The Canadian Vietnamese Experience With Linh Phan
We met up with Linh Phan, a producer based in Saigon working on Here and There, a project showcasing the Vietnamese refugee and returnee experience.
A throwback look to one of our original People of Vietcetera profiles with Adrian Latortue, formerly of Uber Vietnam, leads us to meet up with Linh Phan. A producer based in Ho Chi Minh City, Linh has recently turned her attention to a personal project, Here and There, dedicated to showcasing the Vietnamese refugee and returnee experience. We get the chance to get the full scoop on her work.
What kickstarted the inspiration for your project?
I think that this project has been 10 years in the making. 10 years of me living in Saigon and processing my identity and my family’s history. In 2016 there were two momentous events that helped bring this project to life.
First was the Syrian refugee crisis, which brought conversations about the Vietnamese boat people to the table once again. It brought back questions and memories I had about my own family’s experiences. Secondly, my grandmother who had cradled me on the boat, who had raised me, taken me to school, guided me through life, passed away.
I have been trying to tell her story for a long time but I didn’t know how. When she arrived in Canada, she recorded our journey on an audio cassette tape and I am finally ready to tell her story and in a way that I felt would pay homage to her by using her voice. The timing just feels right and I am able to bring it into a format that both helps me come to terms with my own personal story, make it relevant to people like me and add to the current refugee narrative.
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What are some standout memories of being a Canadian-Vietnamese? How is it different from being another minority group in Canada?
I grew up in a very multi-cultural life. As a kid my best friend growing up was Portuguese and I played with the Italian, Jamaican, Korean, and Chinese friends in the neighbourhood. At school, we had multi-cultural days where we would explore each other’s nationalities, which helped to foster a culture of inclusion and acceptance.
However, as a pre-teen and teenager, like many teenagers who just wanted to fit in, I was quite embarrassed of all the chachkas in the house. My family collected all sorts of things and I was embarrassed to have friends over. I was hanging out with middle class white kids whose parents were office workers, doctors, lawyers, etc. And going to their house was like stepping into another world. I went to Bat/Bar Mitzvahs, stepped into parties in rec rooms where they were playing the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
It was the complete opposite to my house, where we lay on the floor watching TV, remote controls were wrapped in plastic, and when we weren’t eating rice, our western diet consisted of processed cheese and instant mashed potatoes with boiled hotdogs and canned corn.
What can overseas Vietnamese people do to forge greater connections with the homeland?
I think the first step is having an open mind and a willingness to explore their history. I think the second step would be, if the opportunity is possible, to come back and explore Vietnam. I think being here allows you to experience and learn about yourself in a different way that you can’t do without being here. For me, all these little things I grew up with made sense when I came – little things like why I grew up eating laughing cow cheese at home.
How is Vietnamese culture perceived in the greater Canadian community?
Honestly, I haven’t lived there for the past 10 years so it’s hard for me to judge how its perceived now. However, I think now Vietnamese food in particular is seen as trendy. People who never thought to have Vietnamese food before, are now suggesting Vietnamese food for dinner.
What are your first memories of visiting and experiencing Vietnam as an overseas Vietnamese?
The first time I came to Vietnam was in 2001 and I was coming straight from living in London, England. What I noticed was how clean and modern Saigon was. I remember being taken to the club Metropolis and was so surprised that there was a club that was on par to the ones I went to in London. Another powerful memory for me was after I went to visit the War Remnants Museum. I left the museum, sat in the courtyard and began to cry. For the first time ever I felt like this was my homeland.
What about working in Vietnam? What were your first professional experiences here?
I learned a lot the first 2 years working here. I came to work as an Art Director for a parenting TV series. We shot 56 episodes in 3-4 months. 6 days a week, 12 – 14 hour workdays, 2 film units and with kids…lots and lots of kids.
I was working with local crew who spoke little to no English. My Vietnamese was really poor at the time and so there was a lot of explanation and description of items for words I didn’t know. The crew had not seen a call sheet before, wasn’t used to a “longer” pre-production phase and I also had to work with a team who didn’t like working with women or Viet Kieus because of poor past experiences. The first time I met my Art Assistant, he was an older gentleman who spoke no English, and proceeded to explain to me 5 times how to put a screw in a wall. Each time I explained to him that I knew how to do it and that I’ve used power tools and have built sets in Canada. It was a struggle but in the end I won him and the art team over.
So, the one advice I can give people is to not do the same mistake I did. I expected people to work the way I worked instead of the other way around. When foreigners come here to work, they must understand that both sides need to compromise and that what works overseas may not necessary work here. When you can bring the best of both working styles together then that’s when you’ll have the best success and respect for one another.
What’s next after this project launch?
Our crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo runs from July 12th, 2017 – August 12th, 2017. The funding will go towards our research and development phase. The donations will help fund our content and web development research, surveys, focus groups, community outreach, and community building through our online campaign which includes digital content creation for our My Story and My Kitsch series.
We have a launch party at Rogue Saigon on July 13th from 5pm. I’ll be giving a short presentation and screen some films from our My Story series, which are digital short of immigrant / refugee experiences. There’ll be DJs, giveaways and drink specials.
We also have a talk scheduled at The Factory Contemporary Art Centre on August 9th as part of their Creative Session Series. I’ll be speaking about using digital media for community storytelling and present a few projects I’ve worked on here in Vietnam including the Here and There project.
Who should we speak with next?
You should speak to Nguyen Bill Long. He’s the co-owner of Manzi Contemporary Gallery in Hanoi and he’s currently the Curatorial Assistant at The Factory Contemporary Art Center. He’s had an integral role in the development of the art and culture scene here in Vietnam and definitely someone you should speak to.