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I was born to Chinese parents. They left the mainland for Vietnam, where they married very young. Shortly after I was born, my father was drafted in the Vietnam War. When he returned, my parents decided to leave our increasingly communist home and move to Canada for a new and better life. I have lived here since I was three.

My parents didn’t know any English when they arrived in Canada. They’ve worked in a factory ever since I could remember, making sheet metal. It’s an intensely laborious job, but one that doesn’t require English skills. This is the shirt my father wore to work almost every day of my life. I took this Polaroid, one of the first photographs I ever took, in our home on a summer afternoon. Beams of sunlight pierced my father’s shirt, illuminating all the rips, tears, and holes accumulated through his life-long hard work and dedication to his loved ones.

Together with my mother, they built a new life for our family. They bought me my first camera, they paid for my education, they bought us a house. They gave up their passions and dreams so I would have the opportunity to pursue my own. In this shirt, I see sacrifice, devotion, and love, all of which I take with me in every step of my life.

image by
Steven Beckly

Published as part of the “Early Works Project”,
curated by Laura Moya & Laura Valenti Jelen.