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In 2006, Karín Aguilar-San Juan ’84 met Frank Joyce, a U.S. peace activist who risked the charge of treason to travel to Hanoi during the Vietnam War to practice person-to-person diplomacy. The two edited The People Make the Peace: Lessons from the Vietnam Antiwar Movement (Just World Books), which sees past activism echoing into the future.

What inspired you?

We asked activists to return to Vietnam to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Paris Peace Accords. The ones who did—the “Hanoi Nine”—wrote chapters. The 10th is by Myra MacPherson, who went on a trip of her own, hosted by five ex-combat U.S. veterans who had each moved to Vietnam as their way of doing reparations.


What was surprising?

Four of our authors—Rennie Davis, Jay Craven, Doug Hostetter, and Becca Wilson—were instrumental in the People’s Peace Treaty, which many don’t know about. In 1970, the National Student Congress was frustrated by how slowly the Paris peace talks were proceeding, so they wrote their own treaty, which ended up being signed by high-profile politicians and figures. It was an incredible example of how, when there’s no map, there’s still a way. 


How were you affected as a professor?

Students in my course read this book and meet with peace activists like a Hmong spoken-word artist, a Cambodian educator, and a Vietnamese intellectual, who open their hearts about how this war, for them, is not an intellectual enterprise—it is their lives, full of broken memories, silences, and pain. 


What’s the takeaway?

Getting people beyond the Forrest Gump fantasy to put intergenerational energy into remembering that past. Our book is a personal view of the actual choices made during a confusing, difficult, scary time. Mistakes got made, and some people have never recovered.

Recommended Reading ...

Karín Aguilar-San Juan ’84 recommends more books that share the spirit of The People Make the Peace: Lessons from the Vietnam Antiwar Movement

Radicals on the Road: Internationalism, Orientalism, and Feminism during the Vietnam Era by Judy Tzu-Chun Wu

Along with Mary Hershberger’s Traveling to Vietnam: American Peace Activists and the War, 1965-1975, this is one of two books that study the 200 people who went to Vietnam during the war. Wu looks at people of color who were part of these brigades, emphasizing the African-American and women participants of the antiwar movement, while also examining its Orientalist view of Asia.


The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

This is the first novel by Nguyen, a professor of English at the University of Southern California, and won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It’s about a communist spy who lives among the refugee community in Southern California. It’s great because it doesn’t fall into any tropes of “good minority” or “bad refugee” or anything like that. He likes to point out how evil is everywhere. This is beautifully written, too—the first sentence will suck you in.


Sông I Sing by Bao Phi

A graduate of Macalester College who grew up in a working-class neighborhood of Minneapolis, Phi started as a spoken-word artist before producing this gritty, complex, beautiful page poetry. One sequence of poems is all about “What do you call the Nguyens,” in which he introduces you to “the Smiths” of the Vietnamese-American community: ordinary people who lift weights, bring their cars to the auto body shop, are vegans, whatever. He’s not interested in being a model minority; he’s interested in speaking for his people.


The Latehomecomer by Kao Kalia Yang

Yang’s a writer and her sister’s a lawyer here in St. Paul, Minn., which is really the capital of Hmong America—we’ve had important people in local politics from the Hmong community. Her memoir is incredibly written with a lot of local references. When I showed it to my students, the first thing they did was Google Earth the addresses that she included.


Hard Hats, Hippies, and Hawks: The Vietnam Antiwar Movement as Myth and Memory by Penny Lewis

It’s important because it counteracts the Forrest Gump version of history—her thesis is that the reason we think about the antiwar movement as driven by the white elite is because, from the Reagan era on, there was an active campaign to activate a white, male, working-class right wing, so essentially the memories of the movement got twisted by the politics of the ’80s and ’90s.