Breaking the Triangle
In our cultures -- as is true of many others -- food is sacred. Coming together with others to break bread at a table is an intimate invitation and experience. That was the feeling we wanted to lead with for our Breaking the Triangle dinner event that brought together individuals from the Black and Vietnamese communities in the Bay to discuss race, identity, and solidarity over Viet-Cajun inspired food.
Earlier in the year, a series of events led us to the story of the Black and Vietnamese communities of New Orleans East which inspired the dinner. Vina was reading about the Vietnamese community of Versailles in Louisiana, and we happened across an article written by a professor of one of my dear friends. Professor Eric Tang’s award-winning article outlined the histories of both communities -- the forgotten Black community that decided to determine its own fate and the Vietnamese refugee community who came together to build a strong community far from their first homes. The article dove deep into post-Katrina New Orleans East and the remarkable rate of return and acts of solidarity and sharing between Vietnamese American and black neighbors.
When the media’s coverage and narrative highlighted and applauded the Vietnamese American community-rebuilding efforts without outside assistance compared to their black neighbors, Vietnamese leaders rebuked it, stating how they had learned much of their organizational skills from the black leaders around them. Tang uses this as an example of going against racial triangulation, which is when a dominant group puts another group above an ‘inferior’ group but keeps them as outsiders. How we see it play out often in the U.S. is when the mainstream valorizes Asians over blacks for their perceived hard work and socio-economic mobility and celebrates the differences and distances they put between them and the black community. This serves to pit Asians against black people in favor of maintaining a social order that ultimately benefits neither group.
This topic resonated deeply with us, especially as it represented a meeting grounds of both of our cultures. Over the last two years, our own friendship and professional work have challenged us to deeply engage with questions around solidarity amongst people of color. But we have never shied away from a meaningful challenge. In fact, it became the fuel for our shared vision for the dinner. What would it look like to emulate the spirit and action of the Vietnamese of New Orleans East and challenge discourses that valorize their efforts at the expense of black people? How can we recognize our struggle and fate as informed by another? What could it mean to continuously break the triangle?
Conversing across lines of differences is critical. We are living in the midst of some of the greatest struggles we have ever faced. Tang’s article reminds us that when we are facing loss, as New Orleans East did during and after Katrina, we gain new connections with others. It becomes a shared and resilient history. Watching our guests share in their appreciation of the food and discuss how they have witnessed this in their own lives was a strong reminder of those histories.
Perhaps this is how a movement starts: with delicious food and authentic conversation on a cool summer night. We have the blueprints to find commonality and build community; to begin to redress harm and imagine new dynamics and relationships together.
We plan to continue the dialogue around this critical topic. Check out the events page for more details.