Issue #2

Hilda’s Hair Hut

The person in the photo doing the karate kick is Hilda. Her given name at birth in Vietnam, however, was Hien (rhymes with “win”). As a young child her family immigrated to San Jose, California where her grade school teachers weren’t able to pronounce her name correctly. “They always said it as ‘hen’, Hien says, “which is a female chicken, and you know how cruel kids can be. So at role call there was lots of snickering and laughing. From then on I was determined to find myself an American name.”

Because her sister was a nurse, Hien would accompany her to senior centers on the weekends to read to the residents, as it gave her a chance to practice her English. It was there that she met Miss Hilda. “She was a German immigrant, a wonderful woman who became like a grandmother figure to me because I never knew my grandmother. Then one weekend I came back and she wasn’t there. She had passed on.” Since Hien in Vietnamese culture means innocent and sweet, and because she was looking for another name that started with H, she told all the teachers to start calling her Hilda. When she turned eighteen and became an official United States citizen, she legally changed her name to Hilda.

When Hilda was 16 her mom suggested to her that because the hair and nail industry was blooming, she should become a stylist. Unbeknownst to her mom, she had already started her career at school. “I had big hair, in a popular style back then they called ‘hair bear,’ and my friends loved it, but none of them knew how to do it. In my backpack, along with my books, I carried a pick and a bottle of Aqua Net hairspray and would do my friends’ hair in the bathroom before classes every morning.”

Later that year she attended Roberto’s Beauty College in California and has been a stylist ever since. She moved to Minnesota in 1999 and worked briefly at a salon, but decided she wanted to start her own place. She also enrolled her young sons into a martial arts class and then started taking classes herself. Though they eventually found other sports, she kept at it and is now working on her second black belt in Taekwondo. “I am a beautician artist and a martial artist. Both are art forms.” 

Topics addressed in Issue #2: face-to-face conversations, stranger danger, making friends with strangers while waiting for the bus, Garry Winogrand, muscular compositions, Burmese pythons, adopted by an adoptee, adopting a new name, adaptive sports, big hair, beautician art, the Secret War, Hmong soldiers, the achievement gap, self-education, Zubaz, Taekwondo, kimchi, and socialization ambiguity.

Each of these ten photos that comprise Issue #2 has a revealing back-story, which collectively touch upon a broad range of themes. They are from an assortment of projects; with the earliest from my first public art installation in Frogtown (1993 – 1995) and the latest in 2018.


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