That in the aftermatch of horrible, human decisions, we still dare to dream that we are descended from gods.

Vanuyen, “rupture”

A Love Letter to My Brothers and Sisters

Lesson Guide

“A Love Letter” focuses on the narratives of 2nd generation Southeast Asians who bring their families’ stories to life through Project Yellow Dress’s storytelling platform.

PYD states, “Growing up, many of us didn’t see ourselves and our communities in history textbooks, because even if there was a Vietnam War unit, the focus was only on Vietnam and the impact of the war on American soldiers. Many people to this day do not know about the critical moments in Southeast Asian diaspora histoy, including the Secret War, the Cambodian Genocide, Vietnamese Boat People, the Refugee Act, and so much more. They also do not know that our history extends beyond 1975, and that we are still here today.”

Historical Players

  • 2nd Generation: Defined as the first to be born in the immigrated country, many people suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, cultural and language barriers, and economic strife in a new country. As they began a new life, this new 2nd generation had to face a different world while understanding the personal consequences of the Vietnam War.
  • Boat People: The second wave of Southeast Asians who left their countries following the collapse of the South Vietnamese government during the years 1978-1980. Many were ethnically Chinese and Chinese-Vietnamese. Generally, people were less educated and less proficient in English. Crowded in small boats, they were often targeted by pirates and many suffered from dehydration, starvation, and death by drowning. Those who made it to refugee camps often suffered from PTSD due to these horrific experiences at sea.
  • Cambodian Genocide: Led by leader, Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge were guided by the belief that Cambodians had been corrupted by outside (specifically Western) ideas. Those who were educated (doctors, lawyers, teachers, military, and police) were targeted as well as Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist citizens. Between 1975 to 1979, the Khmer Rouge killed more than 1.7 million people through work, starvation, and torture.
  • Refugee Camp: After the fall of Saigon, thousands of South Vietnamese fled from their homes in search of safety. Camps were quickly established in Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and the Philippines. These camps became the symbol of safety for all Southeast Asian communities fleeing.
  • Refugee Act of 1980: This act defined the term ‘refugee’ while creating a new process on where and how refugees would be resettled upon coming to the United States. It provided them with not only admission to the U.S., but a parthway to citizenship.
  • Secret War: Between 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped more than two million tons of bombs on Laos. This is equivilant to a planeload of bombs every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years. 1/3 of the bombs did not explode, leaving the country with a vast amount of unexploded ordnance. To date, Laos is the most heavily bombed country per capita in history.
  • The Fall of Saigon: Also known as the “Liberation of Saigon” by the North Vietname, this event marked the end of the Vietnam War and started the transition period from the reunification of Vietnam into the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
  • Vietnam War: This war between North and South Vietnam lasted between 1955-1975.
  • Yellow Peril: Defined as the constant fear of Asians coming into the United States, Americans were first compassionate about refugees coming into the country as they had seen horrendous images. However, this turned to fatigue and quickly led to violence against Asians.

Themes

  • Refugee
  • Vietnam War
  • Cultural Barrier
  • Intergenerational Trauma
  • Resistance
  • Mental Health
  • 2nd Generation Narratives

Suggested Resources

Topic Overview

TBA

Growing up

Observation

  • Read the quotes. What emotions come to you?
  • Is there significance to them? Why or what not?


Reflection

  • Who raised you? Parents? Grandparents? Older siblings? Cousins?
  • How would you describe them?
  • What are some habits or traits about them that stick out?

Boat People

Observation

  • Who are they? What are they doing?
  • Where are they going?
  • How does the text change this story?

Reflection

  • Imagine you’re leaving your home. You do not know how long you will be gone for or what will happen next. How does this feel? What will you miss the most?

As a class, look up the definition of “refugee” as stated by United Nations. Discuss the following questions: What does it mean to be a refugee? What is there to gain? What do you leave behind? What about the United Nations definition surprise or does not surprise you?


Analyzing War

Observation

  • What is the purpose of war? Who does it benefit? Who does it not?
  • What does the action of holding hands mean to you?
  • What does holding hands mean during war?

Check out 3-4 pieces of art from Project Yellow Dress. What are some common themes you find in each picture? What emotions come from each artist? What does this say about this time period or generation?


2nd Generation

Many of these stories are from children of refugees, meaning their parents were the ones who fled from war.

Reflection

  • Describe your relationship with your parents. What have they gone through in their lives that you may not understand? What have you gone through that they might not understand?
  • If there has been much sadness and fear in a loved one’s life, what does it mean to support them?


Read 2-3 blogs from Project Yellow Dress . Discuss the following questions: What does it mean to grow up during a time of war? How do you think this impacts the next generation?


Joy as Resistance

Observation

  • What is happening in these pictures?
  • What is resistance?
  • How can joy be considered a form of resistance? What are people resisting when they are joyful? How did you come to this conclusion?

Reflection

  • Describe joy. Without saying “happy” or “joy,” describe what it looks and feels like.
  • How does your selection symbolize a moment of resistance in your life?
  • Why is happiness important to acknowledge?

Discussing Art

  • What is the artist’s message?
  • What is the story that’s being told?
  • What colors did the artist use? Why so?
  • What are three (3) strengths of this poster?
  • What are three (3) weaknesses of this poster?
  • What questions do you have about this piece?

Follow Up Activities & Dialogue

  • What does the quote at the top of the page mean?
  • Read 1 blog from Project Yellow Dress. What was significant about this piece? How did it impact you? Write a letter to the author and share your experiences. How can you connect? What was surprising to you?
  • Split up into five groups and analyze the Vietnam War from various perspectives: The U.S. government, American soldiers, BIPOC communities, Asians in the U.S., and Southeast Asia. What were their reactions? What were their concerns and what did they hope to gain from this situation (if any)? Has this way of thinking changed in this day and age?
  • With a partner, research a time in history when people were forced from their homes (ex: Trail of Tears, Partition of India, Syria Refugee Crisis). Why did they flee? What did they leave behind? Did anyone help? How so? Then, create a Venn diagram and compare and contrast the Vietnam War with your selection. How were they similar? Different? What have we learned (and not learned) from either crises?
  • Look up a recent refugee crisis in the world. How are other countries responding to the mass migration? How has the United States responded in the past?
  • Because of these historical moments and players, what do we know now that we did not know before? What will you do so that future generations can stand on your shoulders?

This page is subject to change. Please visit for the most up-to-date discussion questions. Our goal is to make these lesson guides as welcoming and obstacle free as possible. If you do this as an activity in your course, please do reach out. We would love to hear your feedback and see how we can best improve upon these guides.

Want More? Check out the Ourstory Poster Series!

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