Vietnamese-American Bao Phi urges students to facilitate Asian-American history and community.
Renowned Vietnamese-American spoken-word artist, writer and community activist, Bao Phi, spoke in an Asian-American studies class at UC Irvine last Thursday, Nov. 8.
Bao Phi visited while on tour to promote his new book, “Song I Sing” in hopes of encouraging students to become active in the Asian-American community.
Associate Professor of Asian-American studies, Linda Trinh Vo, invited the National Poetry Slam finalist to conduct a poetry reading, Q&A and book signing in her Asian-American Communities lecture. The event, which was held in Humanities Instructional Building, was also open to the rest of the UCI community.
Attendees joining Vo’s students included various members of the Department of Asian-American Studies and student representatives from CSU Fullerton. Members of the student press and several filmmakers set up their cameras and shot throughout the reading and discussion.
“How many of you guys are Nguyens?” Phi said as he opened the speech. Few hands were raised. “Really? This is UCI, man. Whatever; you guys must all be Trans or Buis.”
Before beginning the reading, Phi thanked Vo and the faculty at UCI for inviting him to perform and urged the audience to take more classes involving Asian-American history.
“If you have another opportunity to take an Asian American studies class, then take it,” Phi said. “Realize how valuable these classes are and how privileged you are to be able to take them. I’m from Minnesota; there are no Asian-American classes there.”
Phi made one final disclaimer before he started performing five selections from his own poetry and his book: “Vietnam is more than just a war; it’s more than just ‘Miss Saigon.’”
One memorable selection Phi performed was “The Nguyens” — a poem comprised of various fictional characters with their own unique stories. However, all of them were linked through the same last name and Vietnamese identity.
Another memorable selection was “Lin 467,” a poem inspired by the “Linsanity” movement from earlier this year when Taiwanese-American NBA athlete, Jeremy Lin, scored 136 points in his first five games with the New York Knicks. Phi recognized Lin as “the yellow hope” who was to represent Asian Americans as a success story — but also as a scapegoat for racism.
Phi then opened the floor to questions from the audience for the remainder of the lecture. During the Q&A, Phi revealed his family’s status as Vietnamese refugees and that it was a high school speech team that inspired him to become a performer and a writer. One student asked Phi what to do in order to raise awareness in the Asian-American community.
“I don’t like to tell people what to do,” Phi said. “I can’t tell you to do anything. I can only tell you that it’s on us Asian Americans to speak up for one another.”
At the end of the session, Phi and the students were led outside to a station sponsored by The Hill, where students could purchase Phi’s books and get them signed.
“I invited Bao to my class because I hope this will inspire my students to follow their own passions,” Vo said. “I want them to know that there are all kinds of professions available for them out there.”
By extending the event invitation to the entire UCI faculty and student body, Vo also hoped to establish campuswide unity.
“I want students and faculty alike to mingle and form connections,” Vo said. “Through events like these, we can be a community.”