Vietnamese art and culture gain exposure with San Jose’s Chopsticks Alley
Chopsticks Alley Founder Trami Cron (top right), co-producer Esther Young (top left) and artist and designer Emma Linh (bottom center) discuss how to have an art career in the tech industry on Chopsticks Alley's YouTube channel.

    For Trami Cron, sharing Vietnamese art and culture is about more than creating community.

    It’s also about helping people focus on something positive. “We find that during these difficult times, there needs to be a light,” she said. “There needs to be some laughter and smiles.”

    As chief editor and founder of Chopsticks Alley Art, a multimedia publication promoting Vietnamese and Filipino narratives in San Jose, Cron has expanded the publication during the coronavirus pandemic by using platforms such as Twitch.

    Since April, Chopsticks Alley has hosted virtual events every week through those platforms, sharing content such as interviews with Vietnamese American artists, traditional Vietnamese ghost stories and discussions on the art created by queer and trans Southeast Asian artists.

    Cron said the pandemic has made Chopsticks Alley’s events more flexible, allowing her to quickly schedule special guests who are based outside of San Jose, as far away as Southern California and Colombia.

    “It’s given us the opportunity to feature people who we would never have known about,” she said.

    Along with hosting virtual events, Chopsticks Alley hand delivers art supplies to elderly members of the local Southeast Asian community and creates YouTube tutorials to allow residents stuck at home during the regional shelter-in-place orders to participate in art workshops remotely.

    Robin Treen, community partnerships coordinator for the San Jose Museum of Art, said Cron has creatively kept the community engaged during quarantine.

    “She’s really maintained her presence in the community,” she said. “They know that if they have problems, they can call her and talk to her.”

    Esther Young, a co-producer for virtual projects with Chopsticks Alley who’s participated as an artist and speaker in virtual events, said Chopsticks Alley will continue to use the technical skills learned during the pandemic.

    “We’re going to keep meeting over Zoom instead of phone calls and we’re going to keep producing shows that can go from Twitch onto YouTube,” she said. “Because now we know how to make things look good right on these digital platforms.”

    Working at the San Jose Museum of Art in 2017 inspired Cron to create the nonprofit Chopsticks Alley Art, a year after she launched the publication Chopsticks Alley. She said working there revealed how little Southeast Asian art was on display for San Jose to see. Asians comprise a major chunk of San Jose’s diverse population, accounting for nearly 30%.

    “The Bay Area is a diverse community, yet when we looked at the art scene it was not that diverse,” she said. “And especially the Southeast Asian voice is not often seen or heard.”

    After Cron left the museum to start Chopsticks Alley Art, Treen and Cron worked together on Hidden Heritages: San José’s Vietnamese Legacy, a collaborative project by the San Jose Museum of Art, Chopsticks Alley and San Jose’s Office of Cultural Affairs.

    They planned to host numerous workshops where Vietnamese artists could encourage others to share their history. They could only host one workshop in February before people were forced to stay in because of the pandemic.

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    Treen said people were open about telling their life stories and she hopes those experiences are incorporated into a final exhibition at the end of the project.

    “It was an absolutely revelatory experience for everybody,” she said.

    Treen and Cron are brainstorming ways to host the Hidden Heritages workshops virtually with plans to host a final exhibition in 2021.

    Young said Chopsticks Alley has an engaged audience that cares about the arts and that Cron will reach more San Joseans as time goes on.

    “Moving forward, Chopsticks Alley’s name is going to grow,” she said. “That’s my projection for the coming years, post COVID.”

    Contact John Bricker at [email protected] or follow him @JohnMichaelBr15 on Twitter.

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