A film on loss and language
Directed, Produced, Edited, Words by Cindy Nguyen
Recent News: My film “Velcro Shoes” was selected along with 9 others to live stream in the Vietnamese Boat People Mỹ Việt Story Slam event 2020. We had a short Q&A to talk about the film, the experience of language and loss, and the bittersweet process of creating a sense of self. I also encouraged everyone to cultivate compassion and have difficult conversations.
“VELCRO SHOES” film is part of “Mẹ [Mom], Translated ,” a project on intergenerational language and love. VELCRO SHOES navigates the interwoven journey of loss and language for multilingual, third culture kids like myself. My maternal language of Vietnamese is defined by my family’s refugee resettlement in 1990’s southern California Little Saigon. Yet over time my language of expression also experienced a process of displacement. Rather than simply moving from Vietnamese to English, my language embodied our family’s living history and affective articulation of 1990s Vietnamerica.
Due to the current COVID-19 situation, my family and I have been physically separated across the East and West Coast. I initially wrote a version of this essay while living and working in Vietnam and Jimmy Tran made accompanying visuals here. In the longer essay, I reflect on how my ‘Vietnamese language’ is deeply tied to the textures of my specific family history as Catholic refugees, relocated to southern California, and coming of age in the 90’s. The initial essay meditates on the feeling of loss of maternal language and nostalgic yearning for the comforts of family, love, and acceptance.
In this film, I sought to depict how language and memories transform in ways that heal and nurture the soul in difficult times. This is the only video footage we have of our childhood because my uncles made these home videos to send to our family still in Vietnam who were not able to leave. Through making this film, I transcend the physical and temporal distance between me and my family. I remember and embrace the brighter loving moments. I hope for the time when we as a family can be reunited again.
On Velcro: Love, Language, Loss
As a kid, I was mesmerized by velcro. Velcro made life so much easier than buttons, zippers, and hooks. It made a relentless yet familiar scratching sound each time I undid it to kick off my shoes, opened bags, ripped off my jacket (those same pesky jackets that adults seem to keep bundling me up in, out fear that I would get sick from this foreign and cold American climate of Southern California).
Velcro was secure, predictable, safe. On the other hand, moving on from velcro is part and parcel of growing up, a transition to the fashion items of adulthood–refined maturity, quiet elegance, and the unnecessarily complicated world of laces.
I yearned for the simplicity and security of velcro. Yet I also feared what came afterwards. Growing up is an intertwined rope of ‘reaching for’ and ‘hesitancy of’ the familiar and the beyond. I sought to convey a childhood of wonderment and possibility in VELCRO SHOES. Yet, for me, reaching for that world beyond also meant confronting a certain sense of loss. I ‘lose’ my maternal language and the familiar world of home. I ‘lose’ a certain time and place of playful surrender without fear of judgment. By making this film as an adult, I imbue new meaning to language and loss that is textured by bittersweet love and gratitude.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org