In 1975, as Saigon was falling to the Communists, 125,000 Vietnamese, loyal to the American forces and afraid for their lives, escaped Vietnam any way they could -- in helicopters, airplanes and overcrowded boats. The refugees weren’t warmly welcomed in the United States. The Vietnam War was unpopular and there was considerable resentment and mistrust towards non-white immigrants. To minimize their impact on local communities, the refugees were scattered throughout the country.
Giap Thi Nguyen was 29 years old, uneducated and scared, when a Catholic group sponsored her resettlement to a small town in Indiana. She spoke no English and was seven months pregnant with no husband. Her sponsor informed her that the best way to fit in was to work, then took her to a local factory and got her a job. She worked on an assembly line – clocking in at 6:30 am, operating a 250-ton press, making ironing boards, one of the few household items still “Made in the U.S.A.”
35 years later, Giap can finally retire. Tony, her aspiring documentary filmmaker son living in Oakland, California comes home to film her last day on the job. Tony has never been to his mother’s workplace and as soon as he turns on the camera, he realizes how little he knows about her life in both Vietnam and in Seymour, Indiana (famous as the birthplace of John Mellencamp and the inspiration for his hit song, “Small Town”). He uses the opportunity to ask her all the questions she was too tired, too busy or unwilling to answer when he was a child (“What happened to my father?”) and tries to come to terms with his anger over his abusive stepfather and bitterness growing up as an oddity, the only Asian in town.
GIAP'S LAST DAY AT THE IRONING BOARD FACTORY, a half-hour documentary, follows Tony on a painful, but loving and sometimes funny journey. It explores the refugee experience, the communication gulf between parent and child, and how racism shapes the Asian American experience. Along the way we also learn how to make ironing boards, Vietnamese spring rolls and banh xeo.
The film jumps back and forth between Giap’s last day at the factory, Tony’s childhood, Giap’s life in Vietnam, and their relationship now. It will stimulate insight, discussion and understanding of the hardships of assimilation.
2014 / Documentary / 28 Minutes