Uncontained Rants...

Friday, July 08, 2005

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Upcoming Events

Project by Project Food and Wine Benefit
Come play!

Out of Context
Cultural Event Series

July 2005 at the
Huntington Beach Art Center
538 Main Street
Huntington Beach, CA 92648

All events are free and open to the public.
Seating and participation is limited, so reservations are recommended.
Please call 714-374-1650 for reservations.

The galleries will be open during the events for viewing the exhibition, Out of Context.


installation event
Friday, July 15
5 – 8 p.m.
Speak Out (Beach Eggs)--Site specific beach installation by artist Hoang Duong Cam.
The artist would like to extend an invitation to youth and adult beach-goers to participate in Speak Out (Beach Eggs).
Each participant is asked to dig a hole on the beach, fill it with his/her own secret and then cover the hole with a white balloon, which will be given to him/her by the artist. All participants should meet at the HBAC at 5 p.m. as we embark on our short walk to the site.
There is a fable about a king who had the ears of a donkey. The only man who knew the secret was the royal barber, but he was forbidden to talk about it. The pressure to share the secret became so great that he finally dug a hole in his garden, whispered his story into the hole and then happily filled it again. A tree grew out of the hole and its leaves told the wind that the king had donkey ears, so eventually the whole world knew the secret.

literary event
Saturday, July 16
7 – 9 p.m.
Readings by writer’s Andrew Lam and Troung Tran. Spoken word performance by Mai Piece.
Andrew Lam is an editor of Pacific News Service and a regular commentator on NPR's All Things Considered. His book, Perfume Dreams:
Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora will be published in October, by Heyday Books.

Troung Tran is the recipient of numerous poetry fellowships including the California Arts Council and the Creative Work Fund Grant. His first collection of poems, The Book of Perceptions, was a finalist for the Kiriyama Book Prize, his second collection, Placing the Accents, was a finalist for the Western States Book Prize and Dust and Conscience was the recipient of the Poetry Center Book Prize. His latest book is titled, Within The Margin.

In 2002, Do Le Anhdao, Jenni Trang Le, and Taylur Thu Hien Ngo formed Mai Piece, a spoken word collective. They are also the host of Little Saigon's first open mic, the highly acclaimed ONE MIC, happening monthly at Café Thuy Duong.


discussion event
Sunday, July 17
2 – 4 p.m.
Artists and Curators Panel Discussion about Out of Context.
Participants: co-curators Darlene D. DeAngelo and Beth Gates + Quynh Pham, Director of Galerie Quynh, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam + Bradford Edwards, American artist living and working in Hanoi, Vietnam + Out of Context artists Hoang Duong Cam, Fatima Hoang, Trang Le, Christine Nguyen, Nguyen Van Cuong, Han Nguyen, Nguyen Manh Hung, Tran Van Thao, Lien Truong and Hoang Vu.


jazz event
Friday, July 29
7 – 9 p.m.
Jazz concert featuring Thuy Linh and Trio.
Thuy Linh – vocals, Ian Vo – Alto Saxophone, Matt Politano – Piano, and Miguel Sawaya – Bass.
Thuy Linh has been singing jazz since 1990. Currently she is the Events Coordinator at East Meets West Foundation, a non-profit organization that does sustainable development work in Viet Nam. Living in the Bay Area, she travels often to Orange County to support community cultural events.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

a historic moment...

As I sit thinking of something insightful to share, a news report of Vietnam’s Prime Minister Pham Van Khai’s visit with Dub-Bush earlier today displays muted images in my living room. The anchorman describes this historic event: The U.S. and “Vi-et-nam”. Two countries…once enemies…the convergence of their leaders...Bush to visit Vietnam next year for economic summit. Looking at the two men seated awkwardly on their diplomatic thrones, amidst the flash of cameras and reporters, I feel strangely torn. My distaste for Bush coupled with my mixed feelings regarding Vietnam’s precarious political ideology and burgeoning economic position leaves my heart heavy and my mind whirling. The news story segues to Vietnamese protesters, faces old and young gathered outside the delegation grounds in D.C. Even though the camera pans the crowd for a mere two seconds, I can already imagine the atmosphere. Emotions ring high and yellow flags emblazoned with the familiar red stripes are waved tirelessly as chants permeate the air through throats hoarse with fury. Will US-VN relations really be normalized by this “historic photo-op”? What does that mean anyways?

I remember walking along the Venice boardwalk talking to Gerard about the issue of human rights and how it would affect US-Vietnam relations. He looked me dead in the eye and reminded me that those issues are of little importance to the guys (power players) making the investments and reaping the financial benefits of the money-making venture that is Vietnam. It was in that moment that I realized how naive my concerns might be, that as passionate as I am about voicing these injustices, when it comes to the politics of both governments, they are of little significance to those in power. Yet, the idealist in me still clings tightly onto the belief that those who proliferate injustice must be held accountable. It’s apparent that the floodgates have already been opened and Vietnam will go under some extreme makeovers in the next 10-15 years, but there is still sense in speaking out and advocating, isn’t there? So, what now? Be supportive or remain defiant? You tell me.

Here's NPR's report on the visit. audio link

In the meantime, here's an informative and pursuasive letter from a Vietnamese dissident urging reform. link.

edit: As well as a letter addressed to Bush from VA's printed in ad space in the Washington Post and Washington Times on June 21st. link.

In other news...

The Bolinao 52 Fundraiser was a great success! Raising a bit over $10K on Saturday, anh Duc is quickly moving towards his intended goal of $30K to finish the film. From what I heard, it was an incredibly moving night of community building and healing for everyone involved. The journey continues this summer with interviews with survivors in Asia (Japan and Philippines). It was a blessing to be part of the B-52 team (a remarkable group of individuals) and I look forward to future projects…B-52 hitting NorCal?

In addition to the live auction, powerful speakers and performances, there was also an exhibit of pieces from the Project Ngoc Collection. The Project Ngoc Collection was created and donated by a UCI student group to advocate for Vietnamese refugees who remained in camps in Hong Kong long after the end of the War. The Project publicized the refugees’ plight, sent student volunteers to work in the camps, and advocated for humanitarian reforms. The students’ also collected and exhibited paintings and drawings created by refugee artists in the camps, several of which appear in the exhibit. Project Ngoc disbanded in 1997 after the camps were closed.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Bolinao 52

"Bolinao 52" fund raiser Saturday
Friday, June 17, 2005 By Julie Vo

For many Vietnamese, “boat people” is not just a catchy term but a deeply personal reminder of our history. It is used to define the second wave of Vietnamese refugees after the war — a mass exodus of people out of Việt Nam in the months leading up to and years after 1975.

For second-generation Vietnamese, the boat people experiences are an integral part of our stories, an event which brought our parents and grandparents to the States. For those who experienced the days, and in some cases, weeks and months on the South China Sea firsthand, the memories that the two words “vượt biễn” elicit are all too real. Such images have been laid away deep within the consciousness, not so willing to be drudged up.

Yet, the travels that brought many in our community from the shores of Việt Nam to the coasts of other nations and territories are embedded in our histories. Not often are those stories captured, documented and shared.

On Saturday, there will be a fund raiser and screening to support the completion of “Bolinao 52,” a documentary in progress by Đức Nguyễn. The event will be from 6 to 10 p.m. in the community room of Người Việt, 14771 Moran St., in Westminster, Calif.

The night’s program will include legendary actress Kiều Chinh and a musical performance by guitar prodigy Đạt Nguyễn, along with an art exhibit, panel discussion, live auction and screening of the “Bolinao 52” trailer.

In his film, Nguyễn uses his own story as a refugee boat person in 1980 as well as that of the ill-fated boat Bolinao 52 to not only paint a vivid picture of human survival, but to reconcile and come to terms with the dramatic events that sent thousands of Vietnamese to distant shores. This is one person’s attempt to speak out about an unmentioned chapter in U.S. and Vietnamese history. And Nguyễn hopes to use his voice to represent millions of silent ones.

Bolinao 52 has its tragedies. In June 1988, 110 people left Bến Tre for sea. Encountering torturous storms and engine failures, they were ignored and refused help by more than 20 passing ships, one of which was the USS Dubuque. Adrift at sea for 37 days, they were finally rescued by Filipino fishermen and taken to the island of Bolinao. Only 52 survived.

Filmmaker Duc Nguyen shared candidly about his hopes for the Vietnamese community through his film.

What do you hope to accomplish through the completion of your film, Bolinao 52?
Firstly, I hope that our community will recognize the importance of
projects such as this. Talking about our painful experiences lets
other communities understand our history. And within our core
community, in each individual family, it opens up channels of
communications so that the generation gap can be narrowed.
How so?
This film aims to re-enforce Vietnamese American identity.  
The younger generation needs to know who they are through their
How do you hope the community will respond?
I hope the response will be to support such projects like Bolinao 52
through financial, spiritual or any other means. Each individual does
not need to wait for others in order to act. Talk to your friends,
neighbors and anyone you know about yourself and your story,
regardless of whether you were born here, arrived in ’75 or were
a boat person. Other people need to know who you are.
This project is an act of speaking out for me. So to see like-minded
people joining in on the act is very gratifying. Communication is so
very important on this journey as well as the assistance of others.
Like our boat journey to freedom, it takes luck and kindness from
others to succeed.

Nguoi Viet Community Room is located at 14771 Moran Street, Westminster, CA 92683

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

a treasure in the rough

Given our über-busy culture and often-violent world, sanctuary can feel like a faraway notion. Yet, taking the time to reflect on what is important to you is crucial, so that you can envision, articulate and then help create the kind of world you want. And even if you’re not the reflective type, having that time and space to “get away and re-group” works wonders for the soul. As many of you know, my safe haven can most often be found where espresso beans and run-down furniture abounds, so I’m delighted to share my new favorite coffeehouse.

Nestled among the tree-lined streets of Long Beach’s boho “arts district” is Portfolio Coffeehouse, a spacious coffee dwelling which also serves as an art space for locals. I arrive on a cool crisp evening, my over-sized bag stocked with my goods—journal, pen and my latest read, The Life of Pi. If there ever was a “dog park” for personal computers and their owners, this would most definitely be the place. The soft glow of laptops help to create individual shrines to technology at every well-worn table. After-hours in the salon next door produce images of models in faux fashion and high end glamour flickering endlessly on flat screens hanging from the ceilings. Its eerie emptiness under the sterile glare of track lighting stands in stark contrast to the warm glow of lamps and candles in the coffeehouse.

Stepping through Portfolio's doors, I breathe a sigh of relief as the tension slips readily from my shoulders. Something about the thick heady scent of roasted beans in this coffee haven is comforting, settling my mind and soul. Walking up to the counter, I exhange pleasantries with the barista, who looks a bit weary, but always hands me a soy latte with a smile. As I slowly pass tables littered with books and papers, I think back to the many pained hours I've spent hunched over a class reader while nursing mugs of herbal tea. Looking at this quasi-library for the local college and professional set, I’m reminded of a friend’s bewildered expression in Vietnam, witnessing our conversion of a table at a local coffee shop into a chaotic array of papers and notes. I guess in some countries, people go to coffee shops to…well, drink coffee. Strangers glance over their laptops and books as I pass by, some more protective of their space than others. Outside on the patio, patrons relax, slumped comfortably in their seats, watching the passing traffic and exchanging anecdotes with passing pedestrians. Further down, the chess players huddle around a string of tables, looking more like beat poets and beer guzzlers then board game aficionados (I later find out this is the local AA watering hole). I follow a guitar solo into the next room and am instantly swallowed by the sounds of the jazz band, each musician lost in his own world, blissfully at the mercy of his respective instrument. As I sink into a nearby couch, it seems to engulf me entirely, my legs lifting off the ground as I’m devoured by its velvet cushions. I glance around curiously at the nearby patrons. A handsome bookworm sits hunched over a manuscript with his back to the band, seemingly oblivious to the cacophony of sound behind him, yet applauding passionately at the end of each song. As he turns back to his work, I watch his fingers tap briskly and without error over the keys and am reminded of that friend who has a thing for “jazz hands”. A woman seated next to me stares blankly at the blinking cursor on her screen, her thoughts obviously elsewhere, perhaps silently musing on life and love. A couple seated in the corner whispers intimately to one another while a mysterious gentleman throws curious looks my way. I smile politely but avert my eyes quickly, as glances which linger a second too long often solicit unwanted introductions. The middle of the room seats a group of men, gathered around a cadre of mugs and bottles, trading viewpoints and sound bites regarding local politics and business, not to mention the latest celebrity gossip. (“Did you see Tom Cruise on Oprah?”) I close my eyes for a second and take a deep breathe…

Friday, April 29, 2005


Who Will We Remember?
by Ky-Phong Tran

This Saturday, April 30, 2005 marks the 30th anniversary of the end of the American War in Vietnam, also known as the Vietnam War.

A number of media outlets are preparing for the day with articles, op-ed pieces, features, and special spreads. The Orange County Register and the San Jose Mercury News, which cover the two regions with the most Vietnamese Americans in the country, have extensive sections to commemorate the Fall of Saigon and Black April, as called by some in the community.

In my reading, I have found tales of escape from refugee families, coverage by ex-GI's and former war reporters, stories of return trips to Vietnam, and most of all, stories examining the successes of the Vietnamese American community: its diverse population of educated professionals, a world champion martial artist, CEO's, elected officials, and the rise of Little Saigons.

In an open and fair society, I do not advocate censorship and would not ask for these stories to be subtracted. But, what should be added? I think a balanced perspective needs to be added to both the occasion and the Vietnamese American community.

So, as the 30th anniversary pulls near, I ask: What will we do for the occasion? Will we seek to honor ourselves only? To pat ourselves on the back and move on?

My answer is this: We should create a new path for the memorial. Redefine it. Own it. Make it ours. And in that new memorial, we not only celebrate our glories, but we remember our struggles--past and present. We look at ourselves honestly, and in totality.

For me, this anniversary is not just a Feel Good Day. It is also a time to remember, reflect, and acknowledge the struggle in our communities today. Yes, we have doctors and lawyers and engineers and astronauts and a professional football player.

But we also have a large segment of our community living in poverty. We have those with limited access to affordable housing and adequate health care and proper schools. There are closeted queers afraid of their own parents. Those struggling with language access and in indecent working conditions. Domestic violence and depression are not discussed. What of those struggles? Those on the margins? Will we sweep them under the rug for the occasion?

There is a part of our own culture that hides our troubles and sorrows in order to not burden others. Dung co lam phien. How long can we bury our problems and hope they will just go away?

Politically, I am concerned that the intimidating, at-times McCarthy-like, anti-communist portion of the Vietnamese community is leading us astray, turning off potential leaders, and occupying too much space for discourse.

I am concerned when local and state Vietnamese American officials run on nationalist, anti-communist platforms. What are their stances on education, local business, senior and youth programs, health care, transportation, land use? What will they do for us today and in the future?

I am concerned that so many of us were so easily led to support the invasion of Iraq. That we could so readily dismiss other people across the planet as if we knew nothing of war. That the bunker buster bomb and the Patriot Act came from our ranks, like we had no previous experience with shrapnel and the curtailing of human rights.

Within ourselves, our tinh than, I worry about us often. I see the domestic violence. The social isolation of our seniors. The faraway eyes and empty silences that hide so much sadness. Frankly, I am tired of hearing how completely happy and re-adjusted we are. It's not true. We all know we smile when we are happy AND sad, so smiles are no clue.

I know my mom misses her family in Vietnam so much that she cries herself to sleep. That my neighbors and cousin fear homelessness and annual budget cuts to Federally subsidized Section 8 housing. I see the lost youth and violence of gang life. I know that I am not over growing up without grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins.

I can feel the loneliness, the confusion of who we are and who we aren't. The more we hide it in ourselves, in our private space, or in our public space--our art, literature, media, policy--the more I feel the post-traumatic stress disorder, the high rates of mental illness eating at us, gnawing on our spirit.

I'm sad about that. It's okay to be sad about it. And it's okay to say it or write it. Paint it and sing it. Share it and talk about it. There is no shame in it.

Our sadness is our humanity singing.

Last, I ask: How will we measure our progress? By the first of us or the last of us? In our rich history, we as a people have demonstrated an intense unity in the face of invasion and colonization. We have also divided ourselves brutally, literally in half at times. What tradition will we cultivate here in the US?

I hope for the former and believe our progress is measured by how the first of us treats the last of us. I hope that we leave none of us behind. How long can we brag about cheap pedicures, while adult education is being cut for our foot massager? How long can we praise pho Vietnamese soup, and ignore the server who has no health insurance?

I am not a cheerleader. I am, however, a writer. One voice, one pen among billions. A community artist and a community builder. A fighter. A rememberer. A seer. A doer.

And on this important anniversary in the history of the Vietnamese Diaspora, I cannot rah-rah all the way through and pretend our problems don't exist. I love my community with passion. When I look critically at the Vietnamese American community and the way it is presented, it is so that we can better ourselves. So that we can honor ourselves and face our challenges. Teach ourselves. Heal ourselves.

So we can know ourselves. All of us. The well-to-do and the marginalized. The astronaut and the fish butcher. To see our smiles AND our scars.

Ky-Phong Tran is a former legislative aide in the City of Oakland, helping to pass the first municipal language access ordinance in the nation. Raised in Long Beach, California; he is now a writer working on a novel, napalm's children, and short story collection, 562. He is a founding member of the Vietnamese Artists Collective and will be a Graduate Fellow in UC Riverside's MFA Program in Creative Writing beginning this fall.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Reflections (April 30)

“When I was your age, I was washing clothes for my entire family…by hand!”

“When I was your age, I was already cooking meals for everyone…”

“When I was your age…”

“When I was your age…”

This was the mantra of my childhood if there ever was one. Peering into my messy room, my mom would begin her monologue as her voice penetrated my inner being. On those occasions, if not sitting in stony silence imagining myself far away from the conversation at hand, I was wondering what it was like scrubbing a basketful of clothes with a bar of soap or dunking a chicken into scalding hot water. These practices in empathy were few and far between, of course, and would diminish as quickly as it took for my mom to whip up a 5-course meal every night after work. Growing up, I really didn’t think I could ever understand her childhood or where she was coming from. And that was just at home.

At school, I continued to live out my hyphenated identity as a Vietnamese-American. Living in a low-income community, I went to school and rubbed elbows with a predominantly Black and Latino student population. Thus, my Vietnamese counterparts were always ‘the other”. At the time, it was never a conscious effort on my part, but I found I never wanted to associate myself with “those Vietnamese kids”, my only reason being that I didn’t have anything in common with them. Moreover, I could speak and understand the language, but I never spoke Vietnamese to anyone other then my parents and god forbid in public! Those “Vietnamese kids” were always chattering about something, and always too loudly. They assumed I didn’t understand and so I always had this lingering suspicion that they looked down on me because I was too “Americanized”. Thus, to combat this insecurity, I simply turned my shoulder and prided myself on my accent-less English.

Every weekend also meant a trip down the 405 to Little Saigon. As a kid, these outings weren’t so bad as I simply went along for the ride and found the Asian Garden Mall to be a cool place to score Sanrio stationary. But as I got older, I began to further disassociate myself with this bustling epicenter of the Vietnamese community and what it represented, finding every reason not to go.

It was not until years later in college, with a new consciousness about my ethnic identity and some time spent in Vietnam that I began to understand. In reality, the divide that I always thought existed between myself as an American-born Vietnamese girl and those true and blue Vietnamese people wasn’t as wide as I always assumed. As if a veil had been lifted, I began to take pride in the distinctive gifts of the Vietnamese culture and people—the hospitality, the honesty, and the sacrifices.

Given, there are still things about Little Saigon that I’m still learning to embrace. A microcosm of the Vietnamese-American experience, Little Saigon is in constant expansion, with new strip malls and structures being erected every week. Luxury vehicles share parking spaces with the good ‘ol Honda Civics as women strut their stuff on the catwalks of Bolsa, flossing their brand name handbags (whether real or fake, who knows) and cell phones. In this Saigon Nho, the glare of material wealth wrestles for attention with the Southern California sunshine.

Yet, with the approaching 30-year anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, I’ve come to understand how far I’ve come as a Vietnamese-American woman and how much further I have yet to grow and learn. As for my mother’s mantras, they were nothing compared to the real sacrifices she made to give me the freedom to do what I do, write what I write, and live out my dreams.

On April 30, 1975, her family had already fled their home in Tuy Hoa to head to Saigon, only to return years later to find their house already seized and converted into government office space. Life from then on out changed drastically, and it was in 1979 that she escaped by boat with her younger brother. In the small fishing boat packed 60 deep, they were at sea for 8 days. Reaching Hong Kong, she lived in the refugee camps for a year and worked in an assembly line making zippers and silk flowers before arriving in Orange County. With meager beginnings and a far cry from home, she wrote letters to her family and cried herself to sleep every night. She was only 14 years old.

Her story, as compelling as it is, mirrors that of countless others. Yet it is these stories that have laid the foundations in bustling Little Saigon and in the lives of many second generation Vietnamese-Americans. It took me some time to fully recognize those truths, and so, as challenging as it is, they are also the reasons I choose to reconnect with my community, to strengthen our voices by telling our stories. With 30 years behind us, there’s no telling how far we’ll go from here, for the depth of our future accomplishments is immeasurable.