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In the book “Perfume Dreams” Andrew Lam describes his experiences as a Vietnamese refugee in America; Lam claims that Vietnam and America are fighting for his soul. I think Lam has an American soul because Lam is tempted by America resulting Lam to change his identity. The temptations of the American Dreams lure Lam to become an American. In one of Lam’s essays “Child of Two World” (page 3) Lam states that Vietnam is no longer his country; it is so far away from him.
He describes Vietnam as “an abstraction”. On the other hand, America is so near, outside his windows; he addresses it as “a seduction”.
The moment Lam claimed Vietnam as an abstraction and America as a seduction, Lam’s soul has already tempted by the American Dreams. The American Dreams give Lam “mortgage, escrow, aerobic, tax shelter, GPA, MBA, MD, BMW, Porsche, overtime, [and] stock options” (page 10) which Lam claims it is proud to hold possession of; it gives Lam hopes.
Comparing to Vietnam: “the bloody battlefields, the malaria-infested new Economic Zone, a vindictive communist regime that monitored everyone’s movements” (page 11) America is like a paradise to him.
America provides opportunities for Lam to get away from the collective “we” to his own fantasy world; a place where he can create and carve his own path, fulfilling his own American Dream as an American writer. Lam’s soul is also tempted by the liberties that the Americans possess; the freedom to act, think, and pursuit of happiness.
In Lam’s “Notes of a Warrior’s Son” (page 30) Lam claims that his first act of betrayal is when he repeated his brother’s words “Tell him I don’t give a damn about his words. (page 31) in front of his father’s face; Lam was shocked and offended, yet he was also thrilled by his brother’s disobedience. Lam could have lie to protect his family’s honor, yet he did not; Lam wants to hold possession of the liberties that the Americans possess.
In order for Lam to do so, Lam has to act and think for himself, not living up to his parents’ expectations. Lam states that his father scolds him every time Lam speaks English at home; yet Lam ignores his father and yells back gratuitously with English phrases such as “This is really unfair! or “But you’re wrong! So wrong! ” (page 37). By speaking up Lam is practicing the liberties of an American and gradually Lam adopts it; Lam’s disobedience indicates his gratitude towards the freedoms of act and think. Lam can say whatever he wants to say or even keeps silent if he wants to. With the freedoms of act and think, Lam limits his associations with his family and went to college on his own; finding his true happiness and achieving his own dreams in a place call America, where dreams exist and fulfilled.
The temptations of the American Dreams and the liberties of the Americans chased Lam’s Vietnamese identity away. Lam no longer feels connected to Vietnam he is an American now; Lam states that he could talk about the tragic past of Vietnam to anyone while the wounds of loss and defeat remains unhealed for his family, indicates that Lam’s connections toward Vietnam faded away every time Lam talks about Vietnam.
Lam has changed from the boy who was once willing to die for his homeland to a cautious man, from the boy who once believed that borders were lines of demarcation to a man who discovered that borders have always been public access, from the boy who resented history for robbing his identity to a man who envies those memories and thanks history for developing his own individuality, from the most filial son to a “cowboy” a selfish no manner American.
In additions, Lam also gave himself a new name “Andrew” on applying for his U. S. Citizenship; once Lam gets his U. S. Citizenship there is no doubt that Lam has an American soul, which is why Lam applied for U. S. Citizenship. The factors for Lam’s Americanization are the temptations of the American Dreams and the possession of American liberties. We can view Lam’s Americanization as some kind of container gardening situation.
Where as the pot is Vietnam and the ground is America, as Lam’s ambitions grow bigger and bigger that little pot of his can no longer sustains it; as a result Lam has to remove himself out of the little pot, to the ground in order for his ambitions to continue growing. In the processes of that Lam’s soul gradually adopts the new soil, the America culture.
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