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Hello All,

I wanted to share with you a translated article that one of our beloved students, Le Hoa Wilson, a contributing writer for the Viet Bao Daily News, wrote about her experience with the Treasures. This program is changing lives and people's perception of life. I can't tell you how many times I've heard my students say how art has changed the way they see everything around them, making it more beautiful than they've ever recognized it to be... Good job, team. So special to be a part of this!

Merry New Year to all of you!



Painting the Time

By Lehoa Wilson


When Linh, my young friend called me and informed me that she already registered my name for the painting class, I thought she was crazy.

Learn how to paint? At the age of seventy? I had never even held a brush in my life. She told me not to worry. All of the students were seniors and, like me, had no experience.

“It takes a few classes,” she told me. “Then you will be used to it and then you will paint beautifully!”

I sighed. Nonetheless, on Wednesday, I dragged myself to the meeting room of Nguoi Viet to begin my lessons.

The program was sponsored by the Bower Museum in Santa Ana. All paints, canvases and other supplies were free. Our teacher was Trinh Mai, a young Vietnamese woman. Born in America, she spoke Vietnamese with a lovely accent. The class coordinator, Minh Hieu Nguyen, was eloquent and dressed as beautifully as a Spanish actress. As for the 40 students, they were a motley crew from all walks of life. Believe it or not, I saw one male student with only one left arm. I did not learn how to paint yet but I already learned how to be brave, to believe in self.

Our class focused on water colors. Imagine picking up a brush, dipping it in clear water and waving a line on the canvas like the meandering road of an old village. Then dip the brush in blue and lightly touch a few different parts on that wavy road. Voila! Watch the color run and mix with the water, dark in some places and light in others. For a sunset, add yellow. For a rainy day, add grey.

We picked up our canvases and physically tilted them left, right, up, down, watching the colors follow the water as they mixed into each other, blending into streaks. The outcome was up to us.

Suddenly, I could see my whole life in that river of colors. My parents drew the first pure line with clear water. I then chose my lover, my husband and my friends. I decided my path, choosing whether to soar up or tumble down, to be good or bad, to be humble or arrogant, to love or to hate. I have dropped many different colors in that first pure one and that swirl of colors has made me sing happily many times like a cockatiel but, just as many times, has also led me to hide deep in the earth like a worm.

Though she was born stateside, our teacher Trinh Mai has always loved Vietnam and wanted to introduce Vietnamese culture to others. Along with painting, she also encouraged us Vietnamese students to write poems about our watercolor works of art. In particular, she pushed us to pursue a special kind of poetry called ‘Luc Bat.’ The first line must have six words, the second line eight words and the last word of the first line must rhyme with the sixth word of the second line. Not only did she want us to write the poems in Vietnamese, she wanted us to translate them to English so the others could understand them.

Oh My God! I thought. Did she know that we left school fifty years ago?

“If I was born in America and I can do it, so can you!” she said.

The students got busy. One man remembered the lovely girl he met while in the armed forces far away from home. The love was unfinished. Others cried for a spouse lost in the war. Some appreciated the help of Americans. Some wanted to forget the painful past. It was incredible that, despite the many years that had passed, we still had such rich and romantic memories to draw from for our poems.

Here is our teacher Trinh Mai’s poem:

Loss of country, tears, loss of everything

When can we once again sing the song of old?

In this life, we will see rain

And light every afternoon. Worry not…

Students laughed, not at her English poem, but about her version translated into Vietnamese, the so called ‘Luc Bat.’ Nevertheless we felt a deep love for her. She was born here and had never suffered one day in Vietnam. She could have been indifferent, careless but she lifted her hand and put a drop of color into her motherland so it could mix in with the other painful colors of the old students who lost their country.

Everybody worked so hard to finish their paintings. Some beautiful, some mediocre but all were drawn with happiness and joy. I drew a rose-colored orchid hanging down from the top of the canvas. When Trinh Mai showed it to the class, one male student said looking at it made him hungry because it looked like a cooked lobster! We all laughed hard but I felt no offense. We were a happy bunch of seniors.

Thursday, we went to the Bower Museum to learn soft art and color drawing on scarves. The instructors, volunteers and staff were so wonderful. We had never thought that we could have drawn any designs with our stiff hands and our arthritis-ridden fingers. However, with their dedicated help and sincere encouragements, they awoke the artistic part of our souls and butterflies, beautiful flowers and blue skies soon appeared on our scarves and paintings.

I want to thank the founders, the staff and the volunteers of the Bower Museum who spread out their hearts to this diverse community. I do not think that I can thank them enough because what they did for us cannot be measured. It touched our hearts and souls and revived the deepest feelings inside us.

I want to thank our teacher Trinh Mai for her dedication and kindness towards us all. I want to thank Minh Hieu Nguyen for her effective coordination. And last but not least, I want to thank all the students who shared their poems, their paintings and their joyful  laughter.