Isabelle Thuy Pelaud: How I found myself at UC Berkeley

BERKELEY —
Isabelle Thuy Pelaud
Isabell Thuy Pelaud found her place in the world at UC Berkeley; now she is a published author and professor. (New America Media photo)

When she was a teenager, Isabelle Thuy Pelaud would ride around her small village in the hills of southeastern France. But her moped could only take her so far. “I knew I wanted to get past those mountains,” she remembers. Daughter of a French father and Vietnamese mother, she always felt like an outsider; that didn’t change when she landed in California at age 19, eventually working for a South Asian family who ran a deli in Milpitas.

One day, Pelaud recalls, the owner’s daughter came home from her studies at UC Davis. Pelaud had never heard of UC Davis, and she was interested. “Can I also go there?” she asked. Her employer overheard and laughed, “Isabelle, UCs are not for you. Not everyone can attend.”

Pelaud, used to people imposing limitations on her, saw that as a challenge. She discovered the existence of UC Berkeley, studied hard at a local community college while working full time and, with the help of her English teacher, was accepted at Berkeley.

“At Berkeley,” she says, “I discovered a world of knowledge and ideas. I read writers from colonized countries. I learned different ways of looking at myself.”

Pelaud is now a published author and a tenured professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University. Her success is a testament to her determination to go beyond the limitations set on her by others — and her own hard work. She is the author of “This is All I Choose to Tell,” a book about Vietnamese American literature, and recently, an editor of the anthology, “Troubling Borders: An Anthology of Art and Literature by Southeast Asian Women in the Diaspora.”

Read Pelaud’s full story, by Andrew Lam, on New America Media. It is part of a series of profiles of UC graduates whose lives were changed by a UC education.