What does the VMA personally mean to you?
The VMA is going to be showcasing the Vietnamese war and refugee experience and I hope that it helps narrow the generational gap between the Vietnamese first and second generations, but also the cultural gap, since Australia is such a multicultural country.
I want the VMA to represent hope and freedom, unity and inclusion. As someone who settled down in Australia, I think it’s important that we share our stories with a wider community - especially as the stories get lost as the older generation passes on. I also want the future Vietnamese generation to understand their cultural heritage and the sacrifices of their ancestors to be able to enjoy their life in Australia now. The VMA is also a chance for us to say thank you to Australia for embracing us and giving us a second chance in life.
What is the scope of the content and collections that you will be showing in the VMA?
The museum is going to showcase the stories and artefacts from the 20 year war period back from when the country was divided in 1954, up until the day the war ended, as well as the refugee experience afterwards. Artefacts will be collected from all around the world, and are not specific to Australia.
In terms of artefact collection - when the news came out that the VMA was getting built, people from all around the world starting reaching out, wanting to donate their artefacts to the museum. There was a man who is currently living in Japan, who donated the clothes that he wore when he left Vietnam 40 years ago. We’re currently accepting most things that people give to us (as long as it is in good enough condition), and reserving the right to use it in the future. What we ultimately present in the museum depends on the exhibition theme at the time.
We will also feature the oral stories of the older, first generation Vietnamese-Australian migrants, in order to note down the diversity of our experiences. For example some people fled twice - once from the North to the South back in 1954, and then once after the Fall of Saigon, when the Communists came to the South and they had to flee out of the country. Everybody’s refugee experience is so different - from how we fled Vietnam, how we managed to survive the journey by boat, how we settled in Australia and how we proposed and began to contribute back to the country. It’s hard though - many people don’t want to talk about their experiences since it’s so painful for them to remember and think back on those times.
We’re also attempting to capture as many diverse stories as possible through secondary research and sources like the United Nations’ source materials and national libraries from all around the world. For example, it’s harder to find primary-source stories of people who were placed in the New Economic Zones program (a communist policy whereby displacing or forcibly replacing Southerners with family backgrounds connected to Vietnam Republic to uninhabitable areas), or ex-servicemen who were placed in education camps, or get information about the conditions in different refugee camps all across South East Asia such as in Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines or in Singapore. We’re trying to document Vietnamese history since the start of the war, as thoroughly as possible.
What is a significant artefact that you have collected so far?
I found an audioclip of these morning announcements made in the Pulau Bidong refugee camp in Malaysia which immediately brought back my own memories of being in the Songkhla Refugee Camp in Southern Thailand for 10 months. Every morning, they would announce every day camp life activities and sometimes a list of people who can leave for resettlement.
Even though this audio clip is from a different camp in a different country, I still feel teary every time I listen to it - remembering the announcement that announced my name and my family members’ name for resettlement.
What do you hope people get out of visiting the museum, reading about the history of Vietnam and hearing these stories?
The purpose of any museum, anywhere is for it to be educational. I want the second generation to learn of the ancestors’ past, and more about their history and heritage. For the wider Australian community, I hope that the VMA serves as a symbol of hope for anyone facing adversity. And for the Vietnamese community, I hope that it will be a safe space for people to come, reflect, remember, learn and also feel a sense of belonging.