What does it mean to pursue a culture? What does it mean to become ingrained with it? Pham uses very physical language to describe the quality of being American and the quality of being Vietnamese. In Catfish, cultural belonging is something that characters can tell with their senses. For instance, Pham mentions the strong scent of fishsauce repeatedly. On page 260, where a gang has decided he is a Viet-kieu, Pham smells under his armpit and declares he his “pure, undiluted fishsauce” --this echoes the scene on page 63 where a guy at the airport calls him the same thing. In Vietnam, Pham has a difficult time escaping his status as Viet-kieu, as if he is marked with this “American” quality that the Vietnamese citizens can sense; mostly through sight, because of his bike and his glasses.
In this picture I contrast the scene where Pham uses smell to describe his roots and the mention of the family’s baptism, which neatly fits into the theme of identity being something that can be sensed. This contrast also fits with the contrast between Pham’s effort to find his roots in Vietnam and Minh’s effort to find himself in the more individual-centered America. On page 184, Pham recounts that Old Pham said that Minh became ‘too American.’ There are two pumps in the picture for both Pham and Minh to ‘wash their hands’, a metaphor for pursuing a new cultural identity, with two different solutions which represent the two identities. There’s one pump filled with fishsauce, for Pham’s effort to return to his roots, and one American flag-patterned pump for soap, which symbolizes not only Minh’s rejection of Vietnam’s gender expectations, but his baptismal fresh start as a male.