Don't Call Me FOB
Phuc Bui Diem Nguyen is the name of a Vietnamese-American student who attended Laney College in Oakland in 2020. Her math professor, Matthew Hubbard refused to call her by her name and insisted that she use an Anglicized name despite how Phuc Bui would tell him how to pronounce her name. He told her that it sounded insulting in his language, and that if he were a student in her country, he would change it. The situation escalated to his stubborn refusal to call Phuc Bui by her name, to her reminder on how to pronounce it, and finally to his outrageous declaration that her name sounded like “fuck boy” and that he would never say her name. Phuc Bui filed a complaint with the college’s Title IX office, and the professor was placed on administrative leave. Although he eventually issued an apology, the damage was done. These attacks deeply marginalize AAPI and immigrant communities and uphold the association of American identity with whiteness and English as a first language.
My name is Phung, which means phoenix, a mythical bird that rises from its own ashes after the end of a life cycle. It was given to me by my grandfather who survived the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia alongside my father. My mother and I were born in Vietnam, and as a family, we were war refugees and resettled in the United States in the late 1970s. For refugees, who unlike immigrants, did not choose to abandon their homelands in order to survive, displacement and assimilation are intense disruptions on so many levels. As a child, I was told my name sounded weird and un-American and that I should change it. I would go to gift shops and find many souvenirs with English names, but could never find mine. I wanted to make work to recognize folks with unanglicized names and to honor their choice to keep their names.
My projects also unravel a childhood shaped by diaspora and cultural displacement as a Southeast Asian refugee who grew up in America. Playing with Barbie dolls with blonde hair and blue eyes and never seeing people who looked like me on television, conditioned me to believe that “white is right,” “white is pretty,” and “white is American.” I started to challenge western beauty standards and observe how contemporary cosmetic surgery on Asian bodies can whitewash cultural, ethnic, and racial identity. The trends of plastic surgery have also infiltrated the cosmetic industry and the beauty products that are produced from that industry such as nose rollers, eye tapes, and skin lightening creams. What is problematic about these products is the packaging that advertises a white model which ultimately signals to Asian consumers that they need to look more white.
Becoming American cannot be painted in broad strokes. It is a distinct experience. Informed by my family’s living history as refugees and inspired by communities with a shared history, the series of drawings, paintings, and collages create vignettes into the homes and conditions of Americanization, the process of becoming American. My journey in becoming American refuses an identity that foregrounds English as a first language and whiteness as a cultural norm.
- Phung Huynh
Color Me (Boy), ink on paper, 12 x 9 inches, 2022
Color Me (Girl), ink on paper, 12 x 9 inches, 2022
Pretty Hurts Desktop, oil and enamel paint on found wooden desk drawer, 24 x 30 inches, 2019
Color Me (Moon Goddess), ink on paper, 12 x 9 inches, 2022
Color Me (Gentlemen), ink on paper, 12 x 9 inches, 2022
Color Me (Beheaded), ink on paper, 12 x 9 inches, 2022
The works in Don't Call Me FOB investigate notions of cultural identity from a kaleidoscopic perspective, a continual shift of idiosyncratic translations. Short for "fresh off the boat," FOB is a derogatory insult aimed towards Asian immigrants who have not fully assimilated into American culture. The condescending term is widely used to scrutinize Asian immigrants; cultural "shortcomings"- from attire, accent, or even one's name. For some, taking on an anglicized name is a regrettable necessity, a means to avoid mispronunciation and simplify daily life in American environments, like school or work, while also facilitating one's assimilation and acceptance amongst peers. However, the practice of acquiescing to American culture to this extent has, in recent times, become a double-edged sword.
- Luis De Jesus Gallery Los Angeles
Color Me (Rooster), ink on paper, 12 x 9 inches, 2022
Americanization, mixed media collage, dimensions variable (approximately 4 x 8 feet), 2022
Color Me (Cock), ink on paper, 12 x 9 inches, 2022
Color Me (Turtle), ink on paper, 12 x 9 inches, 2022
Color Me (Carp), ink on paper, 12 x 9 inches, 2022
Color Me (Ladies), ink on paper, 12 x 9 inches, 2022
Color Me (Siamese Twins), ink on paper, 12 x 9 inches, 2022
Color Me (Peach Pit), ink on paper, 12 x 9 inches, 2022
Don't Call Me FOB, oil paint, thread, and wall paper, 60 x 24 inches, 2022
Phung, cotton fabric and embroidery thread, 10 x 13 1/4 inches, 2020
Color Me (Crystal Barbie), ink on paper, 12 x 9 inches, 2022
Color Me (The Struggle), ink on paper, 12 x 9 inches, 2022