Being born as a second-generation Asian American, my life path was already laid out for me before I could even walk. I was subtly but always reminded to get a good respectable, high-earning job. The aim of these reminders: my parents want me to be happy and not suffer as they did. Heading their advice, I became a Software Engineer and made my parents proud. Today, they proudly acclaim me in front of my relatives and are happy as we “made it”.
But being a Software Engineer is not my life’s goal. I love to paint, and I am an artist.
The first thing I ever drew was at the age of four. Till today, I vividly remember the drawing and the sense of accomplishment I felt that day. As my mom was painting her toenails, I grabbed my composition notebook and drew the contours of her feet. She showed the drawing to my dad and my older brothers, they praised me and encouraged me to do more. This moment sparked a fire in me and drawing became my language.
I was born and bred in Honolulu, Hawaii. When I was 11, I met an art teacher, Mrs. Mitsuda, who recognized my language. She helped and encouraged me by having me enter numerous art contests. One by one, the awards started swarming in, but moreover, a sense of belonging and pride. Mrs. Mitsuda, proud of her student told me that, she would be looking for my name in the credits of Disney Films. I was groomed for this shared dream of being an artist and working at Walt Disney's Animation Studio.
This dream of mine was nipped in the bud as my parents moved from Hawaii to Houston, Texas. As our geographical location changed, so did our priorities. My family struggled in a new place. Seeing my parents work hard, I realized I had to work harder for them. My focus shifted to my studies. I never was a good student, but I worked harder to be a perfect 4.0 Asian American Student and get a trendy hot job as a Software Engineer. I vividly remember something my grandfather once told me years ago when I said to him “sorry, I got caught up with work and ran out of time.” He responded with something to this effect: “If a man is taking more time than necessary doing something other than being with his family, perhaps he’s not good at what he does. Or (jokingly) has another family to attend to.” The constant battle between the mind vs soul, engineering vs painting, safety vs uncertainty took a toll on me over the course of my career in the last decade. Something needed to change.
Me being a Software Engineer did indeed bring pride and happiness to my parents, while it left my soul paralyzed. The 8-year-old me repeatedly asked me, if this was his real future, speechless and numb I had nodded in silence. Not long ago, I dared to pursue my dream and got back to painting. I was happy, my soul was happy, and that 8-year-old boy was all smiles. At that moment I knew what I was going to do for the rest of my life.
I have also come to realize that the complete form of art expression is making something that rings true to me as an individual and hoping that it touches the heart, mind, and soul of the people.
I grew up hearing my father’s journey of how he escaped Vietnam. He was in a small fishing boat, with more people than it could carry, everyone with terror in their eyes and heartbeat as loud as the splash of the ocean. They were all bound together with the fear of if they will ever make it out alive. The thunderstorm hits you differently when you are warm and cozy in your bed and when you are at the sea defending your life. His stories always had chills running down through my spine. I have carried his story along with me all my life and have been searching for an opportunity to share it with the world.
Brainstorming, I came up with an idea, where my painting meshes with the identification of my bold culture. I want to create a book to compile hand-painted portraits along with written stories of the Vietnamese boat people. I hope to make my parents proud of who I am and what they mean to me.
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