Words & Images © Terry Phan.
What defines my existence? It is my family’s memories? My ethnic background? Or is it my own memories? The lack of Vietnamese-American representation around me has caused me to investigate what exactly being Vietnamese-American means for me being independent of the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War is no doubt an important memory for those who came from Vietnam but what about those who were born in America? I hold no memories of the war or Vietnam, which allows me to disconnect with Vietnam’s long history of being war torn and occupied. Without a recollection of the Vietnam War, how do I act? Are there a certain group of people I should hang out with?
I know for the generation of Vietnamese people who came to America as refugees, their own memories have defined themselves as individuals with stories and people whose lives were shaped by their journey. For myself being born and raised in America, the essence of who I am is not defined by a typical Vietnamese refugee’s story, which then offers a question, what is the Vietnamese-American experience? Am I even an example of someone who has an authentic experience to share about being Vietnamese-American?
I spent most of my life questioning what it means to look different than everyone else around me in my hometown. Is there a certain way one should act? Silly? Quiet? Serious? The lack of or inability to feel culture has pushed me question why the war is a prevalent component to a person’s character. Perhaps the act of war itself is the traumatic catalyst that pushes one to examine their lives as it is. What pushes my examination? Am I looking for myself in these photographs I take? What is the culture of my memory and experiences?
It is always a contestant battle in my mind about why I do and act the way I do. I argue and explain and try and prove my case with myself.
“Mỹ” means “America” or “American” in Vietnamese.
YPA 2016 MENTORING PROGRAM: AMERICAN LANDSCAPES
TEAM NEW YORK
MENTOR: Barry Rosenthal
MENTEE: Terry Phan