It seems eons ago that San Francisco State and UC Berkeley students fought for Asian American Studies and Yuji Ichioka coined the term “Asian American" in the late 1960's.
Each decade of Asian America since has brought us pioneering activists, academics, and artists that have changed the paradigms of their fields and caused ripples, both large and small, across the country. So many, in fact, that I’m scared to make a Who’s Who List and leave anyone out and be lambasted on some obscure blog. (Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop’s Jeff Chang is my personal favorite, however).
If each decade since is a version of Asian America, we’re currently in Asian America 4.0. What does a generation do when it has grown up with an established Asian American identity and consciousness? When it has read Bao Phi and Ishle Yi Park? When it has Margaret Cho, and John Cho, and Randall Park? When its technological savvy can leave an infinite digital footprint?
Enter Francesca Huynh and her online oral history project “Narrating the Chinese Vietnamese Identity” which can be found at www.chinesevietnamese.com.
Francesca is a 22-year old digital historian from Quincy, Massachusetts. In her last year at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, Francesca won a summer research grant. Fifteen months, thousands of miles of travel, and hundreds of hours of interviews and transcription later, her site was launched in November of 2015.
The project explores the complexity of the Chinese Vietnamese American identity through intimate interviews with six Chinese Vietnamese Americans from across the country. It’s an identity layered with questions: What makes you Chinese? What makes you Vietnamese? Is nationality ethnicity? How did war and diaspora affect the Chinese Vietnamese? (At the end of the Vietnam War, there were approximately 1 million Chinese Vietnamese living in Vietnam).
“Each story is distinct,” said Francesca, “But with the same overarching idea of the struggle to self-identify. The disconnect between cultures was a consistent theme.”
The project’s idea came from Francesca’s own personal history. “Over dinner conversations with parents and relatives, I heard vignettes of growing up in Vietnam. They were tender but also fraught with trauma.”
“I wanted to understand their experience, that experience of being a minority in Vietnam and then again a minority here (in the United States).”
The website design’s is clear and articulate with Francesca’s own photography and layout skills on full display. It’s a great start for a project that Francesca planned and executed as a one-woman endeavor with a small $3,000 budget.
In the future, Francesca sees “Narrating” as an active living document. She hopes to add in audio and video, produce breakout short segments, and interview more Chinese Vietnamese Americans.
She hopes her site will add to the Asian American narrative of storytelling and activism. “What do we do after we understand our past?” she asked. “We can’t just share, we have to engage.”
K-PoP is short for Ky-Phong on Pop Culture. Ky-Phong Tran is an award-winning writer based in southern California, where he writes about music, art, literature, Los Angeles, fatherhood, and other musings.