Elijah Ferrian enters the world of the Chicano movement in Vietnam. Tattoos, barbershops, and Mexican-American clothing styles with VietGangz Brotherhood. Photo by Vinh Dao.
So, what exactly is VietGangz Brotherhood? What can people expect if they show up?
It’s a lifestyle and culture space. A barbershop, tattoo shop, coffee shop, motorcycle club, and clothing. We’re a group that works together to expose people to this Chicano style of living. All of our staff, are in love with the Chicano-style that is native to America.
What is “Chicano” style?
It’s a lifestyle. The definition is about Mexican-Americans. Sometimes, the word “Chicano” can be applied to a Mexican national who was brought to the United States at a very early age and adapted the “Chicano” lifestyle. For me, it was a turning point in my life. Before I knew about the Chicano lifestyle, I was always worried about earning enough money, stressing about the busy life. A friend of mine exposed me to this way of life, and I became more comfortable, more about my friends and family, more about living in the now.
As an American, I understand what Chicano is, but how did you get involved in this? Have you been to California, where this style is prevalent? How did you learn about this specifically Mexican lifestyle?
I grew up here [in Vietnam], and I live here, but I have friends that grew up in Mexico, and I found that the Chicano style was very welcoming and fits in with what I love. I learned about it all from my friend from California that was living here teaching English. After we opened the shop, he would get his haircut here and he was impressed at how familiar it felt. The Chicano style was real, and matched his personal motto of: “don’t worry be happy.”
Which part of the business came first?
We started the barbershop first. That was the best way to spread the Chicano ideal. After we saw success with this, I just kept expanding it into the other parts of the style.
What’s the deal with the clothes and style?
The clothing is only for the Chicano style. Oversized Dickies shorts and shirts, piercings, tattoos. Here, only 50 people or so dress like this, so we want to spread the style and to find more people that are interested in living this lifestyle and understanding this relaxed philosophy. When people look at the Chicano style their first thought is that it’s dangerous and weird, it’s not very typical or accepted. A lot of people in Vietnam are still very traditional. In each country in Asia, Thailand, Hong Kong, each Chicano community knows each other. Although we are all separate, it’s like we are all connected.
You’ve got cool tattoos. An entire ocean on your left arm, and a jungle on your right arm. Where’d you get them from?
We have two members that work in the tattoo shop here, and they’ve done all of my work. One for colour and one for lines. There is a very big competition for tattooing that happens annually in March, the Vietnam Tattoo Convention,and lots of people in Vietnam come together, and artists from around the world come to judge the competition. VietGangz Brotherhood won first prize last year.
Where does VietGangz fit in with the motorcycle culture here?
We import specialty products from America so that we can customize pieces to have authentic Chicano motorcycles. It’s hard to find that here in Vietnam . I have another group that handles the bikes, but we just want to expose our lifestyle through our creative ways of building and riding motorcycles. One of our custom bikes won a first prize in a “best custom motorcycle” competition in Danang.
You took us to see a couple of your barbershops, and as soon as the doors opened it was jam packed with Vietnamese from all walks of life, eager to get their hair cut. Can you tell us more about the barbershops?
We have three different barbershops. We have fourteen employees working here at the newest D3 location at 2/45 Cao Thang. In total we have about twenty-seven people working at all of the locations. Each barber has their own chair, in true Chicano style. So many different people get their hair cut here. Students, people that don’t have a lot of money, famous actors and singers – we have no specific clientele. The fee here is very cheap, and for young people that can’t afford it, we’ll cut their hair for free. We want people to feel welcome. That is the biggest message we are trying to send.
How do your elders respond to this whole movement? Do they understand?
At first when they saw it, they didn’t like the way we look. We looked like “gangsters” to them. But after we talk to them and explain what we’re all about, they seem to understand. We’re not lazy thugs. We are opening businesses and making opportunities for our people. Once our elders understand and see this, they start to like us.
How would you like to grow the brand of VietGangz Brotherhood and Vietnam’s “Chicano” culture?
We want to create a place to come and have fun together. In the future, we want to find more people that know about the Chicano style. Maybe a chef that can cook authentic Mexican food. There are tons of different groups within this big Chicano umbrella. We have b-boys doing breakdancing, graffiti artists, rappers like the group Hazard Clique that’s affiliated with Chicano style in Vietnam. Each group has a different name and a different set of things that they do, but we are all connected like a big family. Each different group has their leader, like a franchise. It’s a big company, and each individual group is like their own shop. They all fall under the umbrella of Chicano Vietnam. This style is our movement, but it’s a lifestyle that all of these smaller groups belong to. I manage all of them, and we are always growing.
If you’re looking for a radical haircut, a great cup of coffee, some vintage Dickies, or anything else Chicano-specialty, head over to:
VietGangz Brotherhood new location, 2/45 Cao Thang, D3.
Phone: 0967 776 751