Born and raised in Dorchester, a Boston neighborhood, Ngoc-Tran Vu ("Tran") is a community organizer and multimedia artist. As a Vietnamese-American in Dorchester’s large Vietnamese community, she grew up fascinated by the long history of her family and the families around her.
Tran wanted to create a way to share that narrative with and for her community. She began working with local businesses, youth, and elders to develop a public art project in the heart of Dorchester. The massive mural, nearly three stories tall, has become a community focal piece. It tells the rich stories of the Vietnamese people and the people of Dorchester in a way that is honest, healing, and empowering.
“The steering committee was intergenerational, a group of residents both Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese, but I really wanted to engage with young people who could carry on the history and the narrative moving forward. It was important to me that it came locally. Dorchester is a working-class community, and the stories you hear about it in the media are often negative, but a lot of people don’t realize how much art and culture and vibrancy there is for people both inside and outside the community. There is a lot of talent and stories from people in this community,” says Tran of her work. “I think it’s both empowering and healing. The role of the artist is to create spaces that people can relate to, can share, but also feel empowered in.”
Tran received a grant to develop a website that will support the community mural project. She hopes the site will bring people from far afield to the mural and start more conversations -- the way it has with folks in her neighborhood. “The mural talks about the journey of the immigrant and refugee experience in a way that’s universal,” she says. “I want art to become a tool for engagement and for sharing our narratives.”
Trans says she learned through this project that collaboration is a key to positive, sustainable community activism.“You don’t always have to start something from scratch. A lot of times the best ideas come from collaboration. A community mural was not a brand new idea, but really figuring out why it was important and how it would connect to this community was valuable. People have stories that need to be told from their perspective.” For more on mural and its development, go to:https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/features/vietnamese-mural-students/