Link is a transcript to the Interview with the renowned architect and genius, Maya Lin through the “personal journeys” segment of Bill Moyers’ Becoming American: The Chinese Experience aired on PBS. Luckily, somebody else already typed out the interview otherwise I would watch it and type out the words myself. Not to say there isn’t anything magnificent in the process of writing. Words have sheer power to them.
Maya Lin talks about designing the Vietnam War Memorial: “I had a simple impulse to cut into the earth. I imagine taking a knife and cutting into the earth, opening it up and the initial violence and pain that in time would heal. The grass would grow back, but the initial cut would remain a pure, flat surface in the earth with a polished mirrored surfaced, much like the surface on a geode when you cut it and polish the edge.”
“I don’t think anyone means it to be negative. It’s just the problem is you’re not from here. You will always physically look like you’re a foreigner. So if you’re truly born and raised here what does that do to your psyche?” -Maya Lin
Lin about growing up and being asked repeatedly: where are you from? – I get asked this by people of all races despite my American accent (relatively so if you can pick out the subtle Kiwi traces) too.
I am so grateful I went to the lecture she gave at my college. I have been enlightened by her words. Sitting in overflow seating was totally worth it. At least I know she graced the grounds of my school.
I want to recount my experiences visiting the Vietnam War Memorial for the first time.
First of all, I want to say that very few people can pull off a feat such as designing and being chosen for the design of a memorial, let alone, at mere age of 20. Round of applause. This memorial marks the beginning of Maya Lin’s rise to international fame.
Looking back, I remember being very surprised at the structure. I was about 12 or 13 and very dazed. But then, I was a muddled child and now am a daydreaming young woman. I remember the guide telling my 7th grade class about the controversy of the memorial’s design and briefly mentioning Maya Lin’s name (though not giving it full glorious due, otherwise I would have looked her up sooner and read everything about her earlier). I remember how eerie it felt walking through the memorial. It was daytime but I felt a chill as I saw my own reflection through the wall inscribed with names of deceased veterans. Everything from the fountain to the wall of names was designed to reflect the passersby’s reflections.
Now I realize the genius of the design – every new generation that passes sees their own reflection simultaneously as they touch the names and history that passed before them. The names, the veterans and people are forever memorialized in history but they are still honored by those that visit the memorial. After walking through the memorial, I remember joining my classmates in strolling through the tree-lined walkway adjacent and marveling at the fat squirrels. But that’s irrelevant.
Lastly, in the interview Maya mentioned future generations (includes my generation and others to follow), urging more Asian-Americans to become more vocal about race issues and conflicts. She mentioned that she was raised to be polite, and as a Chinese-American TCK I can say that I was raised to be polite and respect my elders as well as authority also. But one thing I cannot tolerate is injustice, especially when the authorities are wrong whether it be in my classes, among racially unaware peers, or among police officers. I really hope by talking and writing I will spread awareness even if others don’t agree with me, of race rather than leaving the ignorant to their ignorance/colorblindness. I really hope my generation (myself included) will see a better society and that my future children won’t be asked where are you (really) from? despite their American/assimilated nationality accent just because they aren’t white. I hope that’s not too much to hope for.