News / Arts & Entertainment

A Tale of Two Immigrant Filmmakers

Rep. Joseph Cao, subject of a new documentary  "Mr. Cao Goes to Washington" by filmmaker Leo Chiang. Rep. Joseph Cao, subject of a new documentary "Mr. Cao Goes to Washington" by filmmaker Leo Chiang.
x
Rep. Joseph Cao, subject of a new documentary  "Mr. Cao Goes to Washington" by filmmaker Leo Chiang.
Rep. Joseph Cao, subject of a new documentary "Mr. Cao Goes to Washington" by filmmaker Leo Chiang.
Ray Kouguell
One of the key parts of the immigrant experience is the journey itself. For two Asian-American filmmakers, moving to the United States provided them both opportunity - but under very different circumstances. 
 
Mingh Nguyen, a 40-year old filmmaker based in Los Angeles, arrived in the US  from Vietnam in 1982 when he was nine years old. His travels began a year earlier as one of the Vietnamese boat people. Nguyen’s parents lost their business and home after the fall of Saigon. The decision was made to flee and done in secret. 
 
“Somebody would get a boat, and would calculate how many people would be on it, and at night you kind of sneak out and get on that boat,” Nguyen said. “You get out to sea and you try to reach one of the refugee camps in Thailand, the Philippines or Malaysia. We actually got to Thailand.”
 
It took Nguyen five attempts before finally getting away. “We tried to go all as a family and then we got caught,” he said. “My dad was in jail for eight nine months. The women and kids, like me, were in the jail for about two weeks before we were let out.”
 
Nguyen remembers living conditions in the refugee camp were crowded, and families split up. Men worked in the field while the women and children performed other jobs. 
 
“My mom was doing cooking duties and things like that. We all had to sleep together in this really huge barracks like a warehouse - like hundreds of people,” Nguyen explained.
 
After spending a year in a refugee camp off the coast of Thailand, Nguyen received sponsorship from a Catholic group in the United States. He was later flown to San Francisco and settled in San Jose, California. 
 
Transition to a new American way of life was difficult. Nguyen started fourth grade and was scared.
 
“I went to school and I didn’t speak or write English very well. So for the first few months the teacher just put me in a corner until I was able to get caught up with English and was able to join the other students,” Nguyen said.  He admitted being frightened, but said watching television helped him learn English.
 
Nguyen went to the University of California-Berkeley where he received a degree in molecular biology degree, and followed that with a job at the U-S Department of Agriculture. But Nguyen said he was bored.
 
He recalls writing short stories at night and later taking creative writing courses.  “I remember I was enjoying watching movies and going to see plays, so I tried writing fiction and that really opened the world for me,” Nguyen said. Several of his short stories were published in literary journals.
 
He attended film school and ultimately switched careers. His feature-length directorial debut is the movie “Touch” - a romantic-drama about an unlikely friendship between a shy Vietnamese-American manicurist and an auto mechanic who is trying to keep his crumbling marriage alive. The film has won a number of awards on the independent film circuit.

Looking back on his life and professional path, Nguyen advised: “With hard work you can follow your dream.”
 
A CHINESE AMERICAN JOURNEY

For Chinese-American filmmaker Leo Chiang, coming to America was also a parental decision. The 42-year-old San Francisco-based director was 15 when he left Taiwan.
 
“My parents had decided to send me and my two siblings to the U.S. to get educated, basically.  I think that for the rest of the world at that time, American universities were seen as the best,” Chiang said.
 
Chiang traveled to San Jose, California where family members were there to help him.  Chiang admitted it was not always easy to adjust to his new environment. 
 
“Initially it was difficult to blend in.  Not speaking the language very well and not knowing the culture very well was a bit difficult,” Chiang said. “I definitely had to go through the English as a second language classes.”
 
Chiang succeeded and received a degree in electrical engineering at the University of California.  It led to a job with Apple Computers. But like Nyguen, he had his doubts. 
 
“I just really couldn’t see myself doing that for a long time. And I was always interested in film, I was a cinephile,”  Chiang said.  He applied to the University of Southern California’s graduate program in film production “as a fluke” and was admitted. 

Chiang quit his job with Apple and became a documentary filmmaker. 
 
The career change was preceded by risks and foresight - initiated, he said, by his life as an immigrant.  “I think it would be foolish of people to kind of dive in and come over here without preparation,” Chaing said.
 
“I think that for folks who are interested in coming to the U.S., they really need to find out about American culture and about the places they plan to move to, what it's like, what the surrounding is like, what the environment is like,” Chiang said.
 
The award-winning filmmaker’s current documentary, “Mr. Cao Goes to Washington” is the true story about the first Vietnamese-American elected to the U-S Congress.  Critics call the film a fascinating character study of New Orleans Congressman Joseph Cao. 

"Mr Cao Goes to Washington" will air in January on PBS, the non-profit American public broadcasting service.

You May Like

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Soul Lounge

New Orleans-based Water Seed joins Shawna Renee inside the "Soul Lounge" where they introduce listeners to their latest album, a wonderful fusion of jazz, soul and rhythm & blues. The group also explains how the heart of New Orleans influences each of them as musicians and songwriters.