Most Outstanding Cultural Program Nomination: University of California, Berkeley – Culture Show
Cal VSA Culture Show 38: Fragments: Tìm Tiếng Nước Tôi | April 8, 2017Cal VSA Culture Show 38: Fragments: Tìm Tiếng Nước Tôi | April 8, 2017
This year, for Cal VSA’s 38th annual showcase of Vietnamese hxstory, culture, voice, and
identity, we strived to transcend cultural as well as intergenerational barriers more than we have
ever done before. With a focus on sharing and validating our parents’ narratives, our cast and
crew of ninety members dedicated thousands and thousands of hours into fundraising at football
game concessions stands, scriptwriting and directing our talented acting crew on and offstage,
choreographing and arranging every beat of every song, calling all tech cues and timing prop
placements, and much, much more. Throughout the year, our CORE Team met regularly to
discuss and (re-)evaluate our goals, progress, and improvements.
Of course, we cannot fully describe this production without describing our audience, comprised
of our fellow students from the many different spaces and organizations on campus;
commUNITY members everywhere from our ethnic studies department faculty to the Asian
Pacific American Student Development: Center for Educational Development and Community
Engagement; and our family, to whom we dedicate this production.
All of these people have been there to keep us grounded and help us grow, from before we
began this journey to well beyond our final walk offstage.
How did this cultural program serve the campus and/or community?
Divided into two distinct narratives, Fragments: Tìm Tiếng Nước Tôi is a story about Vietnamese refugees and their children after the Vietnam War, after the Fall of Saigon. Following the war, South Vietnam and its people sank into political and emotional turmoil. Many of them—stripped of their capital, hope, and identity—no longer considered Vietnam to be their home. They faced risks
of persecution and reeducation by the North Vietnamese, so they had little choice but to abandon everything they had. They escaped and became refugees. The story first follows protagonist Minh as he navigates across Vietnam’s vivid state of mayhem to the desired comfort of the United States.
After having settled in the states for many years, Minh and his partner, Tâm, raise a daughter, An. The story then traces to the very end An’s personal life as she discovers what it means to sacrifice, accept, and reconcile—what it means to be a child of refugees.
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Uncovering our homeland’s often unspoken refugee experience, Fragments: Tìm Tiếng Nước Tôi aimed above all to bridge the intergenerational gap & address the intergenerational trauma following the war within the Vietnamese community. Across all aspects of our performance—acting, dance, and music—we hoped to highlight the struggles of Vietnamese refugees and their children following the Vietnam War, while showing that their stories are separate but are never separated. The fact that these very hardships go unrecognized by word of mouth alone inspired us to use the performing arts so that we could validate and recognize all of those who had gone through such adversity.
How did the cultural program meet goals set by the organization?
No hxstory, no self. Know hxstory, know self.
A significant part of our identities comes from that of our parents, from all of who they are—their values, their sacrifices, their journeys, and their traumas. Often, however, our parents have told us that they fear that no one cares about their stories. They say, “No one asks…” so they never tell. Jacklin Ha, one of our co-producers describes, “After years and years of asking my dad about his story, he finally turned to me with tears rolling down his eyes as he said,“Con ơi, cả bao nhiêu năm nay, con là người đầu tiên mà quan tâm về chuyện này của ba–chuyện mà mọi người đều lãng quên và nuốt trong lòng.“ In English: “Child, after all of these years, you are the first person to ever care about this story of mine, a story that everyone has forgotten and swallowed inside their hearts.” Moments like these became the heart of this production.
To show our parents what we mean when we say this production is for them, we invited them to join us in creating this show. Timothy Dang, this year’s scriptwriter, interviewed his dad in order to figure out how to narrate the refugee experience. It was the first time he heard his dad’s personal struggles in full detail. Hearing about his dad’s story was touching to him because he hadn’t seen his stoic father be so vulnerable, so willing to share the parts of his life he believed were insignificant. Timothy used the meaningful conversation with his dad, writing a story which he hopes brought justice to the Vietnamese refugee experience. After Act 1 Scene 1, our vocalists sung a song titled “Hãy Ghé Thăm,” written and composed by our music coordinator’s mother, Thanh Tâm. The piece describes the love she has for the homeland she left, as well as her deep sadness for those she left behind. It ends with a hopeful line that translates to, “Let’s pray for freedom, peace, and a happy life for them”.
“Bố Mẹ, this production is for you.”
How did the organization overcome any challenges that arose while planning and implementing the cultural program?
Fragments brings to light a traumatizing Vietnamese experience that affects our community to this day, so we made sure to be both historically and politically accurate yet cognizant of potentially triggering words and sounds. We wanted to be careful with every word we said, every sound we played, and every outfit we wore. At the start of the show, for the first time in our culture show hxstory, we issued a trigger warning to our viewers as well.
This year, space allocation and meeting, performance, and rehearsal reservation hours were significantly reduced as our campus buildings closed for renovations and with a larger than ever number of student organizations. As a result, we needed to meet much later at night and often had to do so off campus to allow our larger VSA organization to use our limited hours for community-wide meetings instead. In order to have a space for the final All-Cast rehearsal, our cast and crew came in during their spring break, the only time we had a room large enough to somewhat represent our stage size.
Funding Culture Show becomes increasingly difficult every year, but we always work to accommodate VISION, Cal VSA’s high school mentorship program. In order to hold Culture Show and VISION on the same weekend, which we do every year to allow VISION mentees to see the show, we needed to fundraise an additional $2,500 in less than three months’ time to reserve our show venue for that weekend. We were so excited to be able to give them a shout-out on show day!
Facebook Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1204731179576721/
VIsion Mentorship Program: http://calvsa.com/vision/vision-2017/