33 pages 1 hour read

Lac Su

I Love Yous are For White People

Nonfiction | Autobiography / Memoir | Adult | Published in 2009

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Summary and Study Guide


I Love Yous are for White People is a memoir by Vietnamese-American Lac Su, published in 2009 by HarperCollins. This guide refers to the first US edition. The title paraphrases Pa, the author’s emotionally distant and abusive father, who rebuffs his son’s declaration of love at the age of 14. Su writes in simple prose and organizes the material chronologically, relying on the power of his experiences as a young immigrant in Los Angeles to carry the narrative.

The book opens with Su struggling to keep up as his family runs toward the rickety fishing boat that will take them away from Communist Vietnam. A flashback reveals what life was like before the family fled. Pa was a well-respected business owner in Da Nang until the threat of denouncement as an American collaborator forced him to leave. After a harrowing journey to the US via Hong Kong, the family settles in a rundown apartment in a seedy section of Los Angeles, where Pa works as a prep cook for meager pay. He dresses Su in a suit and tie on his first day of school, making him the target of ridicule and marking the beginning of Su’s search for acceptance. Su is a lackluster student, much to his parent’s dismay. His father starts beating him. Shortly thereafter, his cousin Crazy moves in and molests him. The abuse lasts for approximately eight years.

Su befriends members of a Hispanic street gang called the Kingsley Street Boys, as well as a bully named Javi. Su steals food stamps and money from his mother’s piggybank to support Javi’s arcade game addiction. When his parents discover the theft, Pa beats Su, strips him naked, and locks him outside to shame him. Following this incident, Pa moves the family to Alhambra to insulate Su from bad influences and force him to socialize with other Asians. Defiant, Su purposefully befriends a Mexican boy named Art. Su admires the love and affection Art shares with his parents. He imitates their expressions of love, which earns him Pa’s ire.

Su joins an Asian graffiti gang called the Street Ratz, whose members introduce him to a debauched lifestyle of alcohol, drugs, and crime. They come to his aid when a rival gang beats him up. His attachment to the Ratz grows after a violent incident at home, which ends with Pa putting a meat cleaver to Su’s throat. Despite the abuse, Su longs to be accepted by his father. He eagerly participates in a nhau (a traditional Vietnamese gathering), eating a blood goose appetizer to make his father proud. His relationship with the Street Ratz ends after rivals beat him and put a gun to his head. Pa tends to Su’s wounds and agrees to place him in a better, predominantly white school. Su ends his memoir with reflections on his academic successes and trip to Vietnam. He concludes that his father loved him and raised him the best way he could.