A crowd of 120 people warm themselves with viciously caffeinated Vietnamese coffee one freezing Friday night at a gel-lit Garden Grove coffee shop. The occasion is One Mic, which organizers bill as the first open-mic night ever devoted to bicultural, bilingual Vietnamese-Americans. For the next four hours, about 20 people finger piano tunes, deliver impassioned pleas against sex trafficking, crack jokes with an English delivery and Vietnamese punch line. Some read traditional, metaphor-laden Vietnamese poetry or dedicate sensually explicit reflections to former lovers. One mother nudges her cherubic son from his Game Boy so that he can bashfully read some lines from a book. The six-member group Viet Band mesmerize patrons with their fusionistic jazz—from mournful Vietnamese ballad to English-language lounge-lizard. Hostesses Taylur Thu Hien Ngo and Jenny Trang Le perform witty freestyle as part of their spoken-word double team. Long Nguyen provides musical arrangements on his acoustic guitar throughout the night and also includes two sets of lush bilingual tunes; one is about seeking the woman of his dreams on OCTA buses.
There's plenty of opportunity in Little Saigon for older Vietnamese to pine over their mother country, but not a lot of places kids can express themselves except cybercafes. Says Ngo, "As it is, any entertainment or venue in Little Saigon is geared towards Vietnamese-only performances that appeal mainly to first-generation Vietnamese. Lots of backup dancers, traditional songs and dresses. But we're past cultural night already—we have to strike a balance between the old and new."
Everyone involved in One Mic vows to stage the free salon monthly, or maybe even twice a month. And aiming for more than just allowing people to recite poetry, One Mic's organizers hope ultimately to create something really big—a cultural, political and artistic renewal in Little Saigon like those that occurred in fin-de-siècle Vienna and Weimar-era Berlin. (Thankfully, no one mentions Paris in the '20s.) Failing that, they'll settle for Langston Hughes.
"As much as One Mic looks like a performance event on its surface, it's not solely that. With it, we want to build a coalition, a canon," says Ngo. "We want something just like in the Harlem Renaissance. They had Gwendolyn Brooks' living room as a central meeting point. There would be workshops, performances, discussions, networking. That's what One Mic should be. With a stage, we're all superhuman."
One Mic at Lup Café, 12119 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove, (714) 537-3710. Fri., 8:30 p.m. Free. For more information on future One Mics, contact Taylur Thu Hien Ngo at (310) 936-9335 or e-mail her at email@example.com.