Dustin Kelley: Good afternoon. My name is Dustin Kelley, and I am one of the librarians here at Watzek Library at Lewis & Clark College. I am here chatting with Adele Pham. She has interviewed with us once previously, and we are just delighted to have her back. We are chatting today via Zoom. Adele, again, welcome! I was just wondering if you could start by giving us a brief overview of yourself and kind of remind us about your first interview.
Adele Pham: Right. I am a -- damn -- a second-generation Vietnamese American person that was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. So that is why this archive is so interesting and important to me -- because it helps me understand where my father came from as well. So I am really interested in listening to the other interviews in the archive and comparing and contrasting because there are so many connections… for why Vietnamese people ended up in the Pacific Northwest, you know? In Oregon specifically.
AP: I mean, I have questions for you since you have been getting the pulse on who is living in the so-called Jade District now. But I am interested in if Vietnamese people are holding on to that conclave? Because gentrification has reached out to the Gateway District so you know, it is interesting. I think that it will always be somewhat owned by Vietnamese homeowners and business owners, but we will see.
DK: Things in Portland definitely continue to change and evolve. So you are right. It will be interesting to see what continues to happen.
AP: Yes, so it is good to get the pulse right now in 2020 for sure -- Like look at everything that is going on right now.
DK: Definitely -- and speaking of 2020 this has been a pretty monumental year with a global pandemic, COVID-19, and also a lot of reckoning in our cities following the death of George Flyod.
AP: Yes, I call it the ‘George Fylod uprisings,’ you know? It is a national thing, but don't you think Portland is sort of the beacon of it -- good and bad? It is really fascinating. We can start with the good and we can get the other questions too, but...
AP: It is interesting being from there and working on this film, State of Oregon, and having this political uprising, [or] whatever you want to call it, happening right now.
DK: It is really fascinating, and you are right with Portland kind of being an epicenter point, we have certainly been one of the longest-running hotspots.
AP: It is about one hundred days?
AP: Hundred days! I think it is the longest in the country, continuous. Because I live in New York -- one of these questions is what has been like living in New York during the pandemic and BLM uprisings? Uneventful. I mean I know there are protests going on, and I sort of stumbled into one a did it for a minute, but I did not like being yelled at on the megaphone, so I am like “Fuck that, I am going home.” You know, it is a different vibe living through it vicariously through Portlanders who go every single night in Portland. I am actually meeting up with one of them, Demetria Hester who survived, fought off Jeremy Christian the night before he murdered two men on the light rail Max train.
AP: Yes, and the police let him go. She fought him off; she had mace on her -- because he was attacking her on the train. He was drunk. Anyways, she maced his ass. No one helped her -- like no one helped her! The conductor locked up the conductor booth, so she maced him and kicked him out of the train when it got to the Hollywood -- no, it was not the Hollywood stop but I think it was the same line! Because the Hollywood stop is where he did the murders. But anyways the police, they were called, and they let him go!
DK: That is a piece of the story that has not been reported here.
AP: It has [been reported] by OPB, but not widely enough. That is why I am bringing it up now in sort of headlining this second interview with that and what is going on and what that means.
DK: So you mentioned trying to keep in touch with friends and family in Portland. What are they experiencing in regards to the Black Lives Matter protest?
AP: They do not even know what is going on! That is what is hilarious [about it]. Like on Fox News like, “Portland is on fire!” Well, my parents do not participate in the protests. They would not even know what is going on, and they live fairly close to Laurelhurst Park, but far enough away -- like they would not even know. So they do not know. To be honest with you, not everything in Portland is on fire.
DK: No… no.
AP: Where do you live?
DK: I live in Vancouver actually. I have a little bit of a...
AP: Oh, that is a whole other conversation about White supremacy and these people coming down! Like they had six hundred cars involved in that caravan -- [laughing] caravan of Proud Boys.
DK: Yeah, I...
AP: A guy got murdered.
DK: I saw someone driving back, I think from that rally. It certainly was eye-opening especially when you hear the news later that night of some of the events that were happening.
AP: Well the guy getting murdered -- Jay whatever his name is.
DK: Heavy, heavy stuff.
AP: And then Ted Wheeler! You heard about the birthday celebration outside his building?
DK: Yes. Do you want to expand on that for any listeners who may not be familiar?
AP: Well Ted Wheeler lives in a nine hundred thousand dollar condo in the Pearl District. He said he had left, but he was still there and the protestors caught on to that. So they decided to have a very disruptive birthday celebration for him -- setting off those illegal fireworks from Vancouver, music blaring. I do not know. Go to my Instagram, go to @StateOfOregon -- I think it was my last post, my post about the birthday party that the rioters threw for Ted.
DK: I have seen that one.
AP: But he emailed all the neighborhood boards “I am leaving, I am sorry.” You know, I do not want anyone to get hurt.
DK: For listeners who may not be aware, State of Oregon is a project that Adele is working on and she has a great social media presence and if you want to check out some of her work feel free to follow her on Facebook or Instagram, @StateOfOregon.
AP: Instagram, really, yeah.
DK: So highly recommended. So Adele, you have talked a little bit about some of the things happening in Portland…
AP: Can I talk about my dad? So my dad still lives with my mom. They are like poor-people-divorced in the house with my crazy brother. You know, it is life. Anyways, I am all online observing what is going on in Portland and there is a White supremacist living in his truck right on 29th and Burnside, where I used to wait for the bus to go to school. Like he has the numbers nineteen and forty-four or whatever. Like weird White... and then I went on his Facebook and he is defiently a White supremacist. Anyways, just living in his truck a block away from my dad. It is really bringing me back to the nineties and 28th and Davis -- the Neo-Nazi house that I talked about in my last interview that was being normalized because it had to be? It just existed. So this house that this White supremacist drug addict is living outside of has always been shady to me. Like I remember my mom telling me to watch out for that pink stucco house. So I think there may be property owners -- just old school from that neighborhood -- they are just old school racist, you know? So they have this extended sort of... I do not know! I cannot tell you who owns the property, but it would be interesting to look at all the names of the people who own the property in the Kerns neighborhood because I remember there being a White supremacist presence that was stabilized by homeowners when I was growing up. Apparently that is still happening and Mulugeta Seraw was murdered in Southeast. The Kerns neighborhood is the border between Northeast and Southeast. Where Mulugeta Seraw was murdered was 31st and Pine. They renamed the street after him. But you know, they live next to each other! The White supremacists and the skinhead nazis, and the Ethiopians. Is it Somalian or Ethiopian? I should know that. But they live right next to each other in that neighborhood. So it has always had a very violent, White supremacist presence since the eighties when that vibe, that gang influence, came up from California. FYI, guys.
DK: So you were talking about the protests following the death of George Floyd. Since you grew up here in Portland, do you remember any other protest that even had a smaller footprint than this?
AP: No! No, I do not. I mean maybe because my parents were not involved in it, but I do not think they existed! Allegedly there were protests when Mulugeta Seraw happened, but I never saw it. I have seen archival footage of it. It seemed pretty small. So I think Portland just has a culture of forgetfulness. Casual, privileged forgetfulness. So it is nice that the street is named after Mulugeta Seraw -- thirty-first and Pine? They renamed that street. -- But have they taken care of the social problems like the White supremacy that is just inherent here that causes this kind of violent homicide, racial homicide? I would say no, and I think it is a part of why people are telling Ted Wheeler to resign. [Laughing] he was not equipped for the reckoning that has hit this city. I think that all these people may not even know how deep the thing is that they are participating in. Is how I feel sometimes.
DK: He certainly is deep into controversy.
AP: They have to sit with their White guilt for that whole pandemic. You know, and they got to ‘Portland out’ about it. I am sorry, they are being creative, that shit is entertaining. Like that birthday party they threw for his ass was entertaining to look at. At the same time, I mean I went to elementary school with someone who owns an apartment around there? Life is miserable downtown, but I have to laugh [laughs]. They really fucked with him, like he is leaving. But he got fifty percent of the vote, so who voted for him? Who did you vote for, bro? Were you here yet?
DK: Well I was in Vancouver so I do not get to vote in Portland city elections.
AP: I mean Vancouver is fucked up too.
DK: You know every community has their pros and cons and things to fight for and advocate for. I got plenty in my community as well.
AP: Oh, yeah.
DK: So [you are a] documentary filmmaker, you have been working in New York City, but I am sure your work has taken you quite a few places either in person or remotely during a pandemic. Can you talk a little about your project and what it has been like to work on a documentary during a pandemic?
AP: Right, well the State of Oregon really started for me over ten years ago living in New York and researching the history of Portland, which I was never taught growing up there. So you know, I am an archivist and a filmmaker and these films take time. This is a film I have been wanting to make for a long time, but it centers around and starts with the racial murder of Larnell Bruce Jr. in 2016, in the lead up to the presidential election that delivered us Trump. Where we really saw this amping up this Neo-fascist, White supremacist movement of so-called Proud Boys and also old school White supremacist gangs that already existed. So that struck me. It struck me that no one was really paying attention to this murder. I pitched an idea for a film to fill the vision and that is how the short got made. So since the short got made, I [have] followed basically what the short ends with which is: Jeremy Christian, that trial and verdict, and Demetria Hester, the Black woman he assaulted the night before and the police just let him leave the scene. So it really has lead to [laughs] just sort of ongoing trauma -- like violent White supremacist trauma that it is to be living in Oregon all these years -- but it is quiet and it is suppressed because it is so homogenous by design. So that is the first thing the film does: it just opens up that conversation about why it is known as a White homeland state. Like why all these neo-Nazi Proud Boys galvanized the trek up there and [in] Idaho as well… these proud White homeland territories historically that have subsequently influenced the present.
DK: Well there centrally is a history of exclusion here in the greater Pacific Northwest, not just Oregon.
AP: The whole country! I should really hold up this book about sundown towns that is pretty amazing. But google Sundown Towns. They are all over. They are in every state, so it is not unique. But it has its own flavor of it [racism] because the west opened up later with the Oregon Trail.
DK: When did you first start hearing about exclusion laws and sundown towns? Was that discussed in the classroom?
AP: Not until I was an adult, a full adult in New York -- like not even living in Portland for a long time. Because I started having this idea -- it was before Portlandia -- about people of color's impression of growing up or living in this all-White, kind of ridiculous, clownish space, you know? So I know it must have been 2010 that I found out about the exclusion laws just researching online. I was like “Oh isn’t this some fucked up shit?” Like I went to public school… surprise, surprise. All eighteen years of it, twelve, or fourteen whatever it is, but I graduated -- and where I graduated from high school, the expo center, is where they interned Japanese during World War II. How am I supposed to feel about that as an Asian American person? Knowing that my dad got shot there. That is pretty insidious! So the fact that we are not making these connections and it is not a discourse. That is why you are feeling the reverberations of this injustice now in 2020 in the fallout of George Floyd, who was like a Christ-like figure in the global reckoning that is happening right now. I do not know what is going to happen, but that happened.
DK: This centrally feeds your artistic work.
AP: Sure! It is unexpected just like the pandemic was unexpected. I kind of got caught up in activism during the Occupy Wall Street time so, like 2011, so I guess my eyes were open to certain elements in our capitalist system that have been fucking shit up for long.
DK: Are there any comparisons you can make between the Occupy Wall Street protests, and the current Black Lives Matter protests.
AP: All day long. I like how this current protest says that it is focused on Black Lives. I like that aspect of it. Because that is what we were fighting for during the Occupy times. That this thing needs to be led by Black women, women of color. That is actually who I want to listen to when I come down here. I am trying to figure out the problems that my community is having because that is really what I saw. You know, people coming together. Like, “Hey we got to do better for our people, point blank period.” So I hope that energy is sustained from everything that has happened in Portland, and then having the spotlight that it has. Because of what is happening with the federal troops that came in and the state troops that came in, and all the lawsuits that are happening now too, so it is going to be on the record. We are going to be able to [makes zzzz sound] digital microfiche and see exactly how that shit went down -- how Ted Wheeler the police commissioner and has no control over what just happened.
DK: Have you encountered other Vietnamese artists working in Black Lives Matter advocacy like yourself?
AP: Yes, for sure. I mean all the Vietnamese artists I know are not right-winged Republicans so we are kind of tapped into the more liberal content of Asian America and Vietnamese Asian American whatever duh duh duh South East Asian duh duh duh. I would say there is like a generational divide. I do not know if it has come up in your interviews where some of our parents’ generations are Republican for various reasons. I do not know what that is like but it ties into how some of them are racist etcetera, and also just how they look at Democrats coming from Vietnam and think that Democrats let that whole war go to naught, perhaps and attributing their easy immigration to Reagan when it was really Carter that put that shit in motion -- and just liking to be like that, you know? Just militarily hawkish and just kind of an asshole -- kind of Libertarianish? I feel like they are Libertarianish. You know, whatever. I involve myself as much as I can, but Oregon not even a swing state, so…
DK: Have you been able to collaborate with any of these other Vietnamese artists?
AP: Well not yet, you know. We need to fund our shit we all have tons of ideas so I mean I hope that is something that cracks loose.
DK: Are there any projects in particular that are exciting coming down the pipeline? Either that you are excited about or that your friends are really passionate about?
AP: Well for me, it is the State of Oregon film and wrapping up filming with the upcoming election in November and I think everybody is kind of obsessed with what is going to happen with this national election, but also whether or not we keep the house and flip the Senate, duh duh duh. I am working on a virtual reality project that is Nailed It based that I am excited about. I would like to work on a narrative project that is Nailed It based. It just got rejected for Sundance. I mean there just needs to be more money. So there are a lot of things I would like to be even more excited about right now. Because I cannot self-fund everything. Now there is a pandemic, so… It is like people have an excuse to be even stingier [laughs]. And they get right to using that excuse too, “Oh, the pandemic.” Yes, the pandemic is serious.
DK: So what has your day-to-day been like as far as overseeing a project like this? How has the pandemic really played into your day-to-day?
AP: Well everything is online, so that is a blessing for me and connections that I have been able to make, you know? And just that I have been working on this project for so long -- I think like if you look at my digital catalog you would see “Okay, she is serious about this subject matter.” I have also encountered people thinking that you just make money because you are working on a documentary about something, which I feel like is the opposite. I feel like I put my money into these things. So I am a working-class person. My day-to-day is worrying about all the regular shit that everyone else worries about, as well, you know? In terms of the nail salon, it has not been easy for them with the pandemic though.
DK: For our listeners Adele was just referring to...
AP: COVID-19! Oh sorry, go ahead.
DK: She was just referring to her first documentary. Was it your first full-length documentary feature film?
AP: Nailed It?
AP: Where I was director-producer, yes.
DK: She talked a little bit about that in first interview. So if you are just tuning into the second interview, make sure to listen to her first as well.
AP: Oh yeah! You have to -- please watch Nailed It! Right now you have to pay to watch it on Vimeo. I would like to have it on Netflix. I would like to have it just accessible to everyone. You know, man. What can I say? There was the Me Too movement and now there is the BLM movement. There is a reckoning for a lot of shit in this world. I do what I do. I am blessed to be kind of a hustler in my own right to be able to keep doing what I want to do. But it is not easy and it is definitely getting more difficult. I have a kid and with this pandemic… So her daycare just got pushed back to September twenty-first. I just have to absorb that and nobody cares about moms to begin with, so it is just more stress. I only have one kid. I can really imagine kids being abused right now because their parents are maxed out. So that really makes me sad.
DK: Definitely. How else has your day-to-day, just in general living in New York City, been affected by the pandemic besides...
AP: I mean everyone just wears a mask that is just what we do, you know? I guess museums just opened, but that was literally just a few days ago. So it has been adjusting to what you can actually do. I have not taken the subway since before the pandemic, which is kind of crazy if you live here.
DK: Are you primarily staying at home, or are you able to get out and about?
AP: I mean, I get out and about every day, but you know, stuff is open right now. We do what we do. It is not dead, for sure -- like the nightlife around here that the lower east side is known for that. Well you know people are still partying because it is warm outside, so they built these patios outside the bars. But yeah a lot of stuff is going to close. I have noticed a lot of the nail salons have opened back up, but some of them are looking like -- that did not have great reviews -- they are not having easy time keeping customers. I think it is just the people that were going to the neighborhood nail salon and they already had that relationship going? Those salons look busy. So it is interesting like you know the things that people want during pandemic times.
DK: Early in the pandemic New York city was one of the world's hardest-hit areas. Can you talk about what it was like to live there and experience that?
AP: Yes, it was scary and it happened really fast. They think that our strain came from Europe. I am wondering where the West Coast strain came from. I am wondering if that changes anything. But New Yorkers got with the mask program even the people that are patio rats out here in New York -- well, they are not wearing masks, but I do not know. People know how to keep their distance here. I have not witnessed anyone freaking out refusing to wear a mask. But I do live around a lot of old people, so they are not trying to get sick and die.
DK: [...] You mentioned your documentary Nailed It and definitely want to encourage people to watch it. I am curious if you have been able to keep in contact with any of the people you interviewed for the documentary? If so, can you talk a little bit more about how COVID-19 has affected their industry or any stories you have been told?
AP: Oh, right. Okay, the main story from the pandemic is that it really affected California nail salons and Kelvin has done a lot of podcasts, roundtables, and interviews about this. It has also been in the media quite a bit. I just posted something today. I have two Instagram accounts. On my Instagram for Nailed it is @NailedItDoc, and my last post is just about this because the reopening laws have been so stringent with the nail salons in California. In fact Gavin Newsome, the governor, blamed the outbreak of the initial infection on a nail salon without any kind of proof, in California. So that just really hurt. In San Francisco, they never even reopened. But in the rest of California, they reopened, and then they kind of closed down again then they had to move all the tables outside. So it has just been a nightmare and a lot of businesses have gone out of business. Most of the people do not own the real estate that they are renting in the strip mall [or] wherever they are. So you know that is to be determined… how that one is going to end up. Hopefully, you know if you do not have an English language interpreter to really help you get the PPP loan -- or even the employees -- to get pandemic unemployment when we had it. It is just a real shame. Everything about this presidency is a shame. It is really a shame.
DK: Vietnam apparently is one of the countries that has handled the Coronavirus...
AP: Yeah, but they are having a second wave. I heard from relatives. So it is a weird virus, is what I have to say.
DK: Certainly capable...
AP: They feel like wearing masks because of the scooter thing you know. Also, people in Vietnam have a healthier diet. We have seen here in the States the people that die of Corona at a disproportionately faster rate are the elderly and with pre-existing health conditions and being overweight. You know like in Vietnam you do not really see that many overweight people… And they shut down that border with China really quickly.
DK: Do you think that Vietnam also has different approaches to public health and contagious diseases in addition to just diet?
AP: Perhaps. I mean, they were just early to shut everything down! And nobody fucked around with the mask policy. They all kept to that and like I just said, [they are] more physically healthy. Intergenerationally, the older people, everybody -- the diet is better, so… And I do not want to be like a Trumper here with heat comments, but maybe there is something to do with the heat and COVID that makes it less virulent, I do not know. Because Africa is not having… even though Bill Gates wants to test the vaccine in Africa, Africa is not having this outbreak of COVID that Brazil is having, that we are having, that Europe has had, that China has had. So when you look at the climate where there is a second sort of outbreak in Vietnam, it is not the warmest climate. Well, it is pretty hot in Vietnam. I do not know, it is a weird virus I do not know I cannot tell you. I wear a mask. I do what I can, but I have to carry on with my life.
DK: I think that is a great way to potentially end our conversation. But stay safe everybody and do our part and wear a mask.
AP: Wear a mask! Come on, man! I live around a lot of old people. I would not want to get any old people sick. So it is just like -- think about your grandma! Like would you want her ass to get sick? No, wear a mask. I understand why the protests are popping off because it is like you can wear a mask and still be cool.
DK: That is something that I think about too. My partner has a grandmother in her nineties and in a care facility. That is centrally a sobering reality.
AP: That is the hardest part. Yo, a whole care facility? That shit has happened and that is why I can not forgive this president, so we shall see what happens with this election. That is really the climax to the State of Oregon film that I am making right now. Because it has national and local significance. I just want to shout out the write-in campaign for Teressa Raiford right now. She was running in the Primaries you probably remember her but there is a write-in the campaign right now so when you vote by mail -- which Oregon does, which is great -- write in Teressa Raiford for mayor. Of course, write in, and send that shit in. Early. Tomorrow. Look up the Teressa Raiford campaign, write in Teressa Radford for mayor. PDX. Yes, we can end it here. This has been a good conversation, bro.
DK: Well you have given our listeners a lot to think about. Listeners regardless of wherever you might be on the political scale, we just ask that you think big and check out some of the things that Adele mentioned.
AP: Vote! Whatever, just go fucking vote. Not that Oregon even matters, but it does locally. Vote for Teressa Raiford. But please vote. What is wrong with these people anyway?
DK: Do you have any closing remarks, Adele?
AP: That’s it, vote!
DK: Alright thank you so much listeners for spending some time with us today. Again my name is Dustin Kelley and I have been spending time with Adele Pham today, and it is September 2, 2020. Wishing you all a great day wherever you may be.
AP: Right, cheers… Alright, thank you, man.