By Lisa Wurtele
Rachel Marker’s experiences of—and reactions to—20th-century European wars and their aftermath continue to impact those who join her on her journey through the smoke and violence of war, surviving (as Rose Hacker said of herself) “…to explore new possibilities.”
A recent visitor to The Magnes was struck by the similarities to his own, very real, experience of war in Asia, during the Vietnamese conflict, and the narrative presented by Moira Roth that allows us to see Through the Eyes of Rachel Marker.
In a letter addressed to Rachel Marker, Los Angeles physician Mike (Lương) Lý describes his reactions to the exhibition, which he understood through his own experience in a very different cultural environment:
Pasadena, CA, April 30, 2013
It’s an astonishing and fascinating experience that your exhibition gave me during my visit at the gallery this past week in Berkeley. Starting from the beginning with the image of Rose [Hacker] and her father, through the description of your journey through files of documents, to the sound of music that Alice [Herz-Sommer] was playing in the video screen, and the pictures of wars flashing that reminds me of my own experiences as a child growing up in South Vietnam during its civil war.
As a child, my family lived in Saigon, now called Ho Chi Minh City. I had witnessed loud noise from helicopters hovering over our rooftop, the dark smoke coming from the building in front of our house, to the bullet sounds piercing through nighttime before the war ends on April 30, 1975.
After the war, my family was sent to Bình Long, An Lộc for re-education, where a village was torn by the massive bombing during what was called mùa hè đỏ lửa, “the Red Fire Summer” [battle] in 1972. Every day, I would pass by the main market of the village called “Chợ Lớng,” a large building which has only 3 walls left with many blown-out holes and a ceiling open to the blue sky as a remnant of the war. After living through many years of poverty, struggling to have enough food on table for a family of 8, my family was granted refugee status, left Vietnam, and spent 6 months in Bataan, Philippines. We lived in a small hut, sleeping as sardines in the hot and humid weather without fan or electricity at night.
However, we survived and moved to the U.S. in May 1987 with 2 sets of clothes on our back and around $100 left to our names. Many years passed, now I am a doctor practicing medicine and infectious diseases in Southern California, happily in a relationship with my partner and appreciate life each day to its fullest.
It’s like walking through your exhibition toward the end, I looked at the mirror on the wall, reflecting many images of war, but when I saw past the mirror, a whole new world is in front of me with numerous opportunities and new and exciting experiences waiting for me. Like Thich Nhat Hanh in his Buddhist teaching that life is impermanent. Impermanence teaches us to respect and value every moment and all the precious things around us and inside of us.
Lương (Mike) T. Lý, M.D.
Dr. Lý sent along a family photo to allow us to better place his personal knowledge in a context parallel to that of the historical personalities in Rachel’s world.
You can still experience Through the Eyes of Rachel Marker | A Literary Installation by Moira Roth before it ends its run at The Magnes on June 28th.