In many ways the book follows the classic trajectory of the immigrant story: mass exodus from war-stricken motherland, shaky assimilation process measured by racism and menial labour, intense pressure placed on the second generation to succeed and then a slow-burning sense of acceptance of one's place in the host country. Writing the book was for Nguyen a cathartic experience and a way of honouring her parents' resilience. "It was much cheaper than therapy!" she confesses.

Though Vietnamese refugees are often associated with their means of travel here (via rickety, unseaworthy vessels), Nguyen's family were smuggled through Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge-controlled Cambodia as they hailed from a land-locked province. Only much later were they flown to Australia, having satisfied the refugee criteria at the time. Nguyen herself was born two months premature in a former prison on the Thai-Cambodian border.

We are Here is unflinching in its detail of the many tortured steps to freedom and the story is as much about Nguyen's parents' emotional and physical journey as it is about her own tentative attempts to negotiate her new home in Sydney's struggle-belt western suburbs.

"In this country I have a mouth to eat with but I don't have a mouth to speak with. You are my voice" proclaimed Nguyen's father but his stoicism and nightmare recollections meant that she wasn't able to speak to him in depth about his experiences, leading Nguyen to piece his story through her mother and extended family, as well as through "other survivors of the (re-education) camps – my uncles, cyclo drivers and old doctors I met in Vietnam", she says. We speak about the hard-won battles the Vietnamese community endured to regain their pride in their own culture when displaced in a new country but Nguyen is wary about being too complacent with the existing order.

"It takes a long time to heal from war and persecution especially for those that experience this trauma directly. Successful integration to me includes representation and participation in decision-making channels that affect the rights, livelihood and opportunities of communities as well as broader society. I feel that many refugees and migrants, especially the first generation, constantly have a sense that the peace and stability that they have finally achieved exist in a delicate state of balance."

Nguyen chooses her words carefully; not surprisingly as she is a lawyer and keen social activist. Having been long trained in the "language of responsibility and sacrifice" and after witnessing the many humiliating incidents faced by her parent's struggles through broken English misunderstandings, Nguyen strove (and succeeded) in academia. The book closes on a note of optimistic pride as she receives her law degree with her parents in attendance.

While she returns to Australia sporadically, Nguyen is now based in Vietnam, and is delighted with the homecoming, "When I first went there as an adult, I went to the house my father grew up in. I touched the coconut trees that my grandfather planted. I touched the rice on the land that my mother worked on. I conversed with grandparents I never had in Australia. This physical and visible heritage compelled and romanced me. It was a powerful connection to ancestry that I had never experienced before and I longed for more." Of her hybrid identity Nguyen explains, "Wherever I am, what makes me a minority is highlighted. In Australia, I feel more Vietnamese and in Vietnam, I feel more Australian … but it's OK to be hyphenated because identity is not one-dimensional and home is not a geographical location."

The Sydney Morning Herald - March 15, 2015