How Acting Brought Me Closer to my Roots
This story is about how a play called "Vietgone" brought me closer to my heritage as a Vietnamese-American person. More specifically, this is about how reliving my Dad's journey from Saigon to Camp Pendelton, California made me realize a key part of my identity. Having grown in White spaces, living in a Vietnamese story taught me things that I value a lot to this day. I now live in NYC, NY as a playwright + actor for theatre, film, and television. My father is from Saigon, VN, and lives in Oberlin, Ohio.
So I have never been proud of being Asian-American, per se. I grew up in a rural white community
in Oregon, and my last name is so jumbled up that no one can really pronounce it, including
myself. To be honest, I still don't really know how to pronounce my name correctly. But I grew up
without my dad. I grew up with a white mom, and I grew up primarily playing white roles because
I'm an actor. And this all changed when I got a casting call for a play called Vietgone that was
going on that company one in Boston, my junior year of college. Up until then, I'd only played roles
in like Neil Simon plays and like been an ensemble member and like The King and I and like Miss
Saigon. So nothing that you'd really want to be in.
And basically I remember seeing the casting breakdown and it was just such a drastic change from
what I'm used to usually doing. It was Vietnamese. It was said in 1975, Camp Pendleton,
California, and my dad never really talked about the war. He never mentioned anything about it
because it wasn't exactly a pleasant time for him. But I did know that he was in Camp Pendleton in
1975, California, in April when he emigrated from Saigon, Vietnam. And so knowing that was going
to step on my dad's shoes was a crazy idea, especially like as his son, and also playing like a fully
realized Vietnamese-American character on stage who could express his sexuality, who can say
the F-word and who wasn't basically like an extra in Apocalypse Now. It was super sick. Basically,
I, like, went through this really crazy process of about 12 weeks of preparing for the role in which I
had to relearn Southern Vietnamese dialect. And for this, I actually had to interview my dad and
ask him about like the dialect that he'd experienced as a kid so I could pick it up myself.
Now, it all paid off opening night for me, really, Because I remember stepping on stage. Actually, I
rolled on stage on a motorcycle because I was a badass motorcyle dude, and I looked in the
audience and my dad had came and surprised me.
And I just remember like seeing his face while he, like, looked at his kid playing him, basically, and
this really pivotal time in his life, which is like 1975 and Camp Pendleton, and just sort of seeing in
his eyes how important that was to see his story on stage and to see his narrative played out, let
alone by his own son in America 40 years later. And it just filled me with a lot of pride. I came out
and I saw my dad and he was like, totally like this, just in tears. And he gave me a big hug. And I
think everyone was very touched and moved in the cast to sort of see that moment of recognition
that he had. So as a theater maker, that experience is extremely impactful to the way I create art
now and the way I see representation in the theater.