CAAM is incredibly grateful to have a group of amazing board members. We’re launching a series of blog posts to introduce you to them. We’re kicking off the series with Naja Pham Lockwood, who joined CAAM’s board exactly a year ago. She has worked on several key projects to position CAAM as a leader in the media world. Naja was instrumental in producing Elevate, Incubate and Demonstrate: Advancing Asian American Artists in Media panel and the networking reception with Asian American filmmakers at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2017.
Below, she shares about her background as a refugee from Vietnam, how her childhood in working class Worcester, MA has shaped her, and what keeps her motivated to work with filmmakers of color.
Can you tell us a little about your personal background – where you grew up and how that has shaped your understanding of the world?
I was born in Vietnam during the Vietnam War and emigrated to Massachusetts in 1975 when I was just a very young girl. We arrived in a small working middle class town of Worcester, Massachusetts. It was a place mostly populated by second and third generation Irish and Italian working class families. Our neighbors were not rich, but they shared everything they had with us – extra clothing during cold winters, weekly supplies of Irish bread, and most importantly friendship. The whole town generously embraced us with open arms. Maybe that’s because people in our town valued hard work and family above all else. There was no sense of entitlement, privileged nor conspicuous consumption from any of my parents friends or my classmates. At school, the kids were from middle class working parents. We all had after school and weekend jobs. Growing up, we all went with our parents to help with clothing drives. We served Thanksgiving meals in homeless shelters and at soup kitchens for those in need during the holidays. I just assumed that all American kids grew up this way.
My childhood experiences have allowed me to be able to work with people of all backgrounds. These childhood experiences created empathy early on in life for those in need and for those who struggle to achieve their dreams for themselves and their family in America.
A lot of your work is in media, and also telling undertold stories. Can you talk about your involvement in media organizations over the years? And also what your passion is, as far a stories you would like to tell.
I have worked in the arts and media world since 1997. I am actively invested in documentaries that speak to important issues of our times, including films like Audrie and Daisy, The Hunting Ground, Icarus and Bend the Arc. I am drawn to stories that inspires and compels social change and diversity with opportunities for national outreach and impact amidst our current political climate. Throughout my life, there has always been a commitment to diversity and human rights and making sure their voices are heard. I think it comes from being a child of refugees who came to America empty handed. Or perhaps from working during college with high school refugees and seeing their struggles and determination through Phillips Brooks House at Harvard. But a commitment to diversity and human rights is an important part of who I am.
What drew you to CAAM?
In a time when issues of civil liberties, diversity and affirmative action, civil rights, women’s rights and the ideals of a free and open society are all being put into question, it is critical to bring forth voices of minorities and this includes the voices of Asian Americans.
You’ve done a lot in the past year in your involvement with CAAM, including bringing a screening of the moving documentary, Cries From Syria, during CAAMFest and producing the Elevate, Incubate and Demonstrate: Advancing Asian American Artists in Media panel at Sundance. Can you say more about why this work is important to you?
Just as it’s important for voices of diversity to be heard, it’s important for independent filmmakers of color to be able to tell their stories through CAAMFest, Sundance and other leading film festivals..
What would you say drives your work as a CAAM board member, and in all of your work?
I think it the continuation of my commitment to diversity and social justice. As an Asian American woman and a mother, it’s important to support CAAM mission to bring forth the richness and diversity of Asian American experiences to the broadest possible audience.