Mural elevates Dot’s Vietnamese experience

The steering committee for the mural project: Top row: Tam Le; Middle row, from left, Justin Nguyen, Hung Vu, Michelle Nguyen, Tommy Nguyen, and Grace Ejiwale; bottom row, Kathy Le, Joan DoTruong, Duoc Nguyen, Tran Vu, and Cuong Nguyen. Not shown: Tony Vu. Photo by Kevin Lam.

Using the side of the celebrated Pho Hoa restaurant on Dot Ave as its canvas, Fields Corner will soon unveil a dramatic new mural that will salute the achievements of the city’s Vietnamese community.

The artist behind the work is Ngoc-Tran Vu, best known as “Tran,” who won a $10,000 grant earlier this year to design and paint the mural. Tran lives across the street from the mural site and has been immersed in Dorchester’s civic life since moving here as a child from Vietnam in 1992.

What’s exciting about this public art project is that it’s a team effort in every sense of the word. Tam Le, whose family runs Pho Hoa and the companion Reign Drink Lab, has been an eager partner.

Back in April, Le told the Reporter: “I feel honored, excited, proud. Honored that Tran has decided to use our wall to create what we anticipate to be a beautiful homage to our heritage and community, excited to see the community come together to share the experience of the creation of the piece, proud of Tran and her dedication to the Vietnamese community. I could not think of a more fitting person nor a more fitting medium to achieve this than Tran’s mural.”

Together, Tran and Le organized a diverse steering committee to think through all of the elements of the mural and to engage the community at large. Every step of the project — from materials to the upcoming (Sat., Sept. 30; 10 a.m.-1 p.m.) block party that will serve as the mural’s unveiling— has been detailed on an illustrated blog at Tran’s website,

The pre-painted boards that are the components of the actual painting will be assembled on the side of the building beginning this week. Even with all of the input from resident and neighbors, the final draft of the mural itself is a tightly held secret.

In a posting in June, Tran noted that the steering committee had narrowed down the main themes of the mural to include “Vietnamese Presence, Unity, and Brighter Future.”

In a statement this week, Tran said: “This project involves the creation of a permanent, large-scale outdoor mural that showcases the history, culture, and vision of the Vietnamese people in Dorchester, Boston’s largest and most diverse neighborhood. In creating and executing this mural project centered on the experience of the Vietnamese American community we hope to raise awareness, facilitate dialogue, and inspire engagement for a more inclusive Dorchester, Boston and beyond.”

The Creative City Initiative of New England Foundations for the Arts (NEFA) gets credit for funding this excellent initative. The block party, featuring traditional Vietnamese food and drinks and music, that will serve as the unveiling for the mural is open to the public.

It’s purely coincidental that this event comes as the nation is once again pondering the great tragedy of the Vietnam War through the work of the epic documentarian Ken Burns. The PBS series— which is running every night this week— is painful at times, and deeply troubling.

But in Dorchester, one legacy of the complex US-Vietnam era is indisputable: Our neighborhood has been immeasurably enhanced by the presence of the Vietnamese people and their culture. The Pho Hoa mural project is a welcome opportunity to celebrate the remarkable community that we have become.

Bill Forry is the editor and publisher of the Reporter. He may be reached via e-mail at

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