By Michael Chau
Saigon U.S.A is a documentary that focuses on the experiences, barriers, and hardships faced by Vietnamese immigrants and Vietnamese Americans, and in particular, showcases the lives of those in the Vietnamese community in California called Little Saigon. The film centers around a particular incident in Little Saigon, where a video store owner, Truong Van Tran, had hung up a poster of Ho Chi Minh, a communist leader of Vietnam. In doing so, he received major backlash from the Vietnamese community, which galvanized into a protest and marking the first time the Vietnamese community has come together under one cause, and the first time the media spotlight shined on the community.
This film portrays the divide between the old generation, who are mainly Vietnamese immigrants, and the young generation of Vietnamese Americans, not only concerning the topic of the aforementioned protest, but also. The young generation sees the protest as either purposeless and has characterized Vietnamese people in a negative way or unjust, that Truong Van Tran has the right to put up the poster. The older generation, however, believes there is too much freedom in America and that Trung has brought shame and suffering to their community. The values and beliefs between people of the same blood are so very different.
What I found most interesting and relevant about this documentary though, were common struggles facing many Vietnamese Americans or even Asian Americans in general. One of the issues was Asian American identity. One of the responses from a Vietnamese American opened my eyes to new perspectives. To Vi Ly, as a Chinese-descended Vietnamese, it doesn’t matter whether she calls herself Chinese, Vietnamese, or American. What matters is which ethnic self-identification would be more advantageous from situation to situation.
I particularly connected with Vuy Nguyen. I remember growing up not caring where I came from. My parents would always tell me stories about how they struggled in Vietnam, how much harder life was there, and how lucky I am to be here. Like Vuy, I only cared about life here in America. I was young, naïve, and too wrapped up in my “American” life to establish a connection with my roots. However, Vuy and I have both reconciled our origins with our current life, and see our heritage as something to be proud of.
I, myself, as an Asian American do relate to the struggles faced by those documented in this film. Like them, having grown up in America has resulted in a disconnect with my roots. To Vietnamese immigrants, I am Americanized, but to everyone else, I am Asian. As an Asian American, you are a foreigner to many. Not quite Asian but not quite American. This documentary provoked a lot of self-reflection on my part. Personally, I believe what matters most is what you think of yourself. Asian American self-identity as opposed to Asian American identity. How your ethnicity/culture interacts with your identity, I believe, varies for everyone. This is just my own belief, but this documentary shows that Asian American identity can be such a diverse and broad topic.
This documentary is very non-linear; it will jump around from one story to another or one topic to another. However, there is a lot packed into this documentary, and it only takes a little sifting to find something meaningful to take away.