Diana Nguyen still remembers the mid 1990s when she wished nothing more than to erase her Vietnamese heritage, as Pauline Hanson’s anti-Asian sentiment grew momentum in Australia.
“I don’t speak Vietnamese because when Pauline Hanson came out, I didn’t want to be Vietnamese. I wanted to be white,” the comedian tells Yahoo Lifestyle Australia.
“I followed cricket, I watched football. I’m a very Australian girl. Only in my late 20s did I realise I f**ked up.”
Now 33, the actress and standup comedian couldn’t be more proud of her culture, and her latest web series, Phi and Me, intends to wave the flag for Vietnamese representation on Australian screens.
Launching during Refugee Week, the five-part YouTube series focuses on 16-year-old Phi Nguyen and her ‘OTT tiger mum Kim Huong’ – characters based on Diana and co-creator Fiona Chau, and their mothers, both refugees during the Vietnam War.
“Vietnamese mums were tough but they were tough because they came here by boat with nothing,” explains Diana.
“That’s why they put a lot of pressure for financial success because they don’t ever want their children to experience what they experienced.
“Also both our mums are single mums so they raised their children without dads, so that’s another element as well.”
Diana, who has performed at Melbourne Comedy Festival several times, says “it’s time” for a program like this to hit Australian screens.
“It has been 44 years since the Vietnam War ended and there has never been a family comedy show [like this],” she says.
“Vietnamese people haven’t been represented. It’s a different culture from Chinese or Taiwanese, so I’m really proud that we’re able to make something else available for young people and for my community.”
But this is not Australia’s glitzy Crazy Rich Asians. As the the web series progresses, the more serious impacts of migration and lost identity are explored.
“We touch on intergenerational conflict and the repercussions of it,” explains Diana.
“Something drops in episode four where we get to the heart and we see the hurt of these two characters and what settling in Australia has caused to this breakdown of the relationship.”
Diana didn’t need to look further than her own experiences when writing this project, and as mentioned earlier, the rise of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation instigated some of the fear and sorrow she’s felt over the years.
“I remember year six was when Pauline Hanson was elected into parliament. I remember having a shower and then physically repulsing at the idea that my mum was going to be sent back to Vietnam because she was Asian,” she recalls.
She then wanted to be white, and tried her best to scrub away the Vietnamese in her by shunning her mum’s mother tongue.
“The way that I talk to my mum is the repercussion of racism in Australia and how it affected me,” she explains. “Because I can’t communicate with my mum in fluent Vietnamese and that’s the repercussion of thinking Vietnamese was uncool.”
Phi and Me will launch in Melbourne on June 16, and in Sydney on June 18. More details about the Screen Australia production here.
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