Grantee: Professor Isabelle Thy Pelaud in partnership with The Asian Pacific Islander Cultueral Center and Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network
The San Francisco Vietnamese American Poetry Festival (SF-VAPF) empowers young Vietnamese Americans and inspires them to speak out, write, and create, and help them learn about traditional Vietnamese culture. It brings their powerful and important literary and visual works from the margins toward the center and helps to preserve their rich cultural history. With this grant we will organize the third Festival, featuring poets, spoken words artists, traditional opera, prose writers and visual artists. The goal is to make this under-represented community more visible, promote healing, and bridge generations.
A particularly successful example was the recent Third San Francisco Vietnamese American Poetry and Art Festival. Sponsored by the Diasporic Veitnamese Artists' Network (DVAN) and the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center (APICC), the very well-attended evening event featured spoken word artists, poets, prose writers, and painters emerging in the local Vietnamese American community.
DVAN Executive Director and SF State Associate Professor Isabelle Thuy Pelaud (Asian American Studies Department, College of Ethnic Studies) conceived of the annual event as a way not only of showcasing and supporting new local talent, but as an intentional way to support the community in reflecting on its human experiences - sometimes traumatic, often gentle, always meaningful - and allowing those reflections to manifest in their full diversity across generations and across national boundaries.
In many exile or émigré communities, cultural events can tend to be conservative in nature, as displaced peoples regroup, re-form, mourn and rage for the loss of their homeland, and balance living fully in their new society with maintaining their traditional arts and identities. Sometimes such traditional cultural venues will exclude new views of self-identity or more expansive modes of artistic expression. Younger generations may not find sufficient support within the community, leading to a certain dissonance in terms of how to genuinely be part of their parents' or grandparents' worlds. Isabelle points out how supporting new styles of artistic expression, we "imagine, create, and encourage, we pave the way toward new identities. We impact how we are seen, and how we see ourselves."
Herself a poet and curator, Isabelle shares with many local, long-time artist-activists a passion for promoting artists from all the countries where the Vietnamese diaspora spread - Australia, Canada, France, the U.S. - strengthening the ties between the various segments of a truly global nationality. Commonalities are celebrated, and emerging differences are seen perhaps for the first time. "By being open to and inclusive of stories from outside the United States and Vietnam, we can better understand what it means to be forced out of one's country and having to live and survive elsewhere in another culture, and also gain perspective on our own lives", notes Isabelle. The intention is for greater "inclusion, healing and empowerment through self-determination".
Perhaps more importantly still, broadly inclusive cultural gatherings are part of the much longer process of healing from wrenching civil war, revolution, persecution, displacement and loss: A wider perspective "provides an alternative to the communism/anti-communism dichotomy that still divides us". Such spaces are an opportunity, "in Andrew Lam's words, to refuse 'to let rage and thirst for vengeance dominate our hearts'." Over time, perhaps, cultural maturation on all sides of the political/historical chasms can open doors to new political possibilities.
Hosted by Andrew Lam (NPR commentator), this celebratory event included spoken word artists Bao Phi (National Poetry Slam finalist), Fong Tran and Sahra Vang Nguyen; legendary poet Nguyen Do with Paul Hoover, and famed writers Andrew Pham ("Catfish and Mandala") and Aimee Phan ("We Should Never Meet"). Bao Phi read from his new book of poems Song I Sing and Aimee Phan from her new novel The Reeducation of Cherry Truong. The program concluded with a performance by cai luong artist Quang Chanh. A reception followed the reading featuring artworks by Binh Danh, Christine Nguyen, Truong Tran, Mai Trinh and Khoi Nguyen.
Thirty of Isabelle's students from SF State donated their time in the all-volunteer force that allowed this event to happen, enriching their own educational experience.
The Chávez Institute is so proud to have plaid a role in this event. There's something very joyful in supporting an activity that, as Isabelle reflects, "brings voices from the margin to the center through the arts, empowers our youth, encourages personal and collective healing, brings generations together... and encourages artists to create on their own terms".