Hundreds of people gathered in Fields Corner on Sunday to watch as a colorful new mural celebrating the city’s Vietnamese community was unveiled on the side of Pho Hoà Restaurant on Dorchester Avenue.
The crowd buzzed over music, ate food, and played lawn games while waiting to see the two-story mural mounted on the north-facing wall of the brick building. Adorned with symbols of Vietnamese folklore and depictions of the journey to America, Ngoc-Trân Vu, a multimedia artist who spearheaded the mural project, said it’s really for all people of different backgrounds.
“It’s a narrative for any refugee or immigrant who have come to this land,” she said. “Especially in today’s divided world, it’s crucial to heal, unite, and share our stories.”
Last April, Vu received a $10,000 grant to fund the effort from Creative City Initiative of New England Foundations for the Arts (NEFA). With guidance from a steering committee, Vu and her team of artists made sure the mural reflected Vietnamese history and the Vietnamese-American generation that lives here today.
A team of artists and volunteers spent weeks painting a waterfall, fish, dragon, a shrine, a boat, a tree, and more in the restaurant’s basement. The mural depicts a popular Vietnamese folklore about a fish’s tenacity to swim against the flow of the river and leap to the top of a waterfall. After succeeding, the gods turned the fish into a majestic dragon.
Tony Vu, 20, one of the artists who contributed to the painting effort, said the mural reminds him of his two younger siblings, family in Vietnam, and in the US.
“Everyone goes through struggles in life, but there is someone out there who can relate and there is always someone rooting for you,” he said, explaining that the mural should influence people to love and support others.
Tam Le, the second-generation owner of Pho Hoà, was among the featured speakers on Sunday. The mural is about growth and unity in the Vietnamese community, he said. He spoke about his father who came to US and worked three jobs so he could afford to go to school, got fired from his first job, then started the restaurant.
“It also represents the story of a 21-year-old woman who put her dream of higher education on hold so that she could take care of her family,” Le said, referring to his mother. “This mural is personally dedicated to my mom.”
Kathy Lê, 17, who assisted Vu, painted her 7-year-old sister’s face on the mural. “It will be a huge reminder of her being there,” she said.
People were swarming around the mural as soon as it was revealed, taking pictures and attaching on social media the hashtags, “#VietStoriesMural” and “#DOTCommunity.”
The reaction from the crowd was “so positive, so proud, so happy,” Vu said.
Thân Vinh Bão-Toàn said he was impressed with how the young artists depicted the Vietnamese culture. “I thought they’d have to live in Vietnam and experience its history, but they did an amazing job,” he said.
Amanda Nguyen, 14, came out with her friends to get a glimpse. “I felt connected” she said. “It made me realize how much Viet culture has grown in Dorchester.”
Lam Nguyen, 17, who passed out programs at the event, said the colors were vibrant. The mural reminds him of his parents who were immigrants. I can see how much they had gone through for me to be successful in my future,” he said.
Other guest speakers on hand for the dedication were City Councillors Michelle Wu and Ayanna Presley and Captain Tim Connolly from the Boston Police Department’s Area C-11 district.