I learned to speak English when I was about 5 years-old. My first language was Vietnamese, but life in the United States in the 1970s left little room for multicultural education or a bilingual one. My parents (American and Vietnamese) agreed that my mother would stop speaking Vietnamese to my brother and I when we started American elementary school. The decision was to protect us from linguistic discrimination, to eliminate as best we could a spoken accent so we could pursue opportunities in America. Quickly, I lost my first language and grew fluent in my second.
I’ve made an education and a professional life in the field of English: composition and rhetoric, marketing, teaching. But it’s always a struggle, using English, trying to find the right word for the right meaning or correct usage. Sometimes my mind just goes blank–nothing comes up that will mean or say what I am thinking about. I have to ask others for those words.
Before they’re on the page, before I can see them as a collection of letters–words, in their first life, are images. They are pictures floating in my mind: sharp and dull, changing and still, vivid and faded. My words are approximations, though, the best I can do but seldom exactly as I am. Words imitate and mime. They pretend to be images or ideas by comparison or remembrance, evocations of other stories, an approximation by association. I use metaphors a lot to explain ideas or feelings. It is how I actually see ideas–as pictures. Unlike words, my images are ideas, and they are real. They are mine and say most directly what I am thinking, say what I am feeling. I lose the struggling and straining when I photograph. When I take a photo, I don’t need a translator, as my words sometimes are.
My images are me.
Photo: "No Smoking," iPhone 3Gs, Sept. 2010