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

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

US Urges Restraint in Hong Kong Protests

Protesters angered by Beijing's decision to only approve candidates that it sanctions for Hong Kong's leadership elections in 2017 More

Archive of Forgotten UCLA Speeches Offers Snapshot of History

Recordings of prominent voices in social change, politics, science and literature from 1960s, early 1970s now available on YouTube 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.
Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenyai
X
Gabe Joselow
September 29, 2014 6:20 PM
Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Video

Video Reconstruction? What Reconstruction? Life After War in Gaza

It’s been a month since Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a ceasefire to end 52 days of an air and tank war that left 60,000 homes in Gaza damaged or destroyed and 110,000 homeless. Sharon Behn reports that lack of reconstruction is leading to despair.
Video

Video US, Saudi Arabia and UAE Hit Islamic State's Oil Revenue

The United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have bombed oil facilities operated by Islamic State militants in Syria. It was a truly collaborative effort, with the two Arab countries dropping the majority of the bombs. The 12 refineries targeted were estimated to generate as much as $2 million per day for the terrorist group. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb has the story.
Video

Video Russia's Food Sanctions Raise Price Worries, Hopes for Domestic Production

Russia retaliated against Western sanctions imposed for its actions in Ukraine by halting food imports from the West. The temporary import ban on food from Australia, the European Union, Norway and North America has Russian consumers concerned that they could face a sharp increase in food prices. But in an ironic twist, the restrictions aimed at the Kremlin have made Russia's domestic food producers hopeful this can boost their business. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Washington to Pyongyang: 'Shut This Evil System Down'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on North Korea to shut down prison camps and other human rights abuses following a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into "widespread and systematic human rights violations." VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Border Crossings

Matthew Wade sits down with "Border Crossings" host Larry London to talk about his new CD, “Diamond from Coal,” his fourth album with his band, My Silent Bravery.