can’t use images like a little boy who has died. I think I need to uplift stories of the living and tell them in their very specific details, so we understand each other as human beings and not a statistic.”
In keeping up with relationships in Vietnam, Bui illustrates in a new children’s book, “A Different Pond,” for which Bui recently interviewed people in Vietnam to gain insight. It is a collaboration with writer and friend Bao Phi, a fellow Vietnamese refugee. There are details and drawing in the book that involve joyful nostalgia relevant to Vietnamese American culture.
“I was really surprised at how much it could integrate into the world today,” said third-year Amanda Guarino. “As much as she converged the book in the presentation, I thought that was really important and super cool she could bring back the two to what is happening today with the immigration processes, remarking ‘this happened and it’s happening again.’”
“I really like … how impactful the book could be and how much she’s working on all the different books for the future,” said third-year Lissa Alaniz. “The topics are super important to talk about, since a lot of people do not discuss that. I like that she’s using her platform to promote and bring awareness to all of the issues.”