United Nations. Office of the High Commissioner for Human RIghts. Search this
United States Catholic Conference. Migration and Refugee Services Search this
0.6 Cubic feet (2 boxes)
Oral histories (document genres)
Papers relating to Catherine Hann's life in Vietnam (1953-1981), her flight by boat to Malaysia and stay at Pulau Bidong refugee camp (February --September 1981), her immigration to the United States (September 1981), and her work in Maryland as a circuit board assembler, manicurist and esthetician.
Scope and Contents:
The Catherine Hann Papers are divided into five series: Life in Vietnam, pre-1981; Stay in Malaysia, 1981; United States, 1981-2006; Oral History Interviews, 2002, 2006; and Photographs, 1955-2005.
Series 1 consists of four documents from Hann's life in Vietnam: an official copy of Hann's 1953 birth certificate, her college student ID, her Gia Long High School student ID and her 1974 South Vietnamese identity card.
Series 2 documents Hann's stay in the Pulau Bidong refugee camp off the coast of Malaysia and her family's medical processing in Kuala Lumpur. Especially interesting is a small diary Hann kept in 1981 documenting the building of the fishing boat, the voyage in the Gulf of Thailand, the stay at Pulau Bidong and Kuala Lumpur, and the family's first few months in the United States. There is an English translation of the diary. Other materials in this series include letters sent by relatives and friends to Hann in the refugee camp, papers documenting a family member's attempt to sponsor the family in the U.S., and hand-made Certificates of Commendation awarded to Hann's husband for his work in the refugee camp. The original letter with attached photographs from the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur granting permission for the family to immigrate is included.
Series 3 describes Hann's life in the United States as she transitioned from refugee to financially successful American citizen. Uncommon pieces of ephemera are cancelled checks repaying a loan from the United States Catholic Conference for the purchase of plane tickets from Malaysia to the United States. Also included are papers from Hann's seventeen years in the electronics industry, textbooks for manicurist training, a ledger and checkbook from Hann's short-lived Nails & Beauty Spa, Inc., and daily schedules with earnings from her current job at Totally Polished.
Series 4 consists of the original audiocassettes, reference CDs and typed transcript of an oral history conducted by Susan B. Strange, associate curator, with Hann on March 7, 2006, as well as a typed transcript of a December 14, 2002, interview with Hann conducted by Daniel Ekman, a student at St. Andrew's Episcopal School in Potomac, Maryland.
Original photographs in Series 5 document Hann's life in Vietnam, her husband's work in the refugee camp, the family's departure from Pulau Bidong, and Hann at work at Fairchild Space Co. Also in Series 5 is a folder with photocopies of seven photographs taken in 2005 by a Smithsonian staff member of Hann working at her manicure table. Smithsonian negative numbers are included with the photocopies; releases from the photographer, Hann, and the woman having a manicure, are in the Archives Center's control file for this collection. In the same folder are photocopies of five photographs (originals retained by Hann) showing Hann's life in Vietnam; the Archives Center scan number is printed on each photocopy. Hann granted copyright in these five photographs to the National Museum of American History on April 22, 2006; the release form is in the Archives Center's control file.
The collection is divided into five series with chronological arrangement.
Series 1: Life in Vietnam, 1953-1981
Series 2: Stay in Malaysia, 1981
Series 3: United States, 1981-2006
Series 4: Oral History Interviews, 2002, 2006
Series 5: Photographs, 1955-2005
Biographical / Historical:
Catherine Hann was born in Saigon, State of Vietnam, on November 14, 1953 as Huynh bach Thuy. (She changed her name to Catherine Hann when she became a naturalized American citizen on June 19, 1987.) Hann, her parents and younger siblings lived in Saigon where her father worked as an instructor at Truong Quan Y, a South Vietnamese Army medical school. In 1968 Hann's family moved further south to Rach-Gia in Kien Giang province to care for Hann's recently-widowed paternal grandmother. Hann, the eldest of twelve children, stayed behind in Saigon, living with a great-uncle, so that she could continue attending Gia Long High School, one of the most prestigious and academically challenging public schools for girls in the country.
After graduation from Gia Long in 1973, Hann attended the University of Science in Saigon where she studied to become a biologist. In 1975, Hann's father, who had worked in a South Vietnamese military hospital in Rach-Gia since his arrival there in 1968, was sent to a "re-education camp." Hann returned to Rach-Gia to be with her mother and to help support the family. She then began attending a teacher training program in Rach-Gia where she trained as a biology teacher. At the training program, Hann met Han Huu Vinh who became her husband in 1976. After graduation, Hann taught biology in a high school in Rach-Gia while her husband taught mathematics in the same school. Their son, Kinh, was born in 1977.
In addition to supplementing the family income with her teacher salary, she also purchased unprocessed rice or "rough rice," had it milled, and sold the resulting white rice. To make a little more money for the family, the hulls and other residue from the milling process were sold as hog food. The future looked bleak, and Hann and her husband decided to take their young son and flee the country.
After two failed attempts to escape by boat, the Hanns were luckier the third time. A family friend obtained permission to build a fishing boat, a small wooden craft only 11.5 meters by 2.1 meters. Hann's family, one of the initiators and organizers of the scheme to use the fishing boat as a means of escape, hired a man who had served in the South Vietnamese Navy to navigate. At 2:05 a.m. on the morning of February 14, 1981, ninety-two people left Rach-Gia on the overloaded boat and headed southwest. Three days later the fishing vessel, towing another boat found stranded after being attacked by pirates, docked at Pulau Bidong, an island off the coast of Malaysia. After five months in the United Nations refugee camp on Pulau Bidong, Hann, husband, son, brother, and husband's nephew were taken to Kuala Lumpur for processing in preparation for immigration to the United States.
Hann's husband's sister, a naturalized American living in Rockville, Maryland, was their sponsor, and on September 11, 1981, the five-member family group arrived in the United States. The five continued to live together for about four years before Hann's brother and her husband's nephew went out on their own. After being on welfare and receiving intensive English-language training, Hann and her husband gradually became self-sufficient. Hann's first job was working in the cafeteria at Montgomery College in Rockville which she left to work at Denro Labs doing electronic assembly. Hann's husband's first job was at Solarex testing solar panels.
After almost ten years in the electronic assembly field, a Vietnamese friend encouraged Hann to train as a manicurist, and in 1992 Hann graduated from the Aesthetics Institute of Cosmetology in Gaithersburg, Maryland. At first she only manicured her own nails, but a year or so later Hann began working on Saturdays at a busy nail salon while continuing to work full-time in the electronics industry. When she learned that doing facials and waxing was faster and more profitable than doing manicures, Hann obtained training and a license to become an esthetician. After her week-day employer, Orbital Science Corp., moved to Sterling, Virginia, in 2000, a long commute for Hann, she started working full-time as an esthetician and manicurist at Totally Polished in Potomac, Maryland.
Hann works six days a week at Totally Polished, and on her day off she spends the morning doing manicures and waxing for private clients in their homes. This hard work has enabled Hann and her husband to pay off the mortgage on their single-family house in Gaithersburg and purchase a rental house in Florida. Their only child, Kinh, also has done well, earning a Master's Degree from the University of Maryland and now (2006) working on his PhD in biomedical engineering. Kinh is employed by Digene Corporation; he bought a house three years ago; and, as his mother proudly states, he drives a brand new BMW. Hann's stated reason for fleeing her country was "for my son's future;" the family's hard work and sacrifices seem to have made her hopes come true.
In 2005, the Division of Work and Industry collected manicure tools and soldering test equipment from Hann; in 2006 the division collected facial and waxing-related objects from Hann. Clothing worn on the boat fleeing Vietnam was donated in 2006 to the Division of Home and Community Life, along with tweezers Hann purchased in Saigon and carried throughout her immigration experience. The wedding of Kinh Hann to Leila Poursedehi in 2008 is documented in the Archives Center Weddings Documentation Collection, collection number 1131. The Vietnamese wedding dress that Leila Poursedehi wore at their wedding dinner was donated to the costume collection in the Division of Home and Community Life in 2008.
The collection was donated by Catherine Hann, March 18, 2006.
Collection is open for research.
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
Pearl Bowser is a filmmaker, producer, author, lecturer, and highly acclaimed scholar of African American film who is recognized as an authority on the works of Oscar Micheaux, a noted writer, director, and producer of race films from 1919 to 1948.
Born Pearl Johnson on June 25, 1931, in Sugar Hill, Harlem, New York, she was named after her mother (also Pearl Johnson), a domestic worker who had been raised in a Catholic nunnery. On occasional Saturdays, the younger Pearl would accompany her mother to work in apartments in lower Manhattan, where she would assist her by folding handkerchiefs for a small allowance. After moving to a lower part of Harlem when she was about four years old, she met Harlem entrepreneur "Bumpy" Johnson, for whom she and other children in the neighborhood did odd jobs such as counting coins or attending to his ice-cream stand. Johnson, who would sometimes give the children joy rides in his Cadillac, occasionally allowed Pearl and the other children to borrow books from his extensive library, provided that they read them and submitted to a quiz.
As a child, Bowser had several racist encounters. For example, one of her white kindergarten teachers at her elementary school wore gloves in the classroom as to not touch Black pupils. She was also occasionally teased for having a gap between her teeth but felt insulated from sustained bullying because she had several older brothers who sometimes protected her. On a separate occasion, when she was about nine years old, her mother sent her on a trip from New York to the South to visit relatives. Although her mother had purchased tickets for her to be in a Pullman car, when she changed trains in Washington, DC., she was forced to ride in the car behind the engine, which left her covered in soot.
An avid reader, Pearl excelled in elementary and high school and received a scholarship to attend Brooklyn College, where she majored in biology. She supplemented her income by recording the numbers in one of Bumpy Johnson's shops. Disappointed with the quality of the education she was receiving, Bowser withdrew from Brooklyn College, eventually landing a job at CBS where she worked on a team that analyzed Nielsen ratings.
In 1955, Pearl married fellow New Yorker LeRoy Bowser. By the mid-1960s, although Pearl and LeRoy Bowser had separate interests, they both were working simultaneously in the civil rights movement. While LeRoy was active in Brooklyn CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) and went to the South in the summer to teach for what was the beginning of HeadStart, Pearl, along with other production activists, took to the streets documenting African American culture and issues—working to bring these films to schools. Additionally, Bowser wanted to write a cookbook to earn funds for Brooklyn's CORE organization. She was approached by David Davis, the editor of Tuesday Magazine. Tuesday had distribution in the Herald Tribune across the country as a Sunday supplement. As the urban-world magazine exploded in Black communities, "Joan" Bowser's two-page pictorials on Southern cooking with a set of recipes became very popular in the five years she wrote them. Bowser retained copyrights to the articles, and easily completed her cookbook a short time later.
Bowser's colleague at ABC, Charles Hobson, found a used book written by Peter Noble about Black films and Oscar Micheaux. The volume was slim and contained what little information contained in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) files. Hobson and his colleagues wanted to write a book about the topic, and they assigned Bowser to begin the research. As part of the project, Bowser went to California to interview actors who may have been in early Black films or may have worked with Micheaux. What she learned began her intensive scholarship into Micheaux and his fellow filmmakers.
In 1971, she organized her first film festival, the Black Film History Series. In 1979, she organized the nation's first American women's film festival in New York City. She also presented a major retrospective, Independent Black American Cinema 1920-1980, which toured the country during 1981 and 1982. She also directed the Journey Across Three Continents film and lecture series, which toured the country from 1983-1985. Bowser also served as president of the prestigious Flaherty Film Seminar in 1987. In 1989, she, alongside Grant Munro, programmed the 35th Flaherty Film Seminar, which featured films such as Finzan, Zajota and the Boogie Spirit, Daughters of the Dust, and many more. She has also been a judge at the world-renown Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESCPACO) in Burkina Faso (formerly known as Upper Volta).
In the 1980s Bowser was awarded an independent artists grant by the Ford Foundation to travel west and collect oral histories from individuals in Oscar Micheaux's orbit, loosely following the route he would have travelled decades earlier. Stopping in cities such as Roanoke, Virginia; Memphis, Tennessee; and Jackson, Mississippi, she collected dozens of oral histories from actors, actresses etc. that knew Oscar Micheaux. Through this research she became an eminent figure in the Black independent film industry. Working as a programmer, she travelled around the United States and the world showing films by domestic and Black filmmakers within the Diaspora.
Despite her wealth of experience working as a programmer, it wasn't until the 1990s that Bowser made her directorial debut with the documentary film Midnight Ramble. Funded by American Experience, the film looks at African Americans and Hollywood movies from 1910 through the 1950s. In 2000, she, along with Louise Spence, co-authored Writing Himself into History: Oscar Micheaux, His Silent Films and His Audiences, a book about the pioneering filmmaker. Additionally, she is founder and director of Chamba Educational Film Services, a film distribution company that specialized in distributing films by African American filmmakers. In the early 1980s, she renamed her company/collection as African Diaspora Images, a collection of historical and contemporary films documenting Black film history. She subsequently joined Third World Newsreel, where she was director of their theater department.
In 2012, Pearl Bowser donated her extensive collection of books, sound cassettes, films, film memorabilia, and papers to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
1940 United States Federal Census; New York, New York, New York, population schedule, p. 61B, house number 1486, family 195, Pearl Bowser; Ancestry.com. 1940 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012 accessed: 10 Sept 2022); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm: m-t0627-02665
Bowser, Pearl. Pearl Bowser Oral History. Interview by Tuliza Fleming and Jennifer Lyon, July 21, 2011.
Acquired as a donation from Pearl Bowser in 2012.
Collection is open for research. Access to collection materials requires an appointment.