Vietnamese American artists explore ideas of beauty and identity

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    Vietnamese American artists explore ideas of beauty and identity

    Brittany Woolsey


    Thinh Nguyen remembers coming to America from the tiny Vietnamese village of Bao An in the early 1990s, when he was 11, and not fitting in.

    Back then, he was the only Asian student in his school and didn’t speak any English.

    His feeling of separateness was almost indescribable. That he didn’t look like any of the other students only increased his sense of isolation.

    A decade later, he paid a visit to Bao An and was shocked to see that residents there were trying to look like the people he had been trying to socialize with at school in the U.S. as a child.

    “I was walking around and saw a bunch of Vietnamese kids with blond hair running around,” said the 31-year-old Hawthorne resident. "I noticed many women were covered. Everything was protected. I asked why. They said white skin was beautiful. They didn’t want to be tan. That meant they were poor because it meant they were working out on the fields. White skin was more beautiful than dark skin to them.

    “I was so shocked. It just got me thinking what beauty means to certain people and how they are willing to change their looks to fit in.”

    Nguyen translated those feelings into photographs of his face covered with different features clipped from magazines. In one, a picture of plump lips is taped over his mouth. Eyes with long lashes and well-defined eyelids replace his own.

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