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VIETNAMESE FOCUS, an exhibition for the refugee community after 40 years The Diversity of the Vietnamese Americans in Orange County Friday, August 14, 2015 By Linh Nguyen / Nguoi Viet Daily News Translated by Anh Huy Phan and Tram Le

From left, Dr. Linda Trinh Vo Trinh Mai and her artist Tram Le at galleries. (Photo: Linh Nguyen / Nguoi Viet Daily News) SANTA ANA, California (NV) The exhibition titled “Vietnamese Focus” is a joint effort between the Vietnamese American Oral History Project (VAOHP) at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and OC Parks, and takes place on the 3rd floor of the Old Orange County Courthouse, 211 West Santa Ana Blvd, Santa Ana, CA 92701. The intention is to illustrate the diversity of Vietnamese Americans in Orange County after 40 years. The show is open and free to the public from August to the end of February 2016. “This exhibition presents highlights of the development and transformation of the Vietnamese American community in Orange County. We want to show that there is no singular story that represents our experiences,” Dr. Linda Trinh Vo, professor of Asian American Studies at UCI as well as VAOHP director, said to Nguoi Viet Daily News. Tram Le, VAOHP associate director, shared, “Many Vietnamese families had to destroy photographs and documents in order to survive during the war and their migration to the U.S., so we are fortunate to be able to collect invaluable artifacts and share them in this exhibition.”


“First of all, the purpose of this event,” Le added, “is to inform the public of the diversity of the Vietnamese American community. Not all of us are refugees who came in 1975, not all of us are educated, and especially not all of us are doctors or engineers. In reality, we all work in different professions.”

The establishment of Little Saigon. (Photo: Linh Nguyen / Nguoi Viet Daily News)

“Furthermore, we did not wait to be rescued, but we had a choice and we chose to self-sustain. For example, only 2 days after the fall of Saigon and arriving at a refugee camp in Guam, we had already written a newsletter, ‘Chan Troi Moi (A New Horizon)’ to reach out to our people who were in the same situation,” she said. “Finally, we want to change the approach in the teaching of the history of refugees in the overseas Vietnamese community as well as within schools. Not all Vietnamese were rescued by the Americans. The majority of us have agency. We gave ourselves a choice of leaving or staying,” Tram explained. Dr. Linda Trinh Vo added, “This exhibition was realized after VAOHP had published the book Vietnamese in Orange County, and it took eight months to complete, ready to be showcased.” Artist Trinh Mai, the exhibition designer, shared a fun detail: “To realize the sculpture, I cut out a variety of professions and Vietnamese-owned businesses from the yellow pages of a Vietnamese phone directory in order to illustrate the words ‘OC,’” she said, pointing to pieces of paper.


IOM jeans and handbags. (Photo: Linh Nguyen / Nguoi Viet Daily News)

Trinh Mai also shared that in the process, she had learned a lot about the history and memoirs of her own family. “This exhibition had given me the opportunity to gain a more profound view of other families’ histories and the connections that we have through our collective and personal stories, as well as the courage of our people,” she said. “We are a big family. My grandmother is born into a family of 12 children. My mother is one of ten children. This is what I want to do to understand my own roots,” she added while pointing at a dozen teacups displayed in a glass case. According to her, all the teacups are lined up upon a bed of tea leaves because drinking tea is the start to telling our own stories. Each teacup holds a small tea bag, and inside each of them is a picture of a loved one along with seeds of many kinds, which she took from her grandmother’s cupboard, and a little salt to preserve them. Each seed represents the personality of each person. Meanwhile, Tram Le introduces another display case containing many family treasures from her student’s family, which is donated to the exhibition. “This pair of jeans was worn by the father from the day he escaped by boat, to his arrival in the refugee camp, and then to the U.S. He kept all the documents: his reeducation camp release papers and the identification cards of his two sons and his wife, whom he sponsored to the US,” she said.


Ms. Trinh Mai standing next to her teacup installation which tells the story of her family. (Photo: Linh Nguyen / Nguoi Viet Daily News) Dr. Linda Trinh Vo shared the same feelings as her colleague as she points to another case and says, “This is the suitcase and the ao dai (traditional Vietnamese dress) that belonged to the mother and this military-issued olive-colored wool blanket, which was given to them at Camp Pendleton. A photograph of the mother and her son. These are so precious, and yet they were willingly to give these to us as artifacts for this exhibition.” The gallery is carefully designed. On the walls are portraits of Vietnamese individuals with their own quotes that represent them. The theme “Vietnamese Focus” is placed in the middle. For the observant, the words “I Am OC” will pop out in a different color from the title. Next, on the inside are photographs illustrating the refugee’s journey; portraits of missing loved ones hang from the ceiling; the development of the Vietnamese community, including culture, entertainment, religion; the young generation’s engagement in mainstream politics; and the establishment of Little Saigon. Most of the articles and treasures that the refugees were able to bring over hold such deep meaning, are carefully displayed by the curators with the intent to educate, and is appropriate for everyone to come see.


A suitcase, blanket and the ao dai. (Photo: Linh Nguyen / The Vietnam)

Opening Hours The organizers said the exhibition is open from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm on Monday through Friday; special Saturdays: August 22; September 19; October 17; December 19; and January 23, 2016, from 10 am to 3 pm. On Saturday, August 29, the gallery will be open from 10am to 4pm for the Grand Opening Celebration. At 1 pm, the organizers, including Dr. Linda Trinh Vo and Tram Le will begin the official opening ceremony, chaired by Mr Andrew Do, Orange County supervisor of District I. The exhibition is sponsored by Wells Fargo, Edison International, the University Archives UCI and Southeast Asia, OC Parks, and many other community sponsors. For more information, please visit or contact http://sites.uci.edu/vaohp/programs/eventsvietnamesefocus/ or contact the organizers: vaohp@uci.edu. -Contact author: LinhNguyen@nguoi-viet.com

VIETNAMESE FOCUS: an exhibition for the refugee community after 40 years  

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