The Undeniable Force of Khó Khăn

Documentary, Narrative

Produced in Portugal, USA | 2018 | 10 min

Language: English, Vietnamese

Fri Oct 11 at 11:00am-12:40pm


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The Undeniable Force of Khó Khăn dwells on translation – that universal human yearning to understand and be understood. The symbolic actions and conversations between a mother and daughter reveal the secret language of refugee and immigrant survival: hy sinh (sacrifice), khó khăn (suffering), perseverance (chịu khó), and success (thành công).

Cindy Nguyen

Director's Biography

Cindy Nguyen is a subversive artist-historian who works between film, poetry, and visual narrative. Her work defies the dominant narrative and meditates on the subtle textures of translation and memory. The Undeniable Force of Khó Khăn is part of Mẹ, Translated, a project on intergenerational language and love.

Another major project of Nguyen is MISS/MIS, a feminist exploration of all things deemed ‘mis-’ –wrong, dirty, defiant, or ‘abnormal’. Her art experiments on translation, categorical impulses, and misreading emerged from her Ph.D. dissertation (UC Berkeley) on Vietnamese libraries, print culture, and reading. Her art has been published in transnational publications Diacritics, Ajar Press, and her scholarly projects have been funded by Fulbright and the National Academy of Education/Spencer.

Nguyen’s work bridges the diverse fields of history, technology, education, art, and language. As a refugee from the Vietnam War and English as a Second Language Learner, she is committed to advance the understanding of the complex history, culture, and language of Vietnam and its diaspora.

Director's Statement

I was raised by the moral compass of Confucian duty, Catholic guilt, and Vietnamese refugee fears of the unknown. As a child, I held on to every story my mother shared about our family’s escape from war-torn Vietnam and my miracle birth in a Malaysian refugee camp. Between Catholic prayer and helping out at our family restaurant, my mother bestowed upon me her secret language of refugee survival: hy sinh (sacrifice), khó khăn (suffering), and perseverance (chịu khó).

Growing up in America, my language of expression slowly transformed from Vietnamese to English, and my mother’s cultural vocabulary became increasingly foreign but powerfully totemic. I have studied Vietnamese language and history for over 8 years, and I am now a Ph.D. candidate in Vietnamese history at UC Berkeley. I now re-examine those linguistic totems of my childhood with a scholarly intensity and compassionate vulnerability. I research, write, and make art about Vietnamese culture, history, memory, and language.



Cindy Nguyen


Cindy Nguyen


Eric Kim


Cindy Nguyen


Cindy Nguyen

Lead Actor/Actress:

Cindy Nguyen, Thuy Kim Thi Pham