Nguyễn Chi (2014)

Nguyễn Chi is an “artist seeking relevance.”

An accurate description (one she invented for herself), but it begs the question: Relevant to whom? It’s hard to say — so much so that she’s even dedicated a blog to finding the answer. In the meantime, she knits.

Tucked along the fringe that stitches Bedford-Stuyvesant and Clinton Hill together is an inconspicuous walk-down cafe named Bedford Hill Coffee Bar. A neighborhood favorite, its patrons are a medley of Brooklynites and Everybody Else; Nguyễn belongs to the latter. But in her experience, it’s a membership she carries everywhere she goes.

Nguyễn is a perennial foreigner, stranger to every land and citizen of none. Hailing from Vietnam, she immigrated to New York when she was twelve, clueless of all things America (language included).

But the social pressure to conform is a very real and powerful force, one that Nguyễn is deeply acquainted with. Before long, she learned to speak English with remarkable fluency, accent-free. Her diligence as a student of this new world earned her success by all of the country’s standards.

But the acquisition of the American culture came at the price of her roots. And in retrospect, she acknowledges this sacrifice as a painful trade-off.

Over an Americano, that indistinct fusion where Italian espresso meets diner brew, she tells me about a recent visit to her homeland. “I realized that I don’t speak for the Vietnamese people anymore.”

Read the full profile on HuffPost Culture and Arts.