On March 28, 2018, I sent an email to my parents detailing a new art project involving them. But before I get into that, let me take a step back to college.

In college, Nancy and I would talk about our complex relationships with our parents. She brought up wanting to one day preserve her parents’ stories by videotaping them, documentary-style. I thought that was a real cool idea given that I hardly knew anything about my parents, we had terrible conversations (read: none), and neither party knew the other very well (pretty sure my parents thought I was all “drugs, sex, and rock and roll” in high school when I was the one who literally had to be pulled away from studying on my birthday). A project like that would force us to get to know each other, because force seemed necessary at this point.

My relationship with my parents has ebbed and flowed over the years, somewhat improving because I can talk  politics with my dad and I can finally start to acknowledge and move past the flaws in both my parents. Sort of.

Then reading excerpts from an interview with Thi Bui on Vietnamese identity and telling her parents’ stories yesterday resonated with me and I just thought I should blog about my project (and also use this as an opportunity to highlight The Slant, which is like theSkimm, but for Asian American news and Pacific Islander news… aka you should subscribe right now).

Back to March 28, 2018, just a week ago. The email I sent to both of them detailed a sort of “Timeline and Talk” project that I’ve haphazardly named “Where do we come from and where do we go from here?” 

Wait – let’s go back one more day to when Trina and I were having an art date and talking about our complex relationships with our parents (it’s a timeless conversation). When I got home that night, I started writing out what I knew about my mum’s life. It was a big block of left to right, top to bottom text with arrows pointing from one thing to the next. There were a lot of gaps. When did she get her driver’s license and what was that experience like?

Then I started writing overlaying my own timeline to compare with hers. I had never thought about how our individual timelines interacted. I wrote out one for my dad and realized that while I talk with him a lot more, I hardly know anything about his life! After that, I sketched out an idea of how to present this as an art exhibit:

  1. I would work with my parents on fleshing out their timeline, then simplifying and generalizing them for public viewing. That would be the “Where we come from” part.
  2. I would display them in that big block of text, our timelines overlaid, enlarged for people to see. Visible, out in the open – so unlike my parents’ generation to be airing out our dirty laundry.
  3. There would be a secondary timeline – a fictional extrapolation of what I think our timelines could look like moving forward from this project. That would be the “Where do we go from here” part.
  4. It would be cathartic, everyone would be like, “wow talking with your parents – wild stuff,” and then they would participate in the interactive portion where they would start writing their timelines, their family timelines, their partner’s/s’ timelines, etc. I can dream.

I get it – I’m super awkward and I don’t know how to ask my parents about their lives. But I do know how to fabricate and facilitate a space wherein we can genuinely learn and share our stories with one another… and I do know how to art.

So I sent that initial proposal to my parents. One of them reacted positively to the project, but also wanted to remain anonymous.

Well, if I can’t make this into an art exhibit, then at least I will have the personal, private satisfaction of getting to know my parents.