Love for an Immigrant Family’s Story, in Watercolor and Watercress

San Francisco artist Wendy MacNaughton is on a quest to uncover the city's unsung heroes.

By Channing Kennedy Jan 18, 2011

I’m a comics nerd. I am steadfast in my conviction that some stories are best told in comics form — that some sentences are better said with a line of the pen than with a line of the script. So when I came across this piece by San Francisco comic artist Wendy MacNaughton, it was vindicating, to say the least.

MacNaughton’s "Farmers’ Market Farmers In Their Own Words" is part of her ongoing series of "In Their Own Words" watercolor-and-ink comics, each one putting pictures to an individual’s story from a less-heard section of San Francisco’s community. In this installment, MacNaughton introduces us to an unnamed family who emigrated from Vietnam in 1979, becoming "the first Asian Family in Rio Linda." A painting of their mailbox is tagged with the parenthetical "Do you know about Rio Linda? There were lots of KKK."

Spare, colorful renderings of produce and people bring the Civic Center farmers’ market to life as our narrator describes the hard work of running a business within a family where everyone has a day job, and the strength of the community that’s kept her and her vegetables coming back to San Francisco’s Tenderloin week after week. Her story concludes, "I started coming here thirty years ago this June. I said I’d stay a year; I’ve been here ever since."

It’s a story that breaks stereotypes, and that feels familiar. While it would have been nice to see our protagonist’s face or to know her name, it’s an understandable bit of artistic license, to give the piece some universality. The story, like the sketches, give us just enough detail to prompt us to write and draw the rest for ourselves, from our own experiences — and thus, to feel like this immigrant family’s story is ours too.

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