This interview takes place over the phone because Adele lives in New York. The recording sometimes breaks.
Azen Jaffe: Alright, my name is Azen Jaffe. It is July 2, 2019. I am with E.J. Carter and we are speaking with Adele Pham. We are in Watzek Library. Thank you, first of all, for being with us.
Adele Pham: You are welcome.
AJ: Could you start by giving us an overview of your life?
AP: Well, that is kind of difficult. I was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. I always identified as half Vietnamese, but I did not really know what it meant to be Vietnamese, because I was born in the United States. I grew up in a very White city with a mixed identity, and I left when I was college-age and I never really came back to Portland other than to visit my family and right now I am making a film about hate crime. So more specifically in that time, I became a documentary filmmaker. My feature film Nailed It is about the Vietnamese nail salon industry, and it is currently streaming on PBS's platform. Yeah, I do not know if that is exactly… I am getting a kind of feedback problem. Do you hear that at all?
AJ: No, we are not hearing anything. It could be reverberating around the room a bit.
AP: Yes, somehow that question seems kind of broad. Is that kind of what you are asking everybody or is there something more… I know you sent me the questions but I do not know how to answer that question [Laughs].
AJ: Oh no, that is great.
AP: I have never been asked that in my life.
AJ: No, no that is great and we would like to get into all of that in more detail later. But yes, we just ask that just to start off. Before we get into college, and after that film making, could we ask about, so your father was a Vietnamese immigrant, where was he from in Vietnam and when did he leave?
AP: My father is a Vietnamese refugee. He left in 1975 as Saigon was falling, I believe. He is from Da Nang, Vietnam. So his journey was long before he landed in Portland, Oregon. He was in a refugee camp in Thailand as the war was ending. Because he was part of ARVN [Army of the Republic of Vietnam) -- part of the South Vietnamese military -- he was able to get to the United States. The facts of my father's life story are still mysterious to me, although I found a lot more out about him when I went back to Vietnam in 2006. But yeah, he has had the experience of a war refugee, and that has really framed the trajectory of some of his life other than he married an American woman and has three American children.
E.J. Carter: What was his role in the army?
AP: He was in the South Vietnamese navy. So when Saigon was falling, he was already on a small gunboat. I believe that boat went further out into the ocean and joined the larger American navy vessel. That ship sailed to Thailand where the United States had a base.
EC: Did he see a lot of intense fighting during the war?
AP: You know, that war is known to be very complicated. I do not even know how much I can get into it because I do not know all the facts. But he was caught during the war, I believe it was in Cambodia. He was hit by shrapnel and it injured his back, it broke his back and it never really healed properly. Although he is quite strong and able to maneuver well, he has chronic back issues. He still has shrapnel in his body so when he goes through metal detectors he sets them off.
AJ: Wow, you said that it took some time before he came to Portland. Did he live elsewhere in the United States? Did he go straight to Portland when he came here?
AP: No, he was in a refugee camp in Arkansas. Then I believe he moved to Kentucky. Then I believe he was sponsored in Texas. Then I think they ran out all of the Vietnamese people in Texas and he wound up in California in Santa Ana where he did Job Corp. Then he came to Portland to work as a welder because that is what he trained as in Job Corp. So it was a very complicated time. This is kind of the time of ‘Lost Boys’ and ‘Lost Men’: people who came to the United States with no families. So I believe a lot of men in his generation ended up in gangs and prisons. This is the story that you never hear about, but it affected the lives of a lot of early Vietnamese refugees, and later ones too. People who came without families.
EC: So his entire family stayed back in Vietnam? None of his siblings came or his parents or anything?
AP: Yes, that is a complicated story. My paternal grandmother was murdered by the Communists during the war, and that was pretty much the only story I knew about growing up. In my twenties, I found out that I have two older half-siblings in Vietnam who are both full Vietnamese. None of his siblings came, his children did not come. My father was really alone. He did not have the type of Vietnamese family that maybe other folks that you are talking to did. Some of that has to do with who the matriarch of the family is too, I believe. I mean Vietnamese women power their families, and a lot of times are responsible for bringing the entire family over.
AJ: Right, is your mother from Portland?
AP: My mother is originally from New Jersey. She ended up in Portland because she moved in with her sister who was attending Reed in the late ‘70s. So she graduated from the Metropolitan Learning Center in Portland. We also ended up going there, and she just stayed. So both of my parents had varying degrees of trauma in their life and kind of wound up in Portland and they never left.
AJ: How did they meet?
AP: On the street. My parents met shortly before my mom was pregnant. There was a stigma against Vietnamese people at the time. She was working as an ESL teacher with Hmong people. She is also not racist. I think she was open to talking to my father in a way that other Americans might not have been. I cannot really say for sure but she thought he was cute, and they lived in the same neighborhood. At that time weed was criminalized as well, so that had something to do with it.
AJ: [Chuckles] Then they met and you came around. What did your parents...
AP: I think she was curious -- my mother was curious about my father because of her working with other refugees. Like I said, I think she was dating somebody at the time who had said something really racist about these new Vietnamese guys in the neighborhood and, “How did they have money for their stereo system?” Sounds familiar right? So I think that was kind of what triggered interest in who these Vietnamese guys living on the block were.
EC: That was in the early 1980s?
AP: This is 1981.
AJ: What neighborhood were they living in?
AP: They were living in the Kerns neighborhood. We grew up in the same neighborhood where they met. My father was actually shot in that neighborhood as well.
AP: I do not know if you guys are familiar with Portland history, but it was about a mile away from where Mulugeta Seraw was beaten to death by neo-nazis. So there was the time before gentrification in the eighties and nineties where Southeast and Northeast Portland were rougher for people of color than it is now. A lot of this history is kind of hidden within families because it is painful to talk about and clearly the real estate has changed. I know at that time there were more refugees in that neighborhood because of the vitriol against them. I also do speak of my father as similar to Mulugeta Seraw, because he was living in an apartment complex with other men who were Vietnamese that he was friends with. So, Portland does have an interesting refugee history as well and pushback to the newcomers.
AJ: Does he speak about that pushback from the general Portland population at all with you?
AP: You know, my father is very stoic -- kind of angry growing up too. I mean this is somebody who dealt with a huge trauma. Something that I will never have to deal with -- like losing my homeland. So I feel like we kind of filled in a lot of the blanks for my father. He never talked about being shot. I think that is definitely something I inferred just from my parents talking about it in off-handed ways. There is a picture of me and my father and he has this bandage on his leg. I think that is how I found out about it, because I asked him why he had the bandage on his leg. It was because he had been ambushed and shot on 28th and Glisan. I remember walking… and I remember the tree because the tree was a part of the story. The first bullet hit him in the leg and then he was able to dive behind a tree and the rest of the rounds went into the tree. I remember looking at the tree and trying to find the bullet holes but not really knowing what was what. You know, with a tree there are different knicks and holes in it. It is just a part of my father's lore. He is a real soldier. He is a tough guy. And he has survived two shootings in his lifetime. One in Cambodia -- on a mission he probably was not supposed to be on -- and in the United States where he ended up in Portland.
EC: Did they ever find out who shot him?
AP: That is part of my documentary about hate crimes in Oregon. Because he was a refugee nobody cared. So they did find out. But he was not tried, he was just extradited back to Florida. He was Cuban. He was one of the Cuban refugees that Castro had sent over, you know ‘the dregs of society.’ The general attitude, I understand, is if one refugee shoots another, “Who cares let’s just get rid of this guy.” That is just the feeling that kind of stayed with him and my family the entire time I was in Portland, I always thought about that. Because after he was shot, nobody helped him. It was not until his Vietnamese friends were randomly turning the corner and saw him lying on the ground that the ambulance was called.
EC: What time of day was this?
AP: This was in the middle of the day.
EC: He was just walking down the street?
AP: No, he was in a fight. He was in a bar in the middle of the day. There used to be a bar on 28th and Glison called the Lucky Inn, ironically. He got into a fight with this guy over a game of pool. He had won the game, the guy would not pay him, and my father is this trained kung fu guy. He punched him really hard in the ribs, the guy fell out, and was humiliated. Everybody got kicked out but this guy came back with a gun and ambushed him as my father was exiting the bar.
AP: Real cowboy shit in Portland [laughs].
AJ: Yeah sounds like it.
EC: So he was not even tried, he was just extradited?
AP: Exactly. These are details that I would still like to investigate and learn more about. I do not know if my father even wants me to dig, actually [laughs]. But I am curious about that process and what happened to that guy. If there is even any record of it having happened.
EC: Well, that is good material for your documentary.
AP: Yeah, it fits into a history of people of color never being wanted in the Pacific Northwest. I mean my father does not take all the credit for having survived there, but he did survive. Like a lot of people of color before. I do not know what is happening right now. I mean the gentrification is so intense that he sees flocks of people just completely moved out of the city of Portland. So it is a different kind of eradication I guess.
EC: Was your father working as a welder throughout this period?
AP: I think at that time he was working day jobs. I believe it was after he was shot, and I think my mother left him for a while. He kind of got it together a little bit more and he just decided to be a worker. That is what I remember him doing. So that is something I will always respect my father for. He worked for freight liners for over thirty years. It was a very racist environment. I also did not know about that growing up. It was very hard physically. He did what he had to do to take care of his family in America.
AJ: Right, you later learned about racism that he faced in the workplace?
AP: Oh, yeah. I mean I think your parents try to shield you from what they experience, but I feel like I have always been working on this people-of-color-hate-crime-documentary-in-Portland my whole life. There was always an unsettled, uncomfortable feeling living there, in a mixed family at that time. And class has something to do with it too. My parents did not meet in college. My father is a Vietnamese refugee. There is something threatening about that. When somebody like that marries a White woman. So it was really just kind of asking questions, yeah just asking questions later on in life. About what his experience was like, what my parents’ experience was like as a couple? They had no mutual friends so I really think of it as an isolating, lonely experience. Except we had our little family, and that was really what kept us together, the children. Like I said, I think they had both experienced trauma in adolescence so there was a kind of kinship there.
EC: How did your mother's family react to their marriage?
AP: Oh you know, they are not racist so it was not an issue that way. They had other problems. Everybody has kind of died at this point. My grandfather was always very warm and loving towards my father. He really respected that he was a hard worker. So it did not come from the family, you know? That coldness. But they did not live in Portland either. So our family was very small.
EC: Was your mother's sister still around?
AP: Yeah and they do not get along for other reasons. Because my aunt was very anti-war and anti-communist, hippie. My father, I am sure you have kind of noticed that Vietnamese people, refugees, from that generation, are very anti-Communist. Maybe I mixed that up and said she was anti-Communist. He looked at her as like a ‘red hippie.’ She, my aunt, who is a lesbian hippie did not really understand my father either. So they never really got along, but it was not because of race.
EC: But they felt pretty isolated, socially, nonetheless?
AJ: Your parents?
AP: Yes. There were no other children that had Vietnamese fathers and White mothers other than people that my parents knew. It is still very rare. I do not meet anybody really from my generation that has a refugee Vietnamese father and an American mother. Even though it seems like things are heightened and more racist than they have ever been, we have really come a long way in my lifetime. I mean they were allowed to procreate with each other without being bothered! That kind of friendliness towards mixed families and mixed children is very different from what was happening in the eighties and nineties.
EC: How many siblings did you have?
AP: I have two younger siblings, two brothers. I have two older half-siblings in Vietnam.
AJ: Growing up were you at all involved in the Vietnamese community in Portland?
AP: You know I was a little bit embarrassed about being different in Portland. It is very homogenous and White and I look very Asian. I went to what felt like an all-White school for elementary. I remember being asked every day what I was and where I was from. My mother being a liberal feminist tried to give me the right words to be able to respond to these questions and be proud of my heritage. But, I think for my generation, we wanted to be Americanized. It was not until I got to high school and had a large group of Vietnamese friends that I really felt associated with Vietnamese culture. At that time, I wanted to be around more people of color. I did not want to be White.
EC: Did your father do anything to integrate himself into the Vietnamese community?
AP: My father has always had Vietnamese friends. That was how I was familiar with Vietnamese culture before high school. I would go to his friends’ houses with him. We would eat and hang out. But as I got older, I wanted to do that less and less, so it was really him bringing my brothers to his friend's house, to get haircuts, to hang out, to eat. That is something I started distancing myself from when I got to middle school. Then in high school, is when I developed relationships with other Vietnamese American kids.
AJ: Which high school did you attend?
AP: Benson, I went to Benson.
EC: You were still living in the Northeast? Was that your neighborhood school?
AP: Yes, I grew up in the Kerns neighborhood my whole childhood in Portland. Benson is a magnet school, but it is fairly close to where I grew up.
EC: Before that, you had gone to MLC [Metropolitan Learning Center] you had said?
AP: I had gone to the Metropolitan Learning Center. I started out at Laurelhurst Elementary School, in the Laurelhurst neighborhood. So, my mom, I believe, lied slightly about our address so I could go to a more affluent school. Because she thought it was better. But I found it isolating and she picked up on that. So I ended up going to the Metropolitan Learning Center for middle school. Which is very much a hippie school if you are familiar with it -- well, at the time. It is definitely more straight than it was then.
EC: So do you think you fit in better there than you would have at other schools?
AP: Yes, I think I definitely fit in better there. Even though, you know, race was just always an issue throughout my childhood because Portland is so homogenous.
AJ: How did it come up as an issue when you were a child?
AP: Race came up for me really noticing how people regarded my family. You can sense these things growing up. One of my earliest memories is being verbally attacked by a White woman that had an issue with my mother for some reason, and herself had a mixed Black child. She approached me and my father, saying that my skin and hair was dirty. [I] very much felt targeted a few times growing up. This was also the era of neo-Nazis in Portland, so there was fear-mongering from my mother about really being hyper-aware of who I was around and who was watching me. I know my father was also hyper-aware of that because -- from asking him later on in life -- he used to work the swing shift and he would get home at four or five in the morning, and he would sit in his truck for five or ten minutes before exiting because he would want to make sure that nobody was around to attack him. So there was always a sense that people knew who we were and that we were different from other people.
EC: You were conscious of the presence of neo-Nazis? Could you recognize them?
AP: I was definitely conscious of the presence of neo-Nazis because they had a shady little house they were rooming in on the corner, kind of catty-corner from our block. It really freaked my mother out. She thought they were going to abduct me or something. They were just all rocking out together in this dilapidated house owned by one of their grandfathers or uncles. Kind of doing whatever the hell they wanted. I am sure they harassed my father at some point that I do not know about, and that was why there was such a hyper-awareness of who they were and how close they were to where we were. Because I would have to pass their house all the time to go to the store. What is now the Whole Foods used to be a smaller supermarket and pharmacy. All the kids -- we used to go buy candy there, take cans back there to get money. So there was just always a sense of passing the neo-Nazi house, we called it the skinhead house. When -- maybe the old man died -- when the house was sold, I remember my parents being very relieved that it was gone.
EC: But they never said anything to you when you walked by?
AP: You know I do not really remember that. So I do not think so. My mother was very paranoid, so I really tried to avoid walking on that side of the street. I remember seeing them. I am trying to remember if I ever saw any swastikas, it was so long ago. But it is just a memory that has always stayed with me.
EC: You said your father had Vietnamese friends who he hung around with. Where did he know them from?
AP: You know I don't really know. The earliest Vietnamese friends -- I mean maybe these people just are connected through families and connections in Vietnam. But really they still have military parties. These are events that I have gone to with my father. They fly the South Vietnamese flag and they do all of their military routines and then they eat food and drink Heineken. I believe some of his friends -- he had some connections to them from Vietnam. Then other ones he just met later on. So Portland is small enough and the Vietnamese population is small enough, you know, you can meet people quickly.
EC: These would be April 30th-type commemorations?
AP: Yeah pretty much, but sometimes it will be on Father’s Day. They have these parties all the time. They love it. They dress up in their uniforms and there is usually an AK-47 or swords. I have footage of it. It is kind of entertaining. Then they karaoke [laughs] and get drunk. I mean this is the last generation of Vietnamese people that will be Việt kiều -- overseas Viet -- and remember the war in this way, and be so virulently anti-Communist. It is all about anti-Communism and when they are going to get their country back. Which, everybody knows, will never happen.
EC: Do they think it would though? Do they ever talk about going back and...
AP: You know Vietnamese people are kind of split that way. My father has said he probably would never have gone back unless I had bought his ticket because I wanted to have this finding my roots moment in Vietnam with my father. There are other Vietnamese people who, even though they survived the end of the war, are more open to going back and visiting family. Then others will just never go back no matter what. They lost their country, that is it.
EC: But in the eighties weren't there people who thought that conceivably a new army could be organized? It would invade from Thailand or something like that?
AP: I mean that was the eighties. I think maybe this is why Vietnamese people are Republican as well. They like their military. This is not something that I think that my father ever believed. Because I don't remember him ever talking about it.
EC: Those parties, those commemorations, those would just be at somebody's house? They would not be through a kind of...
AP: No, it would be at a restaurant. There’s always been a strong Vietnamese community. The Vietnamese restaurants on Sandy Boulevard have always been there and now all the Vietnamese people are around 82nd Avenue. So the restaurants that these parties were always at are in Southeast off of Sandy Boulevard and off of Halsey. I cannot remember the name of the restaurant, but it is a little, you know, strip mall almost. With a Vietnamese restaurant and a bakery and a convenient store I believe. But, you know, they move around to different venues. It was always a restaurant because they have to eat and they have to drink. [Laughs] The parties were never really at somebody's house. There are also New Year celebrations at the convention center and other venues. That is another for people to dress up in their military regalia and wave the flag and celebrate New Year.
AJ: So you said it was not until around high school that you started to embrace your mixed identity and your Vietnamese heritage. Is that right? What sparked that sort of shift?
AP: Well, when people asked me what I am, I just always knew it was because I did not look White. So I always embraced being Vietnamese. When I tell people what I am I always lead with being Vietnamese. So it is mixed, it is not like one way or another. It was feelings of embarrassment and also not understanding why I was so different in this community at the same time. But in high school, I wanted to go to Benson, because, at the time, it was the most diverse school in the city of Portland. That was something that I was yearning for without even being able to articulate it.
EC: There were a lot of Vietnamese students there in particular? Was it just a handful or was it a decent number?
AP: No, there was a large Vietnamese population at Benson at that time. But they were cool! This is the era of Vietnamese gangs [laughs] and I do not know everybody wants to be bad in high school. I was very curious about pool-hall culture and hanging out with real Vietnamese people, I found that all very curious. So although I was not very bad myself it was very interesting to me to hang out with Vietnamese people that were kind of bad [Laughs].
EC: What did the gangs do?
AP: It really ended, the gang activity ended, when I was a sophomore because one Vietnamese kid beat another Vietnamese kid in the head with a metal bat, and he was seriously brain damaged. So it kind of speaks to the power of the community. The parent's generation was able to get together, and that kind of broke the spell of the Vietnamese gang. You know I would not say I wanted to be riding along for that, but there was something enticing about just the bad-assery of it, you know? The cars that they were driving, and the clothes that were wearing, just acting like total badasses. That is not the image you usually have of Asian men. My dad is a badass too. That seemed to break in the nineties. You really do not see many Vietnamese gangs anymore, as you did then. It was more of culture too. I would not say all of these guys were involved in shootings, robberies, drugs, and all of that. But you know it was in the way of wearing your hair, driving an Acura, baggy pants, the whole thing.
EC: Was there a divide at that time between sort of the ‘’75 generation’ and the so-called ‘boat people?’ Like were people conscious of...
AP: And their children?
EC: And their children yeah.
AP: Yes, I mean I think there has always been a divide between the older generation and the younger generations that we were misfits, that did not fall in line and become straight-A students. You are supposed to listen to your parents no matter what in Vietnamese culture. I think American culture clashes with that a lot. You also may come to this country as a teenager or a child that is old enough to understand what it means not to be able to speak English. You would be teased for that. So that generation of kids really went through a lot trying to assimilate or not assimilate. That is something that I did not really experience, because my mom is White and I grew up speaking English. Not all kids are going to be able to be the model student and the model child, and they basically are going through a lot of turmoil that their parents do not understand. There are no expectations for Vietnamese parents to be understanding. You listen to what your parents tell you, what your elders tell you. So there is just a clash, a cultural clash, between Vietnamese culture and American culture in that way. That sense of not belonging is probably what helped foster gangs. Because I mean that is the story of gangs. People create them to have a sense of identity and family. They are not entirely different from the ‘Lost Boy’ generation that my father came up in as well. Those gangs formed because these were young Vietnamese men that had no families to anchor them.
EC: Did your siblings have similar experiences in the school system and with the community?
AP: My siblings grew up more Vietnamese than I did, perhaps, because they spent more time with my father. They also went to Benson, and went through the health occupations program. There are a ton of Vietnamese people in that program. So they always had Vietnamese friends, but I know that there have been many times where they felt like they did not fit in with Vietnamese people, or they experienced racism because they were not full Vietnamese. There are also those experiences that we have all had where we do not really belong in one world or the other.
EC: Why did they spend more time with your father?
AP: Because they are boys. They are two years apart. My father is very into kung fu and he made them do kung fu. Like I said, they would go hang out with my dad and his friends on the weekends to get their haircuts in the garage. I think it is a gender thing. I kind of hung out with my mom a lot more and then hung out with my dad. He also made them go to Vietnamese school. Although none of us speak Vietnamese, that was another social interaction where they were surrounded by Vietnamese kids.
AJ: But you did not go to Vietnamese school?
AP: I did not go to Vietnamese school.
EC: That was just because you were a girl?
AP: I just did not want to, I was stubborn.
EC: Oh, I see.
AP: There were a lot of things that my father wanted me to do that I did not want to do. Nails was one of them too. So I guess I come back to these scenarios in roundabout ways and end up making films about them, I do not know.
AJ: Were you interested in filmmaking while you were in high school?
AP: I was always interested in film making, because after I passed the neo-Nazi house, on the corner, was Laurelhurst Theater. I really grew up going to the movies and this was before it was a theater pub. You know you can just stay and watch double features all day long. So I always had a fascination with movies. I saw my first real documentary there, not a big documentary, a documentary about Robert Crumb. I always had it in my head that making documentaries would be a cool thing to do.
EC: Did you make any documentaries in high school? Did you experiment with even home videos or anything like that?
AP: I am probably older than you guys. We did not have [unclear] cameras and my parents are real working class. We did not have any kind of high-def camera or a Super 8 camera. So I really did not start making films until college. I made some classroom documentaries and then I decided to go to graduate school for documentary filmmaking. That is where my career began.
AJ: Where did you go to college?
AP: I went to Mills College in Oakland first. That is where I really got a taste of living in a diverse city. [Laughs] I did not want to go back to Portland. Then I moved to New York and eventually went to The New School.
AJ: Okay, what brought you to Oakland?
AP: I actually started out at Willamette University, and I really kind of hated it. I wanted to get out of Oregon and Mills was an all women's college. I wanted to try that. They also had a creative writing program. So at that time, I wanted to be a writer.
EC: You wanted to be a novelist or did you want to write fiction or nonfiction?
AP: I wanted to write creative nonfiction. So I think there has always been an interest in that non-fiction narrative and non-fiction storytelling.
EC: You went to film school at The New School as well or was that somewhere else?
AP: Yeah I went to film school at The New School.
EC: Who were some of your influences there?
AP: Lewis Erskine was my editing professor. He is still an influence of mine. You know [laughs] I always have an issue because all of the filmmakers that they taught in their syllabus were White! I have always been kind of outspoken about these things. But Ross McElwee I like, and Alan Berliner, Aaron Wolf [?], and Eric Wiseman. What is his first name? Maybe you guys would not know.
AJ: I do not know.
EC: When did you get the idea to make your documentary about nail salons?
AP: It came up in this progressive gathering of Vietnamese young people I went to. It first started out as an idea for an investigation about the health hazards inside the nail salons. But as soon as I started to investigate the Vietnamese nail salon is when I really started getting interested in the culture. I have to say, what kept drawing me to it, drawing me back to it was this sense that I was getting more involved in my culture and learning more about my people through this nail salon.
AJ: What would you say are some of your artistic inspirations?
AP: Oh, I do not know… I mean that is kind of a hard question! I am definitely inspired by documentary films. I watch a lot of them.
AJ: Can you speak a bit about the film you are working on now?
AP: Yeah, I am inspired by different narrative voices. So whenever I hear somebody telling a story in a different kind of way and in a different kind of voice, I am inspired by that. I think that documentary has really kind of changed from a fly on the wall to people telling their personal stories. Something I have noticed about my generation is that more and more people who are second generation are wanting to tell their family’s history. How they got here, how they survived, what was life like? What kind of food would you eat? Why would you do nails? Just really trying to understand what it means to be American and not. So, what has inspired me to make the hate crime film in Oregon was my experiences growing up as an outsider in Portland. I dug a little bit and found out about the exclusion laws that the state was based on. That was really insane to me, that I grew up in Portland, went to public school, was a bright student, and nobody ever told me about these exclusion laws that were in our state's constitution. That the entire Pacific Northwest was designed to be a White homeland territory. So this is information that I am inspired to make a different compelling narrative that people will appreciate and be entertained by and share with other people. We will not have another generation of young people wondering why they feel isolated in a place like Oregon.
EC: How do you do research for a project like this?
AP: Well you know the internet is great [laughs.] That is how I found out about the exclusion laws. So I would say I am inspired by technology in that way because it is so democratizing. I mean, anybody can start to research anything they want to on their phone. I was able to hire a researcher for a little bit, for more of the specific details about European exchange routes, specifically in Oregon. I read a lot of articles and I got in contact with journalists. All of this information is really out there to find, though. You just have to know to look for it
AJ: Do you work with any other Vietnamese Americans in the film industry?
AP: I know a lot of Vietnamese Americans in the film industry. I have not worked with many. My documentaries tend to be a kind of solitary assignments. No, I can't say that I have a partner. There is an activist named Cindy Trinh. She is a photographer in New York who I like and I think our ideas are aligned, but we have not worked on a project together. It is more about being in a community of Vietnamese filmmakers and knowing who they all are, I guess, than actually working specifically with them on a project so far.
AJ: But there is a community there of filmmakers even if you are not working with them directly?
AP: Oh yeah. I mean there are a lot of them -- in Vietnam and in California.
AJ: So, in Parallel Adele and also in this interview you mentioned that you traveled to Vietnam in 2006. Was that the only time you went there?
AP: Oh yeah that was in Parallel Adele. Maybe I have clips from Vietnam in there. I have visited Vietnam two other times in more recent history. Maybe in 2014 and 2015. I had a situation where I had a travel pass so I was able to go more frequently. But I have not been back to Vietnam since 2015.
AJ: You took your father as well?
AP: Yeah, I took my father in 2006.
AJ: Can you talk a bit more about those trips? You said you really got to know some of your family there.
AP: I mean that first trip was really hard because I found out a lot of stuff that I did not really want to know. The narrative of my family had changed abruptly. Because the history that I thought was my fathers was significantly skewed from reality. I mean I met my sisters. I got to know my older sister who speaks more English, more in my subsequent trips to Vietnam. We are all friends on Facebook. But this altered the course of my family, so there is definitely trauma involved. I have also been able to experience Vietnam without family. There will always be a separation because I do not speak the language, but what has really gotten to me is that so many people were going to Vietnam as a travel destination. Here I am, I have Vietnamese DNA, and I have not gone back and I have not had that experience connecting with my fatherland. So, I will go back again, I just do not know exactly when.
EC: So it was traumatic because you did not know about your father's other children?
AP: Yes, it was definitely traumatic because I did not know about my father's other children. Most definitely, I think that kept me from going back sooner. It took ten years to go back after that.
EC: And you did develop a good relationship with them?
AP: I mean… yeah. My oldest sister, I feel like we connected more than my middle sister. Who really does not speak any English and I do not speak Vietnamese. So you know there is still sadness around that, but, you know, there is a lot of sadness in life too. My brother also developed a mental illness after that trip to Vietnam. A lot has really happened in my family that had more to do with just living life, than necessarily being Vietnamese. I cannot really separate the two.
AJ: Do you think there is anything else you would like to talk about with us?
AP: Oh [laughs] I do not know! I cannot really think of anything other than that this is perhaps the last generation of Vietnamese American people as we know it. I do not know how many people are really coming from Vietnam anymore. I do not know if this generation is going to stay together or not, or will continue to keep mixing. My daughter is mixed. So I think about that -- if she will have any connection to Vietnam. Because she looks less Vietnamese than I do. That is so much life -- how you perceive. Of course, it is the culture, the people that you associate with. It is always on my mind, but it is just something that is a part of me. Like I used to tell the kids in elementary school when they asked what I am; I am half Vietnamese. And there is always a story to tell there. I told you guys the long story. You know I did not skip over any of the trauma. But in a way that kind of makes me really Vietnamese, because I have had that experience of loss.
AJ: Yes, thank you so much for sharing with us, by the way.
AP: Yes, I am interested in this archive and it is always best when people are honest, right?
AJ: Right. Well unless EJ has anything else to ask? No, I think that might be all our questions and we are reaching the time, so thank you so much again for speaking with us. It is July 2, 2019 and we are talking to Adele Pham.