Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Needless to say, I have drawn a very grim looking catfish on a bicycle.

Catfish is a staple food in the Vietnamese diet, and it is reflective to some degree of the identity ascribed to An by the meals he eats while in Saigon: that of the Viet-kieu. To supersede, the image is linked to the "magic pot" of catfish given to An by his mother in times of great uncertainty, and it seems noteworthy that in Vietnamese culture the catfish is symbolic of sustenance and the capacity to survive. In the memoir itself, while the catfish signifies the preceding, it also represents transformation. The catfish swims along murky floors and nourishes itself upon the excrement of people, much in the same way Andrew moves along the grime and poverty of Vietnam, ingesting it (both physically and mentally) and transforming it within himself. There are several ironic facets of the illustration. The roots sprouting from the tires allude to An's feelings of rootlessness. It seems ill-fitting then that they be attached to this vessel of freedom, but that is the point, and each tire represents Vietnam and America respectively. The catfish is also cycling upon water, and he appears malaise because he has begun to realize this: that no matter how vigorously he pedals, he cannot escape that ocean of memory, nor the weight of Vietnamese diaspora.

By Eric


  1. Although we have discussed the cyclic nature of the mandala and how the catfish serves as an organic representation I had not, until now, comprehended the transformative aspect as clearly as you illustrate it here. The murkiness of the river as being analogous to poverty, in particular, completes for me, an image in which the catfish and the people of Vietnam, by drawing life from adversity, lend each other strength and a tenacious dignity.
    (A great distillation of so many of the book's themes)
    Thank you

  2. This illustration does a great job of encapsulating the symbolism of the catfish within the memoir. Your explanation encouraged me to think of how Andrew's journey parallels to the life of a catfish, which was something I wasn't able to see before. The seemingly endless but constantly changing journey for Andrew and the cyclical nature of a catfish's life, mirror each other in (at first)seemingly sad ways. However, the more I focus on these parallels, I realize that once both Andrew's guilty hybrid identity and the bottom feeding catfish can be accepted then beauty and contentedness can exist.


  3. Interesting choice to attach roots to the bicycle that represent his dual citizenship as his journey appears to be a complete lack of 'grounding' as it were. I had not considered that An himself was the catfish, thinking that the catfish was more the symbolic nature of life, but this is absolutely splendid! An riding over his 'roots' and wading through the grime of his past and present. Brilliant!

  4. I like the general humor of this picture while it still maintains the depth and heaviness of the themes. Although very heavy ideas are dealt with, Pham still maintains a persistent attitude, continually moving forwards and staying lighthearted despite the sickness, ill memories, and generally difficult situations he finds himself facing. This captures that balance very well!
    - Alex

  5. I found your depiction to be very astute. I specifically am drawn to the roots on the wheels; viewing this aspect I thought of the wheels turning and uprooting him over an over again. It's a cycle that he goes through--once he feels that he belongs he is uprooted and shown that he can never escape the past and his harsh memories.

    - Julia

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  7. It only struck me just now that the catfish has legs. I never tied An being the catfish until seeing your drawing, always seeing catfish as either excrement-eaters and delicious meals. Catfish appear almost everywhere in the world in different shapes and colors and are more of freshwater fish. For An to escape the murkiness of Vietnam to live in fresh water America is very symbolic, as he is one of many to make the same journey, while struggling to escape his roots to assimilate better into the new country.

    I also couldn't help but notice just how unhappy the catfish looks, much like An throughout his bike ride across Vietnam, constantly sick.


  8. Oh wow that's funny. Yet it's really smart imagery. Until now I didn't completely comprehend the comparison between the people An meets and the catfish. I notice that, between the fish and the fishsause metaphor, this is another one of An's comparisons where he uses very artful language to make really unflattering portrayals.

    - Casey

  9. Eric,
    This drawing is intriguing because it's funny and smart, playing with the themes through the use of imagery. As most of the people above me have said, I did not make the connection with An and the catfish until I saw this. I like how the tires represent the roots of identity that cannot seem to find their place within the Vietnamese or American identity. This drawing is a wonderful representation of the displacement that An feels.


  10. I really enjoy this picture; it's humorous and symbolically rich. I did not make the connection with Andrew as a catfish until I saw this picture and your explanation. I really like the connection between the poverty of Vietnam as a sort of propellant for Andrew that is similar to the fuel of the catfish being that of excrement. Very interesting and convincing.

    -Anna Hernandez