NW Vietnamese News

“Vietnam in the Rearview Mirror” Opens at the Wing Luke Museum

October 11
22:06 2012

By SEAN C. FRASER

UW News Lab

Perhaps the most unexpected aspect of the Wing Luke Museum’s new exhibit “Vietnam in the Rearview Mirror” is that instead of reliving the past, it’s focused on the future. The exhibit, compiled by a group of individuals in the local Vietnamese American community, exudes a sense of hope for an ethnic group that has been recently defined by the tragedies of the Vietnam War.

“Vietnam in the Rearview Mirror” opened at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience on October 4, and will be on display for two to three years. The interactive exhibit features oral histories of community members, photographs and cultural artifacts to convey the struggles, triumphs and progression of the Vietnamese American experience.

“The exhibit explores the complex and interwoven identity of Vietnamese Americans,” says Casey Bui, Co-President of the Wing Luke’s Board of Trustees. “It allows us to look forward to our future and who we want to become, and remember our past and where we came from.”

The gallery is broken into three phases, each representing a different generation’s experience. The exhibit progresses from the history of the elders to the journey of the parents, and culminates with the experience of the current generation.

The incorporation of digital technology in the exhibit further develops the focus on the future. Interactive screens show photo slideshows and allow attendees to listen to stories and accounts recorded by community members.

“The exhibit tells a story that has never been told,” says Diem Ly, text writer for the exhibit and a contributing member of the community advisory committee. “For Vietnamese Americans, this exhibit is the first step to reconciling both identities.”

Ly hopes that “Vietnam in the Rearview Mirror” will demonstrate the amazing opportunities available to members of the younger generation, and encourage them to progress beyond associations with the Vietnam War.

“Vietnamese Americans no longer have to hide behind the past; we can embrace it, and move forward,” Ly suggests.

Exhibits at the Wing Luke Museum are not compiled by a single curator; instead, they are collaboratively produced by a Community Advisory Committee. Members of the committee for this exhibit delved into their pasts to tell the intergenerational stories that have become essential aspects of their tradition, culture and identity.

Choy Vong, member of the Community Advisory Committee, has a cannon shell given to him by his father featured in the exhibit. Vong’s father brought the cannon shell home with him after the war. Every year, Vong polishes the shell and uses it as a vase for flowers, a way to both honor the memory of his father and represent post-war resolution for Vietnamese Americans.

Dan Vu, a lawyer who began his practice in Vietnam, shows his robe and briefcase at the exhibit. The two articles were the only items he took with him as he escaped from Vietnam a mere seven days before the fall of Saigon.

James Hong was a representative of the younger generation on the Community Advisory Committee. His undergraduate diploma from the University of Washington is on display in the exhibit.

“The creation of the exhibit challenged me to delve into my own history,” says Hong. “I hope that visiting ‘Vietnam in the Rearview Mirror’ will encourage attendees to become more civically involved; building bridges between the Vietnamese American community and others.”

“Vietnam in the Rearview Mirror” offers an opportunity for people of all nationalities to reflect on their heritage. While the focus is on the Vietnamese American experience, the exhibit is meant to relate to everyone.

“By involving children in helping other children, they will recognize more similarities than differences in each other,” says Son Michael Pham, Founder and Director of Kids Without Borders.

Attendees are invited to integrate a part of themselves into the exhibit by considering the legacy they hope to leave behind and adding it to a book at the end of the gallery.

“I left the exhibit with a sense of total excitement,” says opening night attendee Tagoipah Mathmo. “‘Vietnam in the Rearview Mirror’ truly conveys a sense of unity, and makes the world a little smaller.”

The stories shared in “Vietnam in the Rearview Mirror” are aimed at offering reconciliation and closure for Vietnamese Americans. The sense of community and identity attendees experience communicates newfound optimism.

“In creating the exhibit,” says Diem Ly, “there was a conscientious decision to not look at heartbreak, and instead focus on the future. That’s why Vietnam is in the rearview mirror.”

“Việt Nam trong gương chiếu hậu” Mở tại Bảo tàng Wing Luke

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