Dr. Monica Trieu’s Journey to Fighting Invisibility

Dr. Monica Trieu is a child of refugees and a refugee herself.

Dr. Monica Trieu is a child of refugees and a refugee herself. She fled Vietnam at a young age with her family; they were seeking refuge from the aftermath of the Vietnam War. The family found themselves in the Bay Area upon arriving to the United States. As a 1.5 generation immigrant, meaning someone who immigrated to the U.S. as a child, her personal and academic journey inspired her most recent book, Fighting Invisibility: Asian Americans in the Midwest (Rutgers University Press, 2023).

Dr. Monica Trieu has held a personal interest in Asian American studies since high school. Trieu’s sister, one year her senior, was a strong influence. She recalls her sister coming home during college breaks sharing what she was learning in her classes at Mount Holyoke College, and encouraging Trieu to embark on the journey herself. It was through her sister’s encouragement that she decided to sign up for her first ever Asian American studies course in college.

More than 20 years later, Trieu still remembers her first day of class. In big letters, scrawled across the white board, there were two words for students to ponder: “Asian American.” The professor asked the students whether or not a hyphen belongs between the words. By discussing the implications of this punctuation mark, students were also examining the liminal space of Asian Americans, and their place in American society and culture. This first professor was heavily influential in Trieu’s academic journey. She graduated from University of California, Davis with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and a minor in Asian American Studies.

It wasn’t until graduate school at University of California, Irvine that Trieu began delving into the immigrant experience. Though an immigrant herself, her graduate studies taught her a lot about the experience she had as a young child. In her household, the immigrant experience wasn’t discussed, so it was in graduate school that she began learning about the rich and trauma-filled history that many immigrants share.

After finishing graduate school, Trieu attended the Ohio State University for a postdoctoral research fellowship in Social and Behavioral Sciences. It was at a Fourth of July celebration in Columbus, Ohio when she saw an Asian family embracing this quintessential Americana activity and she wondered what it was like for them. The more she interacted with Asian Americans in the Midwest, she thought, “There’s a story here that needs to be told.” And that is how Fighting Invisibility: Asian Americans in the Midwest was born.

When Trieu first set out to tell the stories of Asian Americans in the Midwest, she first connected with Asian American acquaintances in the area for some preliminary ground work. A second part of this groundwork was looking into the literature. Much of the academic literature focused on large metropolitan areas. In this research, Trieu stumbled across a special issue in The Journal of Asian American Studies that identified a gap in research and called for more literature on Asian Americans in the Midwest. Reading this, Trieu felt a calling; this was a way she could contribute and there was a real need.

Fighting Invisibility: Asian Americans in the Midwest is the culmination of in-depth interviews, census data, and cultural productions from Asian Americans across Ohio, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, and Michigan. While writing this book, she noticed there were differences, but alongside that, there were also  similarities at the core. “As Asian Americans, we are racialized in the same ways at the national-level. How we are treated is based on how we look, not where we’re from. There is this shared experience by Asian Americans as perpetual foreigners and model minorities, regardless of if you’re from the West Coast, East Coast, or Midwest.” The true differences were access to community and how that informed respondents’ views of themselves and their ethnic groups.

Through all of her research and data collection, she was struck by something remarkable: the sheer desire to have their stories told. In Fighting Invisibility, there is a chapter dedicated to Vincent Chin and telling his story. Many respondents gravitated toward his experience because it was one of the few well-known Asian American narratives in the Midwest. Across 52 interviews, some of which lasted more than 3 hours long, Trieu found that respondents felt a lack of recognition within both U.S. and Asian American history and a deep-rooted desire to share their experiences.

With the onset of COVID and the rise of anti-Asian violence, Trieu felt an urgency to finish Fighting Invisibility. She felt the need for respondents to be heard after being denied cultural citizenship for years, and with the cultural social movement shift during COVID. With the completion of this project, Trieu hopes for continued literature geared on this often overlooked group, such as an examination of Asian Americans in the Midwest with an intersectionality lens or research on the role of technology and social media.

In Trieu’s Introduction to Asian American Studies classes, she likes to select an autobiography by a Midwest Asian American for the students to read. Her teaching shows how important it is for students to see some part of themself represented, whether they are a Midwestern Asian American, an Asian American, or a Midwesterner. Now that her book has been published, she hopes this is a small step toward representation for Asian Americans in the Midwest in academic literature.

The Asian American and Asian Resource and Cultural Center (AAARCC) at Purdue University will be celebrating Dr. Trieu’s publication success with two book discussions and a book Q&A event. Book discussions will take place both in-person and virtually, and registration is required for both: March 30 at 1:30-2:30 pm (RSVP at https://tinyurl.com/BookDiscussion-1) and April 5 at 3:00-4:00 pm (RSVP at https://tinyurl.com/BookDiscussion-2). Book Q&A is scheduled during the AAARCC weekly Lunch and Learn series on Thursday, April 6, 2023 at noon (seating is limited).


AAARCC Contact Info:
Address: 915 5th Street, West Lafayette IN 47906
Phone: (765)496-0488
E-Mail: aaarcc@purdue.edu


915 5th Street (corner 5th/Waldron)
West Lafayette, IN 47907

Email: aaarcc@purdue.edu 
Phone: 765-496-0488  
Fax: 765-494-1225

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