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Food, cultural understanding highlight NMSU Global Connections Vietnam lecture

Laura Anh Williams, New Mexico State University professor, will share her personal insight on Vietnam and Vietnamese culture through her presentation, "Coming Home: Transnational Family in Contemporary Vietnam," at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 12, in the Gerald Thomas Auditorium.

Laura Anh Williams spent a month traveling with her mother across southern and central Vietnam to reconnect with family members she'd met only once before. She will present "Coming Home: Transnational Family in Contemporary Vietnam," as part of the College of Arts and Sciences Global Connections lecture series. (Courtesy photo)

Laura Williams, professor of Asian American literature, right, with her mother and an uncle she reconnected with in Vietnam (Courtesy photo)

The "Global Connections" series sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences, features faculty members' trips around the world. The purpose is to provide an opportunity for members of the campus and surrounding community to listen and ask questions of NMSU professors about the kind of global first-hand experience they might otherwise never encounter.

In 2011 Williams spent a month traveling with her mother across southern and central Vietnam to reconnect with family members she'd met only once before.

"I hope the audience gets a different image of Vietnam than is typically offered in American popular culture - something different from images of war or an exotic vacation destination," Williams said.

Although she and her mother took the trip abroad for personal reasons, Williams, who specializes in Asian American literature, said it helped enrich her own cultural understanding.

It also highlighted the differences between Western and Eastern values.

"I really love the ways family and teachers are respected. I also see the ways globalization is creeping into Vietnamese culture. My 9-year-old cousin now loves KFC and asked me to buy him an iPad. He couldn't imagine that I can't even afford one for myself," Williams joked.

The pair traveled to both urban and rural parts of the country, including Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon, the largest city in Vietnam) where they visited Williams' uncles and cousins.

"The highlight of traveling to Vietnam is getting to be part of a large multi-generational family," she said. "And, of course, there's nothing better than a month of Vietnamese cuisine and iced coffee."

Williams' courses include Representing Women Across Cultures; Gender and Sexuality in Asian American Literature; and Gender, Ethnicity, and Food Narratives, among others.

"I explore ways food motifs give characters avenues of choice and agency they might lack otherwise. Food practices can act as a form of communication and articulate affection, even build a sense of community," she said.

Patrons might have to travel a long way for the Vietnamese cuisine Williams described, but they will have an opportunity to dine at 100 West Café prior to her talk for $8. The restaurant is a hands-on food-learning laboratory run by Chef Maurice Zeck. Students plan organize, cook a serve a dinner each Wednesday from 5-6 p.m. in Gerald Thomas Hall Room 100W.

The Global Connections lecture series is free and open to the public.