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Calling for Ba Ba (Mrs. Ba) PDF Print E-mail
Pacific Rim artworks
Feb 12, 2006 at 08:01 AM

Nhan Duc Nguyen


I hope to collect and compare anecdotes of Mrs. Ba from the Vietnamese diaspora in Vancouver and San Jose and transcribe these oral tales to one cohesive history in Vietnamese and English. This record will be a part of the shrines/installations to be installed in Vietnamese noodle restaurants in San Jose.

Ba Ba is a woman who sells noodle soup at Bai Sau Beach in Qui Nhon, the town in Vietnam where I was born. Many tragedies befell Ba Ba including the suicide drowning in 1971 of her son who had refused to enlist. In 1972 she was gunned down when Bai Sau Beach became a battlefield; while operating on her wounds, the surgeon notes that she was shot by an AK 47, the Soviet-made gun of the advancing North Vietnamese Army - and as well as by an M-16 supplied to the retreating South Vietnamese Armies by the Americans. Betrayed by her two daughters, who had married American soldiers, she was left outside the American embassy in Saigon on that fateful day in June of 1975. Ba Ba returned to Bai Sau Beach and amid accusations from her friends and neighbours of working for the enemy she planned her escape and left Vietnam by boat in the fall of 1976 in search of her daughters. She was never seen again. These tales of Ba Ba’s indomitable spirit were invoked by many Vietnamese boat people during the exodus by sea throughout the eighties and early nineties.

Vietnamese altars and shrines are dedicated to many contemporary personages whose stories and deeds are often passed on as shining examples of the human spirit and as well as what to do in such situations. These stories of Ba Ba resonate with many Vietnamese restaurant workers whose struggles mirror her own. Although it is an important and relevant tale, it is gradually fading. The last known shrine to Ba Ba in Vancouver was at Little Saigon Restaurant, which closed in 2003.

My work has always drawn inspiration and clarity from Vietnamese stories and rituals. Many of my works are anchored by personal stories from my mother and her friends, such as recent installations highlighting Lao Noi Kieu (Ancient Citizen) a spirit whose influence includes matters of nation and citizenship. Lao shrines were installed at Banff Centre in 2004 and at the Glenbow Museum in Alberta in 2005. Calling for Ba Ba is an important and necessary extension of my particular interest in creating installations to figures whose deeds inspired and galvanized the Vietnamese community in Canada during its early struggle.

Last Updated ( Jul 08, 2006 at 04:24 PM )
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