I have been thinking about the possibility of applying the Be Green Challenge into purchasing an ao dai. The idea is not about buying a second-hand ao dai from somebody else, yet commits in consuming an ethnic necessity to satisfy one's curiosity. As much as Professor Valverde emphasizes how an ao dai is supposed to design to fit on one's body shape, I'm still tempted to research on how it feels to own an ao dai that does not specifically design for the wearer. My cousin, an American-born Vietnamese who owns a pre-made ao dai, responded to my question with pride and appreciation, "I love my ao dai, because it connects me to my Vietnamese American community and it's great to wear during Tet."
These are samples of pre-made ao dai, which is not fitted to the girls' bodies.
The history of the ao dai is heavily political. In class, I learned that the ao dai does not only symbolize purity and cultural aesthetics, but proclaims a political statement by "South Vietnamese" during the Vietnamese War or the "diaspora community" in present term. Indeed, the revival of the ao dai after the Economic Reform (Đổi Mới) in 1986 demonstrated the impact of diaspora community on their homeland.
In Valverde's article, Creating Identity, Defining Culture, and Making History from an Art Exhibit: 'Unfinished Story: A Tribute to My Mothers', she wrote about Chau Huynh and her seven artistic pieces presenting her personal experiences living under a communist family and marrying to a Vietnamese American husband. Her struggles of "being in the buffer zone" is similar to the political standpoint of the ao dai that leads to the question: Where does Chau Huynh/ ao dai belong in this society that simply rejects the beauty of growing out of the bloody past?
In addition, in Lieu's book The American Dream in Vietnamese discusses a lot about how Vietnamese pageantry requires contestants to wear ao dai as "they ensure the continuance of gendered Vietnamese cultural practice" (Lieu, 67).
A poster of Miss Vietnam of Northern California in 2014
The ao dai should not be a Vietnamese or Vietnamese American ethnic clothing. It is my choice of fashion that speaks about my identity being a Vietnamese international student in California. It can also be your piece of fashion statement celebrating the Vietnamese American flag during Tet. That's why let stop putting political pressures for people my Chau Huynh who has the equal right to share about her living experience as much as other non-communist beings!
Inside source: Valverde, Kieu-Linh Caroline. 2008. "Creating Identity, Defining Culture, and Making History from an Art Exhibit: 'Unfinished Story: A Tribute to My Mothers'."Crossroads 19:2. Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Northern Illinois University.
Outside source: Lieu, Nhi T. "Pageantry and Nostalgia." The American Dream in Vietnamese. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2011. N. pag. Print.