Telling the Story of the Vietnamese Diaspora through Music

3 min read

On October 21 and 22, The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music will host a symposium about music in trans-Vietnamese film. Hear + Việt + Film will bring a multiplicity of perspectives to bridge transnational as well as transdisciplinary perspectives on this global medium. The event is free and open to the public.

“We are excited to be bringing together filmmakers, scholars, and musicians to explore Vietnamese film,” said Ray Knapp, director of the Center for Musical Humanities. “It’s a rich filmography and deserving of both artistic and scholarly attention.”

The symposium kicks off Friday night with a zoom panel on “Social Media in a Trans-Vietnamese Context,” which features popular YouTubers What the Pho, Phúc Mập, AfroViet TV, and Thanh & Etienne. The panel promises a wide range of perspectives, from native Vietnamese to transplants, all in an international context.

YouTube blogger Afro Viet (profile photo on Twitter)

The symposium picks up Saturday with panels that look into the use of sound and music to texture Vietnamese film. Papers explore the use of atmospheric sounds in films that address the aerial warfare over Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s, and the use of song to further women’s storytelling, as well as ritual sounds and representation.

On Saturday evening, the symposium moves to the Billy Wilder Theater at the Hammer Museum, where there will be a screening of Journey from the Fall, followed by a Q&A with director Ham Tran and composer Christopher Wong.

“Journey from the Fall is a remarkable humanistic tale, giving voice to the uniquely personal and yet richly universal experience of displacement,” said May Hong HaDuong, director of the Archive, a division of UCLA Library. “With our incredible partners, the Archive is pleased to foreground the artistic collaboration between Bruin filmmaker Hàm Trần and composer Christopher Wong, deepening the conversation around this groundbreaking film and the craft of cinema.”

The resilience of the Vietnamese community has long been a subject for artists of every stripe.

The Vietnamese diaspora was one of the great migrations of the twentieth century. War raged in Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s, and the destructive conflict forced nearly 1.6 million people from their homes. As with all refugee crises, resettlement was traumatic. Most Vietnamese decamped for nearby countries, but some relocated across the globe.

The subject resonates at UCLA. Metro Los Angeles is home to the largest Vietnamese refugee community in the world. Approximately 189,000 refugees resettled in “Little Saigon” in Orange County between 1975 and 1997.

Their stories, and their music, were the subject of the documentary Songs of Little Saigon, which was screened at The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music earlier this year as a kick-off event for the upcoming symposium. Filmmaker Tina Huynh was on hand for a Q&A session.

Huynh, now a professor at the University of Puget Sound, grew up in Little Saigon, where she came to know her community through its deeply supportive network of musicians, music teachers, and members of the community who came to listen to her early piano recitals.

“I grew up in the community of Little Saigon in Westminster,” said Huynh. “I came to learn, bit by bit, the story of my mentors, and how each of them came to settle in Little Saigon after the war.”

The reverberations of the Vietnam War can still be felt throughout the Vietnamese world, whether in Vietnam or in diasporic context. But it is also a world that has birthed new generations and new voices in conversation with the old. Their stories, and their music, are well worth discovering and exploring.

Hear + Viet + Film will run October 21 & 22. Find the symposium schedule here, including paper abstracts and links to register for events.