Frogman Nationalism, 2018
Mixed media installation.
Untruthful True Stories:
1. “Do you know about the Vietnamese frogmen?” my dad asked me as we sat outside eating our ລາບ and ຕໍາສົ້ມ. It was the fourth of July.
“No, don’t tell him,” my mom barked quickly, responding first before I had the chance to, but not arguing as the conversation continued:
“What are Vietnamese frogmen?” I asked after a moment.
“We called them người nhái.”
My dad told me about how frogmen were the “underwater assassins” of Hải quân Việt Nam Cộng hòa, the South Vietnamese Navy. My family’s extensive military history in Vietnam/Laos and their journey to the United States involved violence, poverty, and tragedy. Any potential interactions with frogmen were likely no exception.
“Not only were they known for being deadly, but they also would never return from a mission alive,” he explained as the fireworks went off, and we all watched in silence.
2. My younger sister was coming to visit me in New York, and I had a simple but well rehearsed plan to come out to her! I could just see it in my mind: We’re at the pride parade, surrounded by the rainbow flags, the glitter, the smiling faces, and I just shout, “I’m bi! I’m dating a boy, and I want you to meet him!” I’m trying as hard as I can to be heard over the loud and colorful music, but I keep having to say it over and over again. Ugh, it’s just within my grasp!
In the excitement of my anticipation, I explained my plans to my family on our way to the nearby Cambodian Buddhist temple to visit my great grandmother’s urn.
“No, don’t do it. Do you even know what that would do to her? She’s studying for school and always talks about missing how things used to be. Don’t put that burden on her right now because she’s not ready, and she won’t be for a long time.”
“Ok. I won’t.”
3. A couple of years ago, I developed an interest in learning a new language, so I began taking Chinese lessons, and watching Chinese films and dramas. My aunt called as soon as she heard. “Why would you want to learn Chinese? Don’t you know what they’ve done to our country?” she asked me in Vietnamese. “No,” I said. She told me about China’s invasion of Vietnam during the late 70s when she was just a girl, and the violence they brought to Vietnam after the South had already tragically lost the war. She continued on, explaining that China had colonized Vietnam for 1000 years, and that they almost entirely changed Vietnam’s culture in the process. “What about Korean? Japanese?” I suggested as alternatives, thinking about other forms of media I could consume to help myself learn a new language. “No, no,” she said, “Don’t you know they’ve all done terrible things to us?” At this point, I was getting pretty frustrated. “I just want to learn another Asian language!” I muttered into the phone. “Well that’s not going to be easy,” she said, in English this time.