The Vietnamese Refugee Archive Exhibit

About the Vietnamese Refugee Archive Exhibit

The Vietnamese Refugee Archive Exhibit is a collaboration between the Việt Museum and Stanford University’s Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA). The project’s overall aim is to help the museum make its collections more accessible to the wider public, especially during this period of transition in which the museum is reevaluating its collections management and is preparing for the next phase of its development. Taking a community-based approach, the project worked closely with members of the Vietnamese refugee community in San Jose to create the Việt Museum’s official website, as well as its first curated online exhibit. The exhibit features digitized art and artifacts, in addition to oral history interviews, with the explicit intention of centering the diverse experiences and perspectives of Vietnamese refugees. To that end, the exhibit is made up of three sections that each highlight a different theme related to Vietnamese refugee history: “Returning and Remembering,” “Crafting Survival,” and “Art in the Diaspora.” Through this collective project, we hope to have created a platform for fragmented histories to come together and to contribute to a more profound narrative, a richer tapestry, than any one single thread could produce.

A special thank you is extended to the Vietnamese refugee community in San Jose, California, for sharing their stories with us. We would also like to thank Stanford University Libraries’ Digitization Services and Stanford University Archaeology Collections for their assistance.

Team Members:

Dr. Kelly Nguyen (Project Lead, Stanford University)

Anhthu Vu Le (Project Co-Lead, Việt Museum)

Elisa Lopez (CESTA Intern, Stanford University)

Marguerite DeMarco (CESTA Intern, Stanford University)

From left to right: Anhthu Vu Le, Vũ Văn Lộc, Kelly Nguyen, Marguerite DeMarco, Elisa Lopez

Message from Anhthu

Photography is my passion and I tell stories with my pictures. However, my dad (Vũ Văn Lộc) tells stories in his writing. He has a gift for telling stories about people and things that move him. Throughout the years, he has written many articles that were published in the Vietnamese local newspaper. I think he had a vision about the Boat People Museum when he started collecting items that he found in a flea market. From medals to dog tags that belong to Viet veterans, he sees stories behind those items and wants to preserve and share them with the community. I thought that his idea of creating the Viet Museum was brilliant, a place where he could display art and artifacts related to the Vietnam War and refugee experience. For me, as a refugee, I felt that any artifact with a story that shows a person's perserverence, inner strength, and hope would resonate the most.

After years of working with the City of San Jose and the History Park in San Jose, we were so grateful that we were able to acquire the Italian House that belonged to pioneer rancher David Greenawalt. At an early stage, I helped him organize a handful of fundraising events. We spent a lot of time and money fixing up the history house to make it functional. Now that my dad's collection is expanding, I see a need to organize and digitize the artifacts. I would like to modernize the website and make the museum more accessible to everyone, especially to the young Vietnamese generation. We were so grateful to Professor Kelly Nguyen of Stanford University for connecting us to CESTA (Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis) and their digital resources. With their tools and technologies, they were able to digitize, scan and create 3D images of the artifacts, as well as recording oral histories for the museum website.

To me the museum belongs to the Vietnamese community. Going forward, I hope it will continue to be a place for social events, celebration and commemoration. Besides preserving the history of the war and refugees, I would like to add cultural and artistic aspects to the museum in hopes that the Vietnamese younger generation can learn, participate and be creative. The museum would become a place for them to feel connected to their culture.