It may not have been a lively crowd, but the panel stayed until closing at the Pasadena Library to discuss the impact of war on communities. One hour wasn’t enough, they needed two. Actually, America may need another 40 years.
The Donald Wright auditorium itself was like a time capsule adorned with paintings ranging from the 1920s to 1940s with teal and red velvet seating for the 15th annual ‘One City, One Story’ (OCOS) event series. This year’s focus was on Viet Thanh Nguyen’s ‘The Sympathizer’.
The attendees’ gathered for perspective on a time that remains a wound to be licked on the American spirit. Veterans, visible by their decorated caps, made their way to seats and warmly greeted one another with strong hands and their platoon numbers followed by service years.
“Let’s hear what this is all about,” said Steve Malmberg, Phoning-President of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), to a fellow veteran.
The discussion was moderated by Larry Wilson of the Pasadena Star-News. The OCOS panel featured Daniel D. Lee, Ph.D., Florante Peter Ibanez of Pasadena City College, Toma?s Summers Sandoval, and Jervey Tervalon.
The themes laid out in Viet Thanh Nguyen’s 2016 Pulitzer Prize winning novel framed the conversation, but it was the focus of the community that drove it. The discussion was open, honest, and engaging. Breaching subjects like race and religion with the public.
“When we can’t suffer… We look for our enemies,” said Lee.
The energy shifted after the first question from Vietnam veteran, Raymond Ramirez was not a question, but a testimony to his experience and his families. He spoke of his grandfather in WWI and of priests in the family. The tie between God and country was strong for many in his generation.
“I went there because they didn’t believe in God.” said Ramirez.
Lee responded to Ramirez with the assurance that Nguyen does speak of the tie between religion and the war.
“Nobody is off the hook.” said Lee referring to the ties between the churches and the resistance in “The Sympathizer” in an effort to smooth the tension. However, tougher questions were ahead for the panel. A hole in the discussion was not left unnoticed by veteran Philipe Contreras.
Contreras, who served in Vietnam in 1968 asked if anyone had served in the military. The panel replied in a “no” across the board to the displeasure of some members of the audience.
“No one on the panel has served in the military. None of you could answer to what the families actually felt like,” said Contreras, Vietnam Veteran 1968.
Sandoval and Tervalon responded that their fathers served in Vietnam.
“But you didn’t serve yourself, that’s not the same. You’re not getting the full picture and that’s a shame,” said Contreras.
The missing voice of a military experienced veteran from the panel did leave a necessary perspective out of the discussion. However, that hole was filled with the voices of attending veterans who had another perspective of the panels’ discussion that night. Bringing the room back to the calm before the testimony.
Ted Coulter, a former trainer in El Salvador, said thank you to the panel for holding the discussion despite the previous statements. He supported the discussion’s focus on grieving and the aftershock of the wars.
“We don’t mourn Vietnam, we don’t mourn Afghanistan.” said Coulter to echo to the panel’s’ discussion of healing communities postwar. The thank yous continued from the audience.
A few questions were taken to discuss the author’s allusion to the movie “Apocalypse Now” at the closing of the novel.
The night closed with one for the students of Pasadena City College, in response to what the panel would suggest us, as students, to do from this point in our current political climate.
“Read this [The Sympathizer] as an American novel.” said Lee.
“[When] you learn about humanity, you understand that you are in a big boat with everyone.” said Professor Ibanez.
“Read. Read more. When you read, you learn more for yourself. Challenge easy answers.” said Sandoval.
After the discussion, Malmberg said the event was, “Very interesting, well worth coming out for. You can’t close the door on things like this.”
The final event is next Wednesday March 29th at 1pm in the Pasadena Public Library Auditorium where they will be showing the film “Owl and the Sparrow”.