Still A Destination (on going)
When I first set foot in Prague, I was overwhelmed by the massive number of Potraviny belonging to Vietnamese people here. I am driven by an instinct to dig deep into their stories. Why are there so many Vietnamese people in Czech? Why don’t Czech people run Potraviny? What is the story behind each potraviny?
Back in the 1960s, when Vietnam and Czechoslovakia established the bilateral agreements under manner of communist partners, a significant amount of Vietnamese people came to Czechoslovakia for work and academic training. The Vietnamese government was in hope of welcoming back the migrants, but the majority of them decided to stay, as there were promising doors after the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia.
The Vietnamese community struggled to integrate with the cultural challenges of each historical period to survive in a foreign land that is 9000km away from their home country. They started with some small businesses as street vendors. Over time, they slowly shifted toward convenience stores and textile shops, commonly called potraviny. Countless potraviny appeared throughout the country, bringing a new life to Vietnamese people, accompanied by certain trade-offs.
The series of working days from early morning to late evening at potraviny creates a separation between Vietnamese parents and their children. The first generation has sacrificed most of their time for potraviny in the hope that the second generation, with good education, will be able to escape from labor jobs in the future. The subsequent generations are practically Czech as they grow up surrounded by Czech culture and people. At the same time, they find it ambiguous to answer whether they are Czech or Vietnamese as blending in Vietnamese culture at home and Czech culture in everyday life is somewhat challenging.
I talked to dozens of people at various potraviny, where the conversations tended to end in the same direction. They mull over Vietnamese identity when living in a foreign country, and face a fear of having a second generation might lose their roots. Simultaneously, they seem undecidable when asked whether they will return to Vietnam.
Potraviny is hope and hopelessness. Some potraviny carry flawless stories, some could be melancholy. “Still a Destination” is a long-form personal documentary project that explores the fundamental theme of Vietnamese identity, as the desire to survive is the ground of Vietnamese culture.