The Gift of Freedom

War, Debt, and Other Refugee Passages

The Gift of Freedom

Book Pages: 296 Illustrations: 4 photographs Published: October 2012

Author: Mimi Thi Nguyen

American Studies, Asian American Studies, Cultural Studies

In The Gift of Freedom, Mimi Thi Nguyen develops a new understanding of contemporary United States empire and its self-interested claims to provide for others the advantage of human freedom. Bringing together critiques of liberalism with postcolonial approaches to the modern cartography of progress, Nguyen proposes "the gift of freedom" as the name for those forces that avow to reverence aliveness and beauty, and to govern an enlightened humanity, while producing new subjects and actions—such as a grateful refugee, or enduring war—in an age of liberal empire. From the Cold War to the global war on terror, the United States simultaneously promises the gift of freedom through war and violence and administers the debt that follows. Focusing here on the figure of the Vietnamese refugee as the twice-over target of the gift of freedom—first through war, second through refuge—Nguyen suggests that the imposition of debt precludes the subjects of freedom from escaping those colonial histories that deemed them "unfree." To receive the gift of freedom then is to be indebted to empire, perhaps without end.


The Gift of Freedom is a bold, rich and sophisticated study providing significant contribution to current literature. . . . It forges new ground in the burgeoning disciplines of Vietnamese and Vietnamese American Studies while advancing the fields of memory studies, affect studies, refugee studies,and cultural studies, offering powerful insights into the far-reaching,inescapable hold that the gift of freedom has over all our precarious lives.” — LongT.Bui, Journal of Vietnamese Studies

“Nguyen provides a well-reasoned justification for considering refugees as figures instead of subjects. . . . The book unfolds a compelling, if cynical, story of how thoroughly power functions.” — Thy Phu, Pacific Affairs

“Nguyen’s compelling discussion of the discursive construction of the Vietnamese refugee as a gendered subject, as both an arbiter for peace and forgiveness, as well as an agent of US state violence, left me with further productive questions: How are bio- and necropolitical discourses of freedom always already constituted in relation to gender and sexuality? How does the ‘gift of freedom’ constitute queer subjects? While the answers to these questions may exist beyond the scope of this text, the theoretical framework introduced by Nguyen provides a generative starting point for future feminist and queer critiques of the ‘gift of freedom.’”   — Gina Velasco, International Feminist Journal of Politics

“In writing about Vietnamese refugees, Nguyen actually helps us to grow links with studies of Arab/Middle Eastern/Muslim racialization in and outside of the United States, as well as other assemblages of subjects that might also find themselves the targets in new wars for freedom.”  — Sylvia Shin Huey Chong, Journal of Asian American Studies

“This book is provocative and challenging, and raises key questions in theoretical and contemporary discourse.” — Jana K. Lipman, Journal of American Studies

“Nguyen…productively evaluate[s] and incisively interrogate[s] the indebted cultural politics and racial formations that remain at the forefront of Asian-American Studies.” — Cathy J. Schlund-Vials, College Literature

“Nguyen’s book is tremendously convincing. [It] is ambitious but soundly conceived and refreshingly well written. This book should prove instructive to scholars in areas where writerly sensitivity—generous engagement with ambiguous texts and the confidence to ask speculative, even oblique questions—is perhaps not as lauded as it should be.” — Nicholas Gamso, Women's Studies Quarterly

“Nguyen offers a refreshing perspective on cultural formations rarely researched in area studies, and The Gift of Freedom is a major contribution to Vietnamese and Vietnamese diasporic studies. As such, this book is recommended to scholars of cultural studies, critical race studies, immigration and migration studies, transnationalism, Asian American studies, and Asian studies.” — Laura Ha Reizman, Journal of Asian Studies

"The Gift of Freedom extrapolates from its case studies to make an arresting argument that freedom, especially when it is routed through liberal personhood, 'is not simply a ruse for liberal war but its core proposition' (xii)." — Russ Castronovo, American Literature

"The Gift of Freedom is a dazzling book. Focusing on the figure of the Vietnamese refugee as a key to comprehending how the rhetoric of U.S. liberalism and freedom became hegemonic during the Cold War and in the contemporary post-9/11 period, Mimi Thi Nguyen offers an original approach to rethinking Cold War politics and U.S. liberal freedom." — David L. Eng, author of The Feeling of Kinship: Queer Liberalism and the Racialization of Intimacy

"The product of strikingly incisive thinking, The Gift of Freedom is a luminous theoretical contribution to our understanding of the terms and tactics of liberal modernity." — Kandice Chuh, author of Imagine Otherwise: On Asian Americanist Critique


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Price: $26.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Mimi Thi Nguyen is Assistant Professor of Gender and Women's Studies, and Asian American Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She is a coeditor of Alien Encounters: Popular Culture in Asian America, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction. The Empire of Freedom 1

1. The Refugee Condition 33

2. Grace, the Gift of the Girl in the Photograph 83

3. Race Wars, Patriot Acts 133

Epilogue. Refugee Returns 179

Notes 191

Bibliography 239

Index 267
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