A film on the bittersweet nature of love, language, and memory.
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Artist Talk on Translation and Film at Harvard University (February 2020) >
For this piece, I seek to dwell on the act of translation– that universal human yearning to understand and be understood. I do not always translate Vietnamese words in the piece to English because I hope to convey the moments of comprehension/miscomprehension between different languages and generational divides. We do not just translate words. We translate moments and grasp for meaning. We translate across time and glance backwards through the bittersweet filters of nostalgia and loss.
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). Wander between poetic voice, slip away into memory; pause and grasp for that undeniable force.
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
Artists, bilinguists, academics, Asian Americans, Vietnamese, everyone…I would really appreciate your feedback on this piece and the project. Please share your thoughts, feelings, feedback with me at email@example.com
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Cindy Nguyen is a subversive artist historian who works between film, poetry, and visual narrative. She defies dominant narrative for the subtle textures of language and memory. See her other projects >
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.