REMEMBERING THE VIETNAM WAR WITH ARTIST TRINH MAI

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By Meredith Anderson
Staff Writer

On January 25th, local artist Trinh Mai, a second generation Vietnamese American, discussed her artwork pertaining to her family history at the University of California, San Diego. Mai began by explaining that she was always curious about her family’s history of escaping Vietnam in 1975.

“Curiosity is our spirit showing us that we need to learn more,” Mai said.

In an attempt to learn more about the Vietnam War and its effect on her family, Mai began creating art to tell their story. In 2013, Mai created her “Begins with Tea” series. This collection features portraits of 52 of Mai’s family members encapsulated by used tea bags and embellished with traditional Vietnamese ingredients. Mai explained that stumbling across old family photos in her Grandma’s house “invoked this need to know more [about the people depicted]” and inspired her to honor each person by creating their own tea bag.

While working on this series, Mai had her grandmother, Bà Ngoại, save her used tea bags from the afternoons that they spent sharing family memories. Additionally, she used Vietnamese ingredients, such as saffron and dried noodles, taken from her grandmother’s pantry to symbolize the traditional Vietnamese recipes passed down through her family for generations. When Mai finished the portraits, she shared them with her family. She said that her art “opened up this channel for conversation” within her family, thereby allowing her to learn more about her family.

Then, in 2014, Mai’s beloved grandmother passed away. Mai recounted her experience and explained that after her grandmother’s death, she came across an identification card with her fingerprints. This inspired Mai to use fingerprints in her art. Mai described how in less than an hour, she created Bà Ngoại (Grandmother), a fingerprint portrait of her grandmother.

“When inspiration calls, it moves so swiftly,” Mai said.

She explained that art is a spiritual practice that she has been able to use to heal. In addition to using art for self-healing, she employed this technique on a larger scale to benefit entire communities. Mai’s installation Quiet is an example of this. Quiet was inspired by the letters Mai found at the University of California, Irvine library from Vietnamese families pleading for their lost loved ones to be found. These letters contained photos of individuals, mostly children, who likely never saw their families again.While reading these letters, Mai reflected on the fact that they had been filed away in boxes and virtually forgotten. Mai was so dismayed by this thought that she decided to undertake a project in honor of these lost individuals.

The Vietnamese believe that “if [someone] is not given a proper funeral, their soul can’t rest,” she explained, which is why Mai worked to emulate a traditional funeral. Mai began painting their portraits on large sheets of white cotton fabric, symbolizing the mourning bands worn during Vietnamese funerals.

Although this installation was mainly intended for the Vietnamese community, others experienced healing as well. Mai recounted a conversation that she had with the wife of a Vietnam War veteran, who explained that many American military families resent the war because it took husbands and fathers away.  The woman continued to explain that after hearing stories of  Vietnamese refugees and the losses they are still suffering that “[she] will no longer recount her memories [of the war], but instead will recount [theirs].” Viewing Mai’s work opened this woman’s eyes to the trauma Vietnamese refugees endured and caused her to see her husband’s involvement in the war as a “worthy cause.” This interaction clearly demonstrates the profound influence art can have on shaping the perspective of individuals.

Throughout the course of her presentation, Mai used her family’s story to explain the impact that art and creativity have had on herself and others. Art in of itself is a form of storytelling that uses mixed media rather than words to convey a message. As Mai’s work proves, art can be therapeutic and spark conversations that would not otherwise be had. Specifically, Mai’s story illuminates the impact of the Vietnam War on those who carry on its legacy today.

Photo by Trinh Mai

MENTAL ILLNESS: INDIA’S SCARLET LETTER


By Nishad Maggirwar
Staff Writer

1.252 billion people, the population of the ever growing nation of India. With almost 18% of the world’s population residing in India, events that occur there tend to have a ripple effect throughout the world. One of the ripples that occurs in this growing nation is India’s inability to deal effectively with its mentally disabled/ill population. India is desperately struggling with its ability to deal effectively with its mentally disabled/ill population not only because of a staggeringly low number of trained mental health professionals, but also due to the outright neglect and public ridicule that these people receive. Mentally ill patients are the scorned population of India, and are not treated like everyday members of society. These people bear the Scarlett Letter upon their existence in society.

Studies done by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) have reported that 13.7% of India’s population have mental health issues, 10.6% are in a dire mental condition, and 1.9% have severe mental disorders (Yasmeen n.pag). Adding on to these statistics, 54% of the severe disorders recorded were Alzheimer’s disease, and 39% was vascular dementia (Koshy n.pag). Although 1.9% does not seem like a large number, keep in mind that 1.9% of India’s population is around 23 million people, which is larger than many South American and European countries. It is quite hard to imagine every person in a nation such as the Netherlands, with a population of around 17 million people, with a crippling mental disorder such as Alzheimer’s disease.

The treatment that mentally ill people receive in India is akin to a toddler’s wild imagination. Mentally ill people are believed to simply be “pretending” that they are disabled in order to receive attention and special treatment, and are somewhat told to simply “stop doing that”. Dr. Kersi Chavda, a senior psychiatrist at P.D. Hinduja Hospital in Mumbai explains how, “an anxiety-ridden or a depressed patient, is usually given tips like, ‘snap out of it’, ‘go for a movie and you will be fine’, or ‘just cheer up;” (“Mental” n.pag). It is as if mental illness is not even regarded as a legitimate illness, for there is a common conception that mental illness isn’t real but rather something someone brings upon themselves. An unsettling number of people believe that mentally ill people can simply get over their problems and move on (Batra n.pag).

“Tum paagal ho”, or “You are crazy” in Hindi, is what is often bluntly said to a mentally ill patient seeking medical help. Mentally ill individuals in India are often subject to public ridicule and discrimination. While people carelessly throw around the words “asylum” and “paagal” (crazy), mentally ill individuals are very hesitant to admit that they are seeing a therapist (“Mental” n.pag). Tannika Majumdar Batra, a resident of India living with bipolar disorder, explains that, “mental illness is seen as a sign of imperfection, humiliation, rejection by family, friends, and relatives” (Batra n.pag). Unfortunately, it has reached the point where mentally ill individuals in India are not a part of everyday society; they are social outcasts. These individuals often find it near impossible to get an adequate job, as explained by Dr. Harish Shetty, of Nityanand Clinic in Mumbai, who points out that “people are thrown out of jobs if they are mentally ill” (“Mental” n.pag). Perhaps the reason why people are so afraid to admit that they are mentally ill, if it isn’t already obvious or determined by a medical professional, is that this exclamation is what attaches the dreaded scarlet letter onto an individual’s life. The situation of mental illness in India has reached a point where suicide takes more lives than any other physical problem (Batra n.pag).

Among the myriad of social problems in India, ranging from human rights abuses to backwards ideologies that stunt the technological advancement of the nation, the outright neglect to take care of mentally ill patients, the clear lack of facilities capable of providing help, and the social stigma attached to mental disorders are definitely notable social issues. This stigma has given rise to the reality that 80% of people with crippling mental disorders, such as vascular dementia, do not quickly receive any form of care. Many of these people have been sick for over 12 months before finally acquiring low quality medical attention (Yasmeen n.pag).

India is a nation with many medical professionals, but among those medical professionals, there is only 1 psychiatrist for every 400,000 Indians (Koshy n.pag). In addition to this, there are less than 10,000 mental health care takers (social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists) in the entire subcontinent (Koshy n.pag). Perhaps this is due to the fact that mental health is not of importance to India’s health agenda, which is quite surprising seeing as over 23 million individuals are suffering from serious psychological disorders. As a result of India’s rejection of this issue as pertinent, those seeking to pursue careers as mental health professionals are not in luck because there are only 1,022 college seats for people wanting to enter the field (Mascarenhas n.pag).

The future of India’s mental health patients looks grim because as the population of India increases to new heights, the aforementioned statistics are only going to increase unless the nation opens its eyes to the millions of people who are quietly suffering and waiting for some form of medical assistance. A clear example of India’s negligence towards this pressing issue is the lack  of mental health hospitals in certain parts of the country. Six states in the northern and eastern regions of India with a cumulative population of 56 million people, do not have access to a single mental health hospital (Mascarenhas n.pag). To put this into perspective, South Africa has a population of around 53 million people. Those who do not receive medical attention, and succumb to their mental illness, turn to suicide. Due to the lack of helplines and anti-depression resources, suicide rates have been increasing lately. In fact, three to four people in Mumbai commit suicide every day, despite knowing that suicide is a criminal act in India (“Mental” n.pag).

However, there is some light in this darkness since  the District Mental Health Programme (DMHP) is making some efforts to change this morbid reality. The DMHP is a governmental organization under the NMHP (National Mental Health Programme), who are focused on providing mental care to patients in various states across India. The quality of care varies from state to state because different regions in India have different local policies. It is possible that medical attention can be restricted due to restrictions on funding, not enough employment, and low motivation (Mascarenhas n.pag). Adding onto this, 40% of patients seeking medical attention must travel over six miles to get care from DHMP services (Mascarenhas n.pag). When considering the large number of impoverished people in India, this commute will most likely occur by foot.

It is extremely confounding how such a forward moving nation has neglected such a large demographic, and has seemingly allowed suicide rates to increase every year. It is appalling how the Government of India still believes that mental illness is not a legitimate illness, and has not appropriated funds and effort to help suffering individuals. A hospital in Mumbai was described to have its mental health ward located near its most neglected area; the morgue (“Mental” n.pag). The Government of India needs to institute major reforms to its health agenda in order to save millions of Indians from being outcasts, and brining their diseases into the light.

Works Cited

“Are Mental Health Facilities in India Adequate?” The Times of India. The Times of India, 29 Dec. 2014. Web. 31 Oct. 2016.

Batra, Tannika Majumdar. “Dealing with the Loneliness of Mental Illness in India.” International Bipolar Foundation. International Bipolar Foundation, n.d. Web. 31 Oct. 2016

Koshy, Jacob. “World Mental Health Day: India’s Mental Health Crisis in Numbers.” The Huffington Post. The Huffington Post, 10 Oct. 2015. Web. 31 Oct. 2016.

Mascarenhas, Anuradha. “Mental Illness India’s Ticking Time Bomb, Only 1 in 10 Treated.” The Indian Express. The Indian Express, 19 May 2016. Web. 31 Oct. 2016.

Yasmeen, Afshan. “India Needs to Talk about Mental Illness.” The Hindu. The Hindu, 23 Oct. 2016. Web. 31 Oct. 2016.

Image By: Amen Clinics Photos

POWER TO THE PEOPLE: EXAMINING ACEH’S PUNK COMMUNITY


By Nick Vacchio
Staff Writer

Since the dawn of the genre in the 1970s, the tenets of the punk ethos have focused around the rejection of the status quo, the promotion of individual freedoms, equality for all and a strong opposition to injustice. Unknown to many in the West, Indonesia has one of the largest underground punk communities in the world. The local scene grew significantly in the mid 1990s as music from classic punk bands like The Ramones and The Dead Kennedys found an eager audience who were fed up with President Suharto’s 30 year dictatorship. Radical lyrics from Western and local bands lashed out against violent authoritarian government corruption and propelled citizens to take to the streets in open protest demanding change against Suharto’s regime. The protests were successful and in 1998, thanks in part as well to the Asian financial crisis of 1997, Suharto resigned from office. The punk community continued to flourish throughout the country with underground punk bands and art collectives hosting workshops to teach street kids how to sing, play the ukulele and screen print. It was here that the roots of the punk community were firmly established and they have refused to be eradicated since then, no matter the opposition.

On December 26, 2004 a 9.4 magnitude earthquake took place just 60 miles off the north-western tip of Sumatra generating tsunamis that resulted in the deaths of 280,000 people. The Indonesian province of Aceh felt the bulk of the devastation with 85 percent of the capital city of Banda Aceh decimated and the lives of 167,000 residents taken. To cope with such a devastating event, the government turned outward for assistance and inward toward faith, perpetuating cultural clashes in the ensuing years. Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world but Aceh is the only province that practices Shari’a law thanks to an appeasement by the central government toward separatists in the region known as the Free Aceh Movement. The separatists protested against the central government from the 1970s until 2005 when a deal was reached that allowed Aceh to practice Shari’a law at the expense of demilitarizing their forces. In an area that historically has been so fierce in defending their independence against outside rule from the Dutch, Japanese, and even their own countrymen, it seems somewhat hypocritical that the Acehnese would not apply this principle to their own citizens.

Shari’a law has created a highly restrictive atmosphere in the province. Khalwat, close proximity between different sexes who are not connected through familial or spousal ties, is outlawed. Unmarried women are expected to be accompanied in public by a muhrim, or male relative, and are not allowed outside of the home after 11pm. Public displays of affection among couples are outlawed and the idea of homosexuality is repudiated. There is an increasing sense of boredom throughout the city due to the only cinema in the capital being recently shut down. Music is censored and hardly heard in public spaces unless it has religious associations. Concerts must be approved by the government and men and women are segregated in the audience to prohibit potential mischief. Shari’a police strictly enforce the rules throughout the city and often target social outcasts like unmarried women, Chinese immigrants, and the LGBT community. However, it is the Aceh punks who best embody the struggle against oppressive rule.

The punks of Banda Aceh most accurately represent the pain and confusion during the community’s rebuilding after the 2004 tsunami destroyed families, neighborhoods and livelihoods. Dressed in black and covered in tattoos, piercings and unorthodox hairstyles, they challenge the ever-increasing authoritarian grip slowly choking the city. The government and the majority of conservative Acehnese society view the punks as a “social disease” needing eradication due to their appearance, embrace of western ideals and assumed rejection of Islam. However, many of the punks continue to practice their faith. “We’re all Muslim. We go to the mosque too,” clarified a local punk who goes by Scooby. “When we pray, we take off our piercings and put on prayer garb. When we go back out, we put all of our piercings back in.” The social stigma attached to their unorthodox appearance makes their life a struggle on a daily basis.

This small, close-knit community of mostly teens and young adults made headlines around the world in late 2011 when 64 of them were rounded up in Banda Aceh by Shari’a police while hosting a concert to raise money for local orphanages. The youths had their mohawks and flamboyant hairstyles shaved off their heads and piercings removed. Their tattered black clothing was burned and they were forced to bathe in a lake for being morally unclean. They were also required to attend a ten day re-education camp in an attempt to put them back on the honest path. In response to this unprovoked assault, humanitarian organizations and punk communities around the world made donations and spread the news that their scene was under attack. Global activist punk icons, Propagandhi, stood in unity with their brethren overseas and issued a statement to address potential apathy from people around the world:

Let this be a reminder of what happens when society follows fundamentalists and allows ‘morals’ to be dictated. There are a lot of people in all our countries who would love to give the ‘spiritual cleansing’ treatment to punks as well as people of other religions, fans of Harry Potter, and countless other groups they may label as ‘deviants.’ If you believe in human dignity, autonomy, and the right for people to be able to make their own decisions, keep fighting for your rights and freedoms, as well as the rights and freedoms of others.

But Deputy Mayor of Banda Aceh, Illiza Sa’aduddin Djamal, demised the resistance from outside community borders. She and her council of Muslim scholars, or ulama, wish to outlaw the punk rock lifestyle completely through the passing of a specifically constructed holy law. She used her record of attacking the punk community to get re-elected, has the support of the community behind her, and claims that punks, “are out of sync with Islam. We don’t want it to spread to the next generation.” By stigmatizing the punks and using them as a scapegoat for social ills in the community, Djamal and her constituents remove attention from the rampant corruption that exists throughout the province. She has contributed to allowing entire tracts of forest to be cut down in exchange for personal profit.

With the community against them, the Aceh punks navigate their world the best they can. Banned from gathering in most public places around the city, the Aceh Tsunami Museum is one of the few places that offers them refuge. Their days are spent navigating around police, busking around the city singing songs with punk themes, and strumming along on their ukuleles. They squat in unoccupied buildings screen printing and making other types of art to sell to whoever will buy them. Concerts are held to support themselves financially and raise awareness for local issues. Even if the community doesn’t have the punk’s backs, the punks have theirs.

Fortunately, not everyone from the country agrees with Aceh’s conservative policies. I had the opportunity to interview Sherilyn Tjandra, a fellow student who left the Indonesian capital of Jakarta to study at UC San Diego. She disagrees with the practice of Shari’a law saying that it is, “unwelcoming and unfair, especially towards women. Lots of these laws are not in accordance with common sense and I don’t believe that they will make their followers better people.” She then told me, “Back home we, as a non-Muslim people, never complain because we understand that we are minorities and as long as their practices don’t harm us, we are willing to accept changes in rules and lifestyles.” Her sentiments are echoed by Scooby, one of the leading members of the punks in Banda Aceh interviewed in a documentary recently released in early 2016. “We only hope that we can be accepted, that’s enough. We can live in unity with others. After all, we’re also human. We’re the same, it’s only that we have a different way of thinking, different way of living.”

Despite the hardships, the punks of Banda Aceh continue to fight the good fight. Their struggle continues to gain international attention and they now have human rights lawyers working to defend them against injustice. There exists a colloquialism that states punk is dead, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. As Karli Munn summarizes, “Punk doesn’t lose its radicalism in times of stability and peace. By connecting to everyday struggles, punk remains a threat to established power because punk refuses to work within the system when the system isn’t working.” It is a long war. But it is a war that will be won. In solidarity, friends.

Image by Ikhlasul Amal