Johnny Huy Nguyen, Man@ng is Deity castmember, talks about immigration stories & family values


What's your immigration story?

My parents were refugees from the Vietnam War. My mom was sent by her family to flee alone as one of the boat people. She literally risked her life to come here. Crammed into a boat where all notions of personal space were gone, she thought she was going to die when the boat ran out of fuel and they were stranded at sea. Luckily, they were saved by a fishing vessel. My mom met my father here. They married and I was born. The rest of her family immigrated when I was in 5th grade.

What is a value that your family has brought from the homeland that you still uphold today?

Being there for your family was something emphasized for us growing up and I didn’t really value its importance until I became an adult. Being the only one living in a different city, I realize how much I miss my family and how important the ties that bind us are.


Tell us about your character, and what you bring to your performance of them.

I play Benito Aranan. Funny thing is that I would say he is quite opposite of the self-image I had of myself growing up as an East Asian male. A lot of that is the legacy of racism and from the period. That said, it is fun and empowering to play a character who is considered handsome and suave. I can also identify with his sense of justice and desire for equality, as that is what I fight for in my art and in my life.


Imagine yourself as a Manong: What are some things you have today that you take for granted that a Manong might not have?

First thing that comes to mind for me is not a thing, but rather my whole lifestyle in general. I think about the long hours they had to put in while being paid cheaply and overtly discriminated against. That is a heavy weight to carry and I want to honour their resilience, resistance, and determination in this work. I am grateful that I get to be an artist and do the kind of work I do, and although it is not easy in San Francisco, I I have the means to take care of myself and my body.


What is it like working for Alleluia Panis & the Kularts crew this time around? What have you learned about yourself as an artist, and the role of Asian American arts?

We have a lot of fun together. We work hard and we always find time to make each other laugh. Alleluia and Wilfred have strong visions for the story and it is an honor to being part of that vision and bringing it to life. 

I see myself and the history of my ancestors reflected in the work we are doing. We are bringing stories to life that were not taught to me in school nor reflected in the art around me. Part of this story is bringing the human element and not just facts. The kind of work we are doing is vital and by knowing how we got here, we can envision the change and future that we want.

Want to show Johnny some love? Make sure to catch him live as Benito in Man@ng is Deity!