Born in the U.S. in 1976, Julie Thi Underhill began photographing in 1994. She commenced in 1999 a series on Viá»‡t Nam, continued in 2001 while studying the war that joined her Vietnamese Cham-French mother and American father. For Crossing Fire, a forthcoming documentary of postwar healing discussions between Vietnamese and Salvadoran women (Sisters Meeting Sisters delegates,) in 2002 Julie photographed and interviewed women combatants, organizers, and survivors of war in El Salvador. Julie’s oral history of Robert Cagle, an American veteran of the war in Viá»‡t Nam, is included in Alex Bloom’s Takin it to the Streets A Sixties Reader_. Julie’s *_war dreams* memoir poetry is included in Maxine Hong Kingston’s Veterans of War Veterans of Peace.
During her 2005-06 fellowship with the Joiner Center for the Study of War & Social Consequences at UMass-Boston, Julie examined the cultural survival of the Cham, whose 1,500-year-old Austronesian kingdom preceded the Vietnamese. This work continued a decade of research into the origins and syncretic traditions of her maternal ancestry. In Spring 2006, with family, Julie returned to PhÆ°á»›c Láºp, Viá»‡t Nam to photograph, film, & participate in her Cham grandmotherâ€™s Second Burial. In Fall 2007, Julie began her Master’s and Ph.D. in Comparative Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley, where she focuses upon the intersections between Cham historical memory, gender and ethnic identities, spiritual beliefs, and acculturation. She received her Master of Arts in 2009 and continues on towards her doctorate. As a Chancellor’s Fellow, she’ll also finish editing Second Burial and continue to make and exhibit her photographs and to write memoir essays and poetry.
Although Julie’s series also include portraits and landscapes from El Salvador, Malawi, Mexico, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States, her most intimate and cherished work is from her motherâ€™s homeland. The following Cham family portraits, from Julie’s first and most recent visits to Viá»‡t Nam, include her ailing grandmother, her mother Ly’s tearful reunion with family after 31 years apart, and events of Thi Oai’s sacred reburial.
For a forthcoming special edition on Southeast Asians in the Diaspora, the editors comment in the introduction, “In her portfolio of black and white images of the Cham, an ethnic minority in Viá»‡t Nam, Julie Thi Underhill’s elegiac photographs gesture toward the identifications, the desires, and the love that often underlie the encounter with the ruins of past wars in the present.”