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Ngoc-Tran Vu on Bringing Social Issues into the Open

Grace Ramsdell

| 6 min read

On September 24, Ngoc-Tran Vu will present a public interactive arts exhibition in collaboration with Sam Lê Shave, the Asian American Resource Workshop and others at Town Field in Dorchester to amplify Southeast Asian stories of home, deportation and displacement. Olmsted Now talked more with Ngoc-Tran Vu about the event, which is supported by the Olmsted Now Parks Equity & Spatial Justice Grant. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.    

“Who Belongs Here? Who Doesn’t?” September 24 event information. Flyer by Sam Lê Shave, art by Anny Thach. 

Could you introduce yourself? How would you describe your program? 

I’m Ngoc-Tran Vu—I go by Tran. I’m a visual artist and a cultural organizer based in Dorchester. My project is a multimedia arts exhibition outdoors in Town Field Park in Dorchester—specifically, in Fields Corner on September 24th between one and 5pm—to really showcase works that amplify the issue of Southeast Asian deportation that’s been happening for the past 20 years. The working title is: Who Belongs Here, Who Doesn’t? We’re featuring different artists’ work that’s aimed towards the Southeast Asian community that talks around the narrative and the impact of deportation and the history behind that and its impact on families and communities, especially those who are immigrants, refugees, working class. We wanted to put this out in the public sphere to raise awareness and to really provide ongoing support for families that are undergoing these deportations. 

My community partner is AARW—Asian American Resource Workshop. They’re also based in Dorchester, a very progressive community-organizing organization that’s supported Asian American communities for, like, the past 30 years. They’ve been working really closely on deportation issues, especially in recent years. We want to create a timeline to talk about the history that’s been taking place in the past 20 years—it’s tied, really, to U.S. policy—around why these deportations are happening and who is it affecting, and the reasons behind that. I’m both curating artists whose work really highlights deportation issues, ideas of home and displacement, and then we’re also creating a piece ourselves to talk about the history of it and to engage with the issues. 

How did you choose the location of your program? 

Town Field Park, I would say, is pretty much an open park that’s at the center of the Fields Corner community. We really wanted to bring a lot of these issues out in the open and to really engage the public, especially the local communities, with it, so it was just really the ideal location in the Fields Corner, Dorchester area.  

Why do parks need more equity and spatial justice programming? How does your program speak to that need in Boston parks?  

The deportation issue that’s been happening has been happening for the past 20 years, and so much of it is behind closed doors and very insular. To be able to create a program like this out in the public and the open, especially engaging with the park, is so critical and powerful. I know that as an artist and as an organizer, to be honest, I’ve really shied away from creating open events, especially out in parks and public spaces, because there’s so much bureaucracy involved, permitting… So, I’ve always kind of shied away from it. I’m like, is there a way that I can avoid this? Because there’s so much to do behind the scenes. That has, for me, been really preventative. I mean, I’ve collaborated with organizations and other people who have done stuff, but I think for me to take that on as a lead has always been really intimidating. I want my energy and focus to be on the work itself and the issues, but there’s so much logistics that can be really frustrating and also so many hoops that I have to jump through. To create more equitable ways and to really make the process a lot simpler I think is so important and it’s going to encourage a lot more participation from the community, from artists, from organizers, to really create a space for the public that’s for all of us—that’s really the heart of these public spaces and green spaces. 

“‘Viet Family Stories, Chuyện Gia Đình 2.0’ consisted of bilingual multimedia performances and community dialogue to unpack intergenerational narratives within the Vietnamese American household. To date, this work has been my most comprehensive undertaking in working directly with my local community intimately and to address familial and cultural ties that I relate to personally. Working with such close ties has taught me the importance of being vulnerable with my artistic projects to engage critically with residents within the Vietnamese community.”  – Ngoc-Tran Vu 

What about parks and public spaces makes you most grateful, or where do you see the most potential in these spaces?  

It’s so important for us to be in a relationship with our land, with nature, with space. Growing up in Dorchester, in a very working-class community, oftentimes there’s not enough green spaces. To be honest, I have felt very disconnected, and to be able to utilize green space and to create engaging activity that needs to be amplified is so critical. Deportation is an issue that our community is going through, and not too many people know about it. So, to put it in a public space that’s inviting with participatory activities is so important to creating a thriving community that’s informed by what’s happening on the ground. 

Is there any work you’re particularly excited to see presented in the outdoor space of this event? 

One of my team members who’s also helping support organizing this project is Sam Lê Shave, and we’re building essentially the Mekong River, which is the river that connects a lot of Southeast Asian countries together and where we get a lot of our resources. We’re thinking about the thread, the connection of that through the Southeast Asian community, and how deportation has really affected us—stemming from post-colonialism, from wars. Just as the river provides resources and nourishment for the local villages and communities, the impact of losing a family member who has to be deported overseas is the loss of resources and nourishment in the family and the community. We’re trying to really make a parallel—in an inviting, aesthetic way that can map out the timeline and also bring viewers in to see the impact of deportation on communities and the criminalization, too, embedded in it.  

What 3-5 words capture the essence of your program? 
Dynamic, engaging, critical, political, care. 

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