“There was another life that I might have had, but I am having this one.” -Kazuo Ishiguro
One day when I was working on my still untitled book, this was the quote that greeted me when I logged into my Bloomberg terminal. It stopped me in my tracks. I am a big fan of Ishiguro and loved The Remains of the Day, When We Were Orphans, and Never Let Me Go. The quote is from an interview reprinted in the book Conversations with Kazuo Ishiguro. The context of the quote is about Ishiguro being born in Japan but growing up in the U.K. and becoming a celebrated English-language writer. While printed on the page as “another life”, my brain translated that to “an other life” and perfectly captured a feeling about my own life that I had never been able to articulate.
My daughter had read The Sympathizer and recommended it to me. I thoroughly enjoyed it and then wanted to see what else Viet Thanh Nguyen had written, which led me to Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War. I have read a lot of books about Vietnam, but this book was packed with so many paradigm-shifting ideas that upon finishing it, I immediately started reading it again. After a year of other books, I am back to re-reading Nothing Ever Dies for the third time. This book gives so much to ponder and illuminates so much of my personal experience and the meaning of Other Streets.
"The war has burned itself into many of us, including myself, seared at too young of an age to know exactly where the scar is. Those born too young to remember with clarity, or to remember anything at all, may still see the war's afterimages lingering on their retinas, a result of what W.G. Sebald so memorably calls 'secondhand memory.'"...At times, these memories are intimate legacies bequeathed to us by families and friends who saw the war firsthand; other times, these memories are Hollywood fantasies, the archetype being Apocalypse Now..." (Chapter 4, page 103)
So for most Vietnamese-Americans too young to remember the war like Viet Thanh Nguyen or Ocean Vuong, they do have the memories "bequeathed" by family and friends. But as a Vietnamese adoptee who grew up without a Vietnamese family or community, I only received the Hollywood ones: The Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, and all the lesser movies that I eagerly consumed. As an American consumer, I identified with the complicated American protagonists, not the Vietnamese characters, who were almost always one-dimensional, non-speaking roles: villains and victims.
Since releasing Other Streets into the world this summer, I have found msyelf fielding a lot of questions about myself and my work. On some topics, I have ready answers. On others, I need to do more processing. The purpose of this blog is to be a place where I can ask and answer these questions for myself so that I am better equipped to answer them for others. There are a lot of thoughts and feelings and topics to cover, including: the purpose and meaning of the book, my photographic training and inspiration, the process of making the book, my own personal story and identity as a Vietnamese adoptee growing up in America, and my dreams and aspirations for what happens next.
Mark F. Erickson aka Đỗ Văn Hùng is the author of the photobook Other Streets: Scenes from a Life in Vietnam not Lived.