An American refugee story.
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A 70-year-old Vietnamese American refugee living in Oregon confronts the traumas of her past. As she shares her story with her filmmaker son, she is led down an emotional journey of healing that takes them both to a country she hadn’t seen since fleeing as a young woman.
Nearly five decades after the War in Vietnam, Tot Mai, a Vietnamese American refugee and retiree living in Oregon begins to write down the story of her life in Vietnam, during and directly after the conflict. As she shares what she has written with her filmmaker son, she begins to confront the traumas of her past, while trying to come to a place of acceptance with her past circumstance and a forgiveness of herself. Her son in turn tries to develop a better understanding of his mother as a parent and more individually as a person, while also reclaiming his Vietnamese heritage.
Filmed over the course of ten years, “Mai American” is an exploration of intergenerational trauma within families, the mythologies that are built within family histories and the dynamics between parent and child. Told against the backdrop of the broader Asian American and immigrant experience, and nearly 50 years after the end of the War in Vietnam, the film is an intimate portrayal of an American immigrant woman, her family and the power of a woman’s story—a power that can often be forgotten or overlooked by even her own children.
The film is also a retelling of the War in Vietnam from the Vietnamese American perspective.
Meet the film’s director, Kevin Truong:
Director’s Statement, by Kevin Truong
“When I was younger, I was embarrassed by my mother. When you grow up as a little brown immigrant kid in a predominantly white city, you're quickly taught that being different is wrong--through the taunts of your classmates and the stories in the media, even the curriculum of your school. And my mom was different. She spoke English with a heavy Vietnamese accent. Our house was always messy and she never went to teacher parent conferences. She wasn't married. I ran away from her, not physically, but emotionally, because she represented everything I didn't want to be. As an adult, I can see the shallowness of my thinking. My mom spoke English with a heavy Vietnamese accent because she was bilingual. Our house was messy and she never went to parent teacher conferences because she was working two jobs. As someone who wasn't married she carried the burden of supporting three children alone in a new country. This woman who I thought was so weak was actually superhuman. The type of woman who had the courage to flee the only country she ever knew in a wooden fishing boat, pregnant with me and with my two older sisters, and spend 11 days drifting in the sea. This is the type of woman who had the fortitude to build a life for her three children in a country she had never been to.”
“’Mai American’ is my way to atone for the way I treated my history when I was younger and the fact that I “othered” my own mother. It is a film for the millions of immigrant children out there who feel the same shame and embarrassment about their mothers as I did about mine. I want to show the world our moms are superhuman. Their differences don't make them weak, but divine.”
“This has been a project I’ve worked on for ten years and has been a way for my family to heal from the intergenerational trauma that has lived within our bodies.”
“But this film is more than just a personal documentary about my mom and my family. My mom's personal history is woven into the broader history of the War in Vietnam, and "Mai American" will thread my mom's personal journey with the broader history of this conflict. The 50th anniversary of the end of this war is approaching in 2025. It is so important to me that the storytelling around this conflict be told by people of Vietnamese blood. In the United States, it is called the Vietnam War. In Vietnam, it is called the American War. As Vietnamese Americans, we occupy a unique space and authority to tell the story about this conflict. History is made up of the lives of those who lived it, and my mother deserves to have her story be told. The historical is personal.”
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