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Artist-Turned-Editor Is Out to Make a News Start : Publishing: Trung Pham wants his VietNow, based in Westminster's Little Saigon, to serve as a forum for dealing with issues past and present.

March 09, 1995|THAO HUA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WESTMINSTER — Trained as a painter and a graphic artist, Trung Pham was accustomed to seeing the world in cool and warm shades, soft and striking colors, airy and bold brush strokes.

But usually not in black and white.

Until now.

Pham is the founder of VietNow, one of the first magazines for a generation of Vietnamese Americans who grew up in the United States. It is published in Westminster's Little Saigon.

Working as a publisher, editor and writer, he now conveys his views in black type on white, glossy paper.

"By far, this is one of the most challenging projects I've ever set out to do," said Pham, 29, who admitted that he is still much more comfortable working with oils and canvases than subjects and verbs.

The first issue, with 5,000 copies released in February, was distributed at Vietnamese bookstores and newsstands as well as university campuses throughout California, Oregon, Washington and Texas.

Aimed at Vietnamese Americans ages 18 to 38, the English-language magazine addresses such issues as sex, career and interracial relationships. Pham plans to profile the Vietnamese gay and lesbian community in the next issue, scheduled to hit newsstands March 23.

"This is something that hardly ever gets talked about in the Vietnamese community," Pham said. "And like it or not, it happens, and we need to deal with it."

Several readers interviewed said they admire Pham's first effort and believe the publication will serve as a communication platform for young Vietnamese Americans.

"I think he's got courage to do what he did," said Tuan Le, 32, an administrator for a law firm who read the magazine at a Tet festival in Westminster.

Others believe that VietNow has the potential to build bridges between the older and younger generations of Vietnamese, and between the overseas immigrants and the people living in Vietnam.

"I see a lot of promise," said Tu-Uyen Nguyen, 22, a senior at UC Irvine who is majoring in biology and comparative literature. "Maybe in the future, the magazine can be an open forum where young Vietnamese can turn to for better understanding of our own identity."

The idea of a magazine for Vietnamese of his generation materialized after a trip around the world that took Pham back home to Saigon, he said.

When he left the United States five years ago to study painting, Pham thought of nothing but to get as far away as possible from his ties to the traditions of Vietnam.

"Back then, being Vietnamese, to me, meant giving in to the traditional beliefs of my parents," Pham said. "It is settling to be a graphic designer when you really wanted to be a painter, all because somehow, your parents thought that it would be the 'safer' thing to do."

After graduating with a visual-design degree at the University of Oregon in 1988, Pham decided to abandon the inhibitions dictated by his Vietnamese past to pursue the worldly whims packaged in a trip around the world that included stops in Pakistan, Egypt, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Hong Kong and Thailand.

Pham saw the Great Pyramids of Giza, the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

But for all their majesty, Pham said, none of the monuments compared to the sight of his childhood home in Saigon, which he hadn't seen since he left at age 9 in 1975.

"It was like I was coming home and finding that I am a stranger in my own home," he said in a soft, undulating voice. "It felt like a home that I've somehow lost out on, a childhood that I've somehow lost out on."

It was at this trove of memories that he saw himself as a child for the first time.

"When my family left Vietnam, we didn't have room for the photos, so I never knew what I looked like as a kid," he said. "And in Saigon," where he tracked down childhood photos, "I finally got to do that."

It was also in Saigon where he realized that there must be many others like him, people trying to reconcile the conflicts of East and West, of traditional obligation and newfound freedom.

"I thought a magazine would be the perfect platform," he said.

Pham took $10,000 he made from selling his paintings in Europe and Asia and went to work on this new publication. He and a friend from college, David Edelhart, 28, designed the magazine on Edelhart's computer in Portland, Ore., and wrote a few articles "since we couldn't find writers."

Their work was done mostly in Portland, where Pham's parents live, then transferred to Westminster on discs for printing.

"We often worked all night," Edelhart said. "Then in the morning, I would shower at his house and went off to work in my wrinkled old clothes, unshaven.

"After work, I'd be back at his house again, working on the magazine and eating his mom's food. That was how I got paid--his mom's cooking. She's a great cook."

Edelhart has been working for an air-conditioner manufacturer in Oregon. But he plans to quit that job next month and move to Orange County with Pham to devote his time to the magazine.

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