When we first began researching about artwork related to the Boat People experience, we came across this website created by father and son duo, Nam and Ryan Nguyen. They created this website to showcase a short documentary film about Nam's journey across the South China Sea, as well as original artwork by both. We love that this project brought two generations together, and how the duo used different artistic mediums to share their story.
Description excerpted from their website:
"'Sea Of Memory-My Dad’s Boat Journey, 1979' is a story about my unforgettable boat journey for freedom in the South China Sea, taken place 32 years ago. I produced this movie with my 10-year-old son and completed it earlier this month. The 24-minute documentary contains a large collection of personal documents (immigration papers, letters, photographs, newspaper clips, my artwork and animations) that I have kept since the day I arrived in America at the San Francisco Airport on Thanksgiving of 1979.
My name is Nam Nguyen, a naturalized U.S. Citizen. I am a visual journalist with more than 20 years of experience working at three major U.S. newspapers. I came to this country in 1979 as a 12-year-old boat refugee from Vietnam.
Stories about Vietnamese boat people from three decades ago have lived in the hearts of many Vietnamese immigrants in the U.S. and overseas. Many of us fled our homeland on small boats, navigating the open ocean during the years following the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975.
Sea Of Memory is a first person narrative like no other. It tells a story about a twelve-year-old teenager who left his whole family and country behind, going on a boat journey with his young cousins. He packed all his belongings, family comfort, and the world as he knew it, along with his innocence, into a small carry-on bag. He entered a small secret compartment in the bottom of a small river boat, headed into the journey of the unknown. He endured dangerous communist security checkpoints along the Mekong Delta, met deadly pirate attacks the next day and faced violent sea storms in the darkest night in the South China Sea. Along with 67 people on his boat, he lost everything to the pirates but his life, which was spared by salvation, in the form of a ship named “Akuna.” He ended up staying at a refugee camp, a remote island and jungle in Indonesia, and eventually immigrated to America, the land of freedom and opportunity.
His new life as a junior high student in the Midwest was exciting but soon filled with challenges and obstacles: learning English from scratch, adapting to extreme weather and cultural shock, living in foster homes and emergency shelters. With the blessing of artistic ability, his early drawings and paintings helped him communicate with American classmates and enabled him to learn English along the way. Working with art also comforted him from isolation and homesickness during the early years of his life in America.
The documentary was done in an interview style by my son Ryan, a 10-year-old fifth grader. It’s Ryan’s initial idea and a take off from another documentary short version for his film academy project. The narrative represents only a piece of reflection from a much richer and more extraordinary experience three decades ago that I will never forget. The story is intended for young audience but it has great educational value for people of all generations.
April 11, 2011"
Click here for more information about the Akuna.