“Make America Great Again”: (De)Colonising Masculinities in Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Refugees (2017) | Amsterdam University Press Journals Online


One of the defining characteristics of Trump’s politics has been the appeal to hatred and fear of refugees and immigrants. Yet, the current xenophobia in the US has deep roots. In as much as the U.S. has been built by immigrants, it has also been built on genocide, slavery, and colonialism. Born in Vietnam and raised in the US, Viet Thanh Nguyen, the author of the best-selling and award-winning novel The Sympathiser (2015), has been interested in the lives of those who, like himself, fled war in Vietnam but were also faced with structural violence and exploitation, and with colonising notions of “manhood” in the US. Usually associated with powerlessness, frustration and helplessness, refugees are regarded as “un-American” and are, therefore, marginalised within the hierarchies of patriarchal society. Through the lens of bell hooks’ “love ethics” (2004) and of King-Kok Cheung’s notion of renwen masculinity (2022), this paper explores one of the short stories in Nguyen’s The Refugees, “The Other Man,” with the aim of contributing to the emerging work around the gendered challenges involved in forced migration. While toxic masculinity and Americanness are interconnected in their emphasis of gender exceptionalism in the US, Nguyen’s representation of male refugeeness struggles to reconcile his male characters’ identities as refugees, Americans, and human beings and tends to reshape what the U.S. stands for, and for the better.


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