I love and appreciate these folks. They have brightened my world with their optimism, their willingness to try new things, and their insight that comes from the wisdom that age can bring. We joined together in February of 2016, and already, this year is coming to its end. Luckily for all of us, Community Engagement has given us one of the most valuable Christmas gifts we could have hoped for--more time together. They've extended my residency for another year. This means more beautiful things to be made, more time to nurture these relationships, and more time to share our lives and the imaginative spirit that has brought us together.
Thank you, Community Engagement and the Village for a most fulfilling year…
There is something to be celebrated when people sing and come together to sing. Sometimes, it’s to start the day in tune, appreciating the acoustics of the shower before facing the day. Sometimes, it’s to help celebrate someone's life on their birthday. Sometimes it’s a form of praise. Sometimes, it's just for the sake of making pleasant sounds. Sometimes, it’s to share the gift of voice and song. And whether it’s done in rejoice or in despair, either is a necessary way to express the state of the world and the state of our hearts.
I grew up in a musical family. Ông Hạnh, my great uncle, was a composer in Vietnam, and to this day, his music can still be heard as hymns are sung by the choir during Vietnamese masses. In 1975, my family arrived as refugees at Fort Indianatown Gap, Pennsylvania, one of the four refugee camps in America. One year later, my grandfather helped found Spirit of Vietnam, an organization that offered social services to the newly-arriving Vietnamese population. Spirit of Vietnam also served as a news outlet. They and broadcasted the American news in Vietnamese tongue, translated by my grandfather. Spirit of Vietnam would organize community events, some of which included concerts put on by the family band. Mother and her siblings took to the stage as she and Bác Ha sang duet, Cậu Hien's agile hands on the keyboard, and Bác Hieu's nimble fingers picked at the guitar. Inspired by both Vietnamese and French music, their performances were both an expression of their new life in America, but also served as a way to share their Vietnamese culture with their new community. Bác Hỷ would set the tempo on his drums. Oh, Bác Hỷ’s drums. They were OFF LIMITS to Chị Tu and me, but we would sneak into the garage where they were stored, just to get a peek and even touch them. Those drum sticks were fun to hold in our small hands.
From fourth to fifth grade, Mother gave me lessons on our upright piano while we lived in Fremont. Around that same time, Ba Ngoai acquired a piano, and four of my cousins took piano lessons at that Huntington Beach house. The family was determined to pass down their appreciation of music; endless hours at the piano, after school and on summer afternoons, helped develop that appreciation in us. By high school, many of our family members had converted one room of their home into a karaoke lounge. They were equipped with thumping speakers and all kinds of instruments--guitars, keyboards, congas, maracas, and an array woodwinds, just to name some. We would gather to sway, swing, and sing. For some drama, they even hung swaths of drapery from the beams above, deep reds and rich violets velvet hung over our heads to set the stage. They'd pass around the squid jerky and share with us youngsters.
The memories I have of the times that I have sung with other people are mostly fond--practicing the song "Tiny Tim" as I was learning to speak English in preschool, singing favorite songs with childhood friends, singing the school fight song alongside my classmates with fists pumping in the air during football games, singing with Cô Hoài, my youngest auntie, as she drove me around throughout my childhood, singing at church with my mother. While I was growing up, Mother and I sang together often. In kindergarten, to wake me up, she would sing, "Wake up, Little Teeeee, Wake up", to this Everly Brothers' tune. On the ride to school, we would sing in harmony (I would be in charge of the melody and she would harmonize) to The Mamas & The Papas.
Singing with others evokes a sense of nostalgia for me, and here at Heninger, the sharing of memories is one thing that has surely brought us closer. So it warmed my heart to walk into an improptu karaoke session one evening. Joe sang some Christmas melodies for us before passing the mic around. I joined in and sang a very shaky “Jingle Bell Rock” (singing in front of people makes me nervous) and we swayed along to Joe and Claudia’s duet:
BABY, IT'S COLD OUTSIDE, BUT WE'RE KEEPING WARM IN HERE. JOE AND CLAUDIA DO A SOUND CHECK BEFORE HENINGER VILLAGE'S RENOWNED ANNUAL CHRISTMAS PARTY. IT'S JOE'S SECOND YEAR LIVING AT THE VILLAGE, AND THIS YEAR HE'S TAKEN ON THE ROLES OF BOTH DJ AND MC.
On a Saturday evening, I followed the eucalyptus trail to where the poppies bloom in the spring. I do miss them during the wintertime. I strolled through the gates and past the rose bushes, and I stepped into warm murmurs and humming conversation. The studio/community room/Lotería clubhouse/visiting lounge was dappled with knitted reds and woven patterns, and twinkling were the Christmas lights and the Spirit alive in their eyes. After having heard about this event all year, I had finally arrived at Heninger Village’s renowned Christmas party—a celebration of the holidays, the year, the Villagers, and togetherness.
We feasted and enjoyed the festivities, including Joe’s selection of music, and the holiday raffle. I visited with residents that I’ve gotten to know and met some new residents. One of the highlights of the night was making a new artist friend.
This is Joseph Hawa whom I met as he shuffled through his mail. Joseph is a fine art graduate of the American Academy of Art in Chicago, also having continued his education at Northwestern University. He arrived in California in 1975, the same year as my family arrived in America. He has taught at Irvine Fine Arts Center, and employing a variety of media, he continues painting en plein air, abstract, and figurative works, practicing in his studio which is located the Santora Building, whose eyeline gazes across the Promenade at Grand Central Art Center where we are taking up residency. Joseph is also fluent in the art of Japanese calligraphy. He giggled as he shared that with the last name, Hawa, many of his collectors have been surprised to learn that he is actually not Japanese, but rather, of Lebonese descent. Here is some of Joseph's work.
"I believe the feelings and emotions expressed in my paintings are much more important than the subject matter.
I hope that the viewer will feel my paintings as well as see them."
- Joseph Hawa
"Merry Christmas, Friends. I realize it's been a rough year of many of us, but there is indeed plenty to be thankful for.
A wish for Peace and more Love (there will always be room for more love!) for you and yours in this forthcoming year.*