October Author Spotlight: Phuc Tran
Updated: Oct 23, 2022
Learn more about punk identity in Sigh, Gone: A Misfit's Memoir of Great Books, Punk Rock, and the Right to Fit In.
ID: The book's author, a Vietnamese man wearing glasses, stands with his tattooed arms folded across his chest. He stands in front of a spotted, black and white digital background, with pink angel wings digitally drawn behind him. The caption across the top reads: Author Spotlight, and the caption across the bottom reads: Phuc Tran.
Phuc Tran is a true modern-day Renaissance man. He’s a tattoo artist, writer, refugee, classicist, Latin teacher, and punk. Tran never intended to write a memoir, but after the response to his 2012 TedX talk, he was compelled to tell his story. He chronicles his coming of age in a small Pennsylvania town in his memoir, Sigh, Gone, navigating the woes of young adulthood as a refugee from Vietnam, but also as a teenage punk. To find out more about Tran's life, read the book! Tran can tell his own life’s story much better than I can, so in this month’s author spotlight, we’re going to discuss punk identity and its relationship to immigrant identity.
Punk began in the 1970’s in the US and the UK as a counterculture movement, heralded by bands like The Sex Pistols, The Ramones, The Clash, and The Stooges. Their anti-authoritarian, incendiary lyrics and loud, aggressive sound had thousands of so-called misfits flocking to shows. A collective identity began to form, with outsiders banding together to rebel against the powers that be, whatever they were. Punk music was forcefully capturing attention, and punks were taking up space in order to do so. Style played a massive role in defining the movement as well. Leather, safety pins, the Union Jack, grime, guts, and a bit of glamor all make up the stereotypical image of a punk.
Now, the bands listed above are all white, the images commonly associated with punks feature white individuals, and especially in the UK, certain sectors of the punk movement became tied to white nationalism and fascism. To put it plainly, our modern conception of punk history is whitewashed. At the same time punks were taking over the UK, reggae was rising to prominence. While its influence was obvious at the time, reggae seems to bear almost no commonly known association with punk in the 1970’s. And as the popularity of punk was rising, bands in the US encroached upon minority spaces. In DC, Latinx community spaces were commandeered by white punk bands to play shows, and the like happened in many other immigrant-based spaces.
Punk, although so intrinsically linked to its style and its sound, is ultimately an attitude. There’s a difference between being a fan of punk music and being a punk. Punk ideology is steeped in non-conformity, anti-authoritarianism, and has an overarching ethos of sticking it to the Man. While the history of the movement is whitewashed, the ideology can be extracted and applied in tons of different settings. For example, The Undocumented Americans is often considered punk!
The anger and misunderstood nature of punk identity can intersect with aspects of immigrant identity. Manu Chao, Asian Dub Foundation, Babar Luck, Kultur Shock, and Gogol Bordello are bands who defined immigrant punk as a genre, and use punk ideologies to communicate about their experiences as immigrants, refugees, or as members of immigrant families. Beyond music, YallaPunk is an organization that programs and documents artistic events led by SWANA individuals, and each year they host a festival celebrating the accomplishments of SWANA artists (SWANA is a decolonized term for people of the Middle Eastern and North African regions).
Gololobov, Ivan. “Immigrant Punk: The Struggle for Post-Modern Authenticity.” Essay. In Fight Back: Punk, Politics and Resistance, 77–93. Manchester University Press, 2015.