A film on the bittersweet nature of love, language, and memory.
This film is part of my project, “Mẹ, Translated [Mom, Translated],” a mixed-media art project on love, language, memory and everything lost in translation.
Inspired by the work of Viet Thanh Nguyen, I made this project intentionally not for the dominant audience. Rather, I sought to dwell on the act of translation– that universal human yearning to understand and be understood. Vietnamese words in the pieces are not always directly translated to English because I wanted to convey the complexity of comprehension/miscomprehension between different languages, generations, and also through the nostalgic and bittersweet filters of memory. However, I explain the concepts through poetic voice and through visual symbols, actions, and subtle gestures.
Thus, I invite the viewer to experience the delicate moments of misreading and translation – imbue subtle gestures and tones with layers of interpretation. The symbolic actions and conversation between a mother and daughter reveal the secret language of refugee and immigrant survival: hy sinh (sacrifice), khó khăn (suffering), perseverance (chịu khó), and success (thành công). This film celebrates the subtleties of language and love through visual storytelling.
Artists, bilinguists, academics, Asian Americans, Vietnamese, everyone…I would really appreciate your feedback (thoughts, suggestions, feelings) on this piece and the project.
Please share this project with anyone who
- has felt misunderstood
- dances freely or uneasily between categories and languages
- has used google translate with their parents and family
- has been told “you are not really ____”
- does not know where or who ‘home’ is
- wanders and wonders why
Please share your thoughts, feelings, feedback with me at email@example.com
I would especially appreciate your comments on my most recent film, “The Undeniable Force of Khó Khăn.”
Lisbon, January 2018
Haruka Nakamura – Arne
Noname – Bye Bye Baby
Cindy Nguyen is a subversive artist historian who works between film, poetry, and visual narrative. She defies dominant narrative for the subtle textures of love and language.
I was raised by the moral compass of Confucian duty, Catholic guilt, and Vietnamese refugee fears of the unknown. As a child I held on to every story my mother shared about our family’s escape from war torn Vietnam and my miracle birth in a Malaysian refugee camp. Between Catholic prayer and helping out at our family restaurant, my mother bestowed upon me her secret language of refugee survival: hy sinh (sacrifice), khó khăn (suffering), and perseverance (chịu khó).
Growing up in America, my language of expression slowly transformed from Vietnamese to English, and my mother’s cultural vocabulary became increasingly foreign but powerfully totemic. I have studied Vietnamese language and history for over 8 years, and I am now a Ph.D candidate in Vietnamese history at UC Berkeley. I now re-examine those linguistic totems of my childhood with a scholarly intensity and compassionate vulnerability. I research, write, and make art about Vietnamese culture, history, memory, and language.
“The Undeniable force of Kho Khan” wanders the dreamlike hallways of memory, language and everything lost in translation. A poetic meditation on translation, this piece captures the essence of ‘fluid’ as a constantly changing state of meaning based on context, gestures, and tone-room-feeling. “The Undeniable Force of Kho Khan” is part of my mixed-media art project titled “Mẹ [Mom], translated.”