Mai Nguyen Do is a Vietnamese-American poet and musician living in the Los Angeles area. Her work has been published in the Rising Phoenix Review, and her debut poetry collection is forthcoming from Platypus Press. In what little free time she has, Mai can be found researching Southeast Asian history, ranting about current Southeast Asian political events, and teaching Vietnamese to young children. Aside from being founder and editor-in-chief of Rambutan Literary and being a social media manager for The Fem, Mai is also the social media manager for the journal Half Mystic, a new journal dedicated to showcasing musical creations.
Fem: Tell us about your lit mag and your role.
Mai Nguyen Do: Rambutan Literary is a literary and arts magazine showcasing literature and art from both mainland/maritime Southeast Asia and diasporic Southeast Asian communities. Although we are still very new, as founder and editor-in-chief, I’ve had the privilege of starting to work with some amazing Southeast Asian writers to cultivate and promote our new magazine.
F: What was your motivation behind creating this lit mag?
MND: Rambutan Literary is something I’ve wanted to create for a long time. The countries of Southeast Asia have rich, longstanding traditions of storytelling, and yet, there aren’t many spaces showcasing work by Southeast Asians. And on top of that, Southeast Asians are often lumped together with East Asians, when a significant portion of the histories of Southeast Asian nations are filled with periods of imperialism by those East Asian countries on top of Western imperialism – which isn’t to say that those periods weren’t impactful and important in shaping Southeast Asian cultures, but that I believe we must promote these unique cultures as something more than just those histories of imperialism.
F: How important is a platform like this for marginalized voices?
MND: There is something dangerous, I think, in allowing the cultures of Southeast Asia to be confused with that of the rest of Asia – and this goes for South Asia, too. Allowing Westernization to erase and homogenize these cultures might just be the greatest defeat the peoples of Asia would have to bear. In addition, as with many other Asian cultures, a great number of LGBTQA Southeast Asians suffer from the casual homophobia, transphobia, etc. But I think with Southeast Asian cultures specifically, there is more potential for the beginnings of removing these kinds of harmful sorts of discrimination and prejudice, which is why I think promoting Southeast Asian LGBTQA writers and artists is extremely important to get the ball rolling. Southeast Asian women, too, have too often been silenced – which is more a result of sinicization and Westernization, since there are a number of Southeast Asian societies that were actually once matriarchal. By promoting work by Southeast Asian women and LGBTQA individuals, we’ll also be promoting the maintenance and growth of Southeast Asian cultures.
F: What is your hope for Southeast Asian writers?
MND: My biggest hope for Southeast Asian writers is for us to be able to continue our strong traditions of storytelling, and through that, continue to facilitate the growth of our cultures that are continually threatened by both Western imperialism and the strong influences of East Asian cultures. We need not suffocate in silence.
F: How can people get involved with your mag?
MND: We’re actually still looking for a poetry editor for our Branches section, which is the half of Rambutan dedicated to the work of diasporic Southeast Asians. Once we assemble our staff, we’ll be opening up for submissions! We’re looking for work by both mainland and maritime Southeast Asians, as well as diasporic Southeast Asians.