Coming full circle on cultural identity

Exhibit depicts photographer’s journey into Vietnamese heritage
By Lauren Salcedo | For The Beacon | Apr 05, 2017
Photo by: Minh Carrico This photo by Minh Carrico, which is included in his “Circles of Identity” exhibit, shows his extended family surprising him with a birthday party in Vietnam.

When Minh Carrico recalls his life growing up in Little Rock, he remembers responding to a specific and alarming question from other children: “Are you adopted?”

Carrico was raised in Arkansas and described being the only Asian American in his primary and secondary schools. Classmates often questioned him about his identity – as the son of a Vietnamese woman and an American soldier who were married during the Vietnam War. He often felt pressured to explain his Western surname, Carrico.

“I recognized racial relationships at an early age,” he said. “With that identity conflict, I often thought, ‘Yes, I don’t look like everyone else, but I do my best to fit in.’”

It wasn’t until 2002 – decades later – that Carrico brought his journey of cultural identity full circle by traveling to Vietnam. This trip and two others over the course of five years are the subjects of Carrico’s photography in “Circles of Identity,” which is currently the featured exhibit at the Rosehill Community Center through June 21.

Carrico, who teaches at Edmonds Community College, will be attending an opening reception for “Circles of Identity” at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 6, at Rosehill Community Center, located at 304 Lincoln Ave. The free exhibit features a series of 20 color photographs taken during his three separate trips to Vietnam.

“At that period in my life, I was looking for something to do other than commercial and advertising work,” Carrico said. “I was looking for a personal project and I also needed to figure out my cultural identity.”

When Carrico began working on the project, his mother revealed that his dad, the man who raised him, was not his biological father.

“My father was a Vietnamese man she had been seeing at the same time as my dad,” he said.

The discovery about his personal lineage came at a time when Carrico had decided to begin a new project and take a trip back to his mother’s homeland. The information served to make the introspection on his cultural identity that much more poignant.

“It gave the trip and all subsequent work on the project new meaning,” he said. “I was going back with the intention of figuring out where my mom came from and what she left behind. It was going to be about my mom and my mom’s world – and it became about me in many ways.”

To accomplish his photography plans in Vietnam, Carrico brought two cameras, three lenses, and bags upon bags of film – a small collection considering that he often used enough equipment to fill an entire car back in New York City. Other than bringing the tools of the trade, Carrico said he did not plan out his project before leaving on his trip.

“I went in with no real intentions,” he said. “I just wanted to see where my mother grew up and where she spent her time.”

The images in the series depict specific moments in time, and members of his family are featured in some of the photographs.

“With people, I try to find the patterns with what they do and how they interact,” Carrico said. “Where they stack their bills or where they put their keys – that interests me. Sometimes, it’s just a beautiful picture you happen to find.”

One such image captures an unexpected moment when members of Carrico’s extended family surprised him with a birthday party. He quickly snapped a photograph of the party-goers; the resulting image depicts a brief moment in his personal history that is now immortalized through film.

“Photography is a lot like hunting,” Carrico said. “You can do a lot of looking and waiting. But sometimes you just find a happy accident.”

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