Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Urban Education


Cecilia Espinosa

Committee Members

Ofelia García

Ariana Mangual Figueroa

Subject Categories

Asian American Studies | Bilingual, Multilingual, and Multicultural Education | Language and Literacy Education


Vietnamese American youth, translanguaging, language, trauma


The purpose of my research is to document, remember and reflect on the experiences of Vietnamese Americans. To create a space in which Vietnamese American youth can co-labor (García, 2020) and co-produce knowledge to disrupt the silence surrounding their lived experience in the U.S., I drew across methodological traditions for this collaborative project. In doing so, I seek to answer the following questions:

  1. How do Vietnamese American youth view/narrate their lives and relationships to the past and the present in the U.S. and Vietnam?
  2. What do youths’ narratives communicate about their transtrauma?

This collaborative project drew from translanguaging and transtrauma theories. For this project, translanguaging refers to “not just the deployment of multilingual communicative repertoires,” (Callaghan, Moore, & Simpson, 2018 p.30), but also how people use their semiotic resources in ways that go beyond written and oral forms to make meaning. Transtrauma extends beyond baseline understandings of trauma or intergenerational trauma; instead, it provides a new framework for theorizing lived experiences in relation to structural conditions. It goes beyond the individual to consider the role nation-states play in inflicting trauma on marginalized communities. This lens allows for accurate description of the complexities so many Vietnamese Americans experience.

This research project, conducted collaboratively with Vietnamese American youth in Philadelphia, is multidisciplinary, anchored in arts-based research, participatory-action research and emancipatory approaches. Such an approach, which I refer to as transmethodology, extends beyond one single methodology, discipline or imposed boundaries that the academy typically deems legitimate.

Guided by the research questions, the youth and I collaborated on eight workshops:

  • Session 1 and Session 2 - Introductions. Getting to know the youth
  • Session 3 – The Vietnam War and Coming to the U.S.
  • Session 4 -What does it mean to be Vietnamese American?
  • Session 5 – Perceptions of their own racialization and that of others
  • Session 6 -Language/Bilingualism
  • Session 7- Construction of gender/sexuality
  • Session 8-- Schooling

Each workshop generated the following data sources: digital recordings, transcripts, and workshop activity artifacts. Narrative and dialectical analysis was conducted collaboratively.

Findings from the eight workshops show the importance of having a collective space for the youth to process, share the stories and heal from the trauma. The Vietnamese American youths did not have an opportunity or space to learn about their parents and grandparents’ stories of coming to the United States and settling here. The Vietnamese American youths came to terms that their identities are tied to the Vietnam War (American War). The war shapes who they are as Vietnamese Americans. By participating in the workshops, the Vietnamese American youth recognized that even though their identities are tied to the war, they are not static, but dynamic and evolving. The Vietnamese American youths racialized other groups how they were being racialized. The Vietnamese American youths have complex and dynamic language practices that are not recognized by institutions such as schools and nation states.

After reviewing the data from the eight workshops, I found the youth’s transtrauma is reflected in the way they express guilt, shame, frustration, and anger, all stemming from the trauma that their parents and grandparents experienced as a result of the Vietnam War and that they now still feel in their own bodies. The youth’s transtrauma is also reflected in the ways they talk about the lack of institutional support.