On the upper campus quad, a bright orange mailbox, held in place by two concrete blocks, stands on a small wooden platform. It is centered on the grass, not by a sidewalk, nor under any shade despite the blazing heat of recent days.
The mailbox looks real, though it has no postal address. It has a red flag and a label that reads “U.S. Mail, Approved by the Postmaster General.” Students that pass by in groups or in pairs from the Liberal Arts or the Fine Arts buildings stop when they see it.
Since Monday, nearly 200 Long Beach State students have participated in Kevin Ly’s class project, which he calls “Letters to Parents.” The turnout has come as a surprise to the fourth-year studio art major, considering the display’s location and obscurity.
“I didn’t think too many people would get involved,” Ly, 22, said.
Nevertheless, the installation, meant to be about creating a space that interacts with people, has served its purpose. At the end of every day this week, Ly has emptied out dozens of letters that students wrote to their parents answering the project’s question, “What is something you wish your parents had told you?”
“I wanted to focus on having it interactive,” Ly said. “One thing that really meant a lot to me was to have people’s opinions, to really hear what they have to say.”
It’s this openness that inspires Ly, who has received various responses written in creative ways.
“Some of these are funny,” Ly said. “One person wrote, ‘to wash my balls.’”
But most of the letters share very personal topics such as adoption, sexuality and confidence. Hearing these stories makes Ly grateful for his project’s influence, as the anonymity of sending out unaddressed envelopes allows for these conversations to become normalized.
“‘I love you,’” Ly read from one letter. “‘That I had it a lot better than they did when they were growing up.’”
“When I’m reading these, it’s hard to not tear up,” Ly said. “It’s just so sad, because you realize these are things [the students] still haven’t gotten…they’ve been holding these things back for a long time.
Though he hasn’t told his own parents about the project, Ly’s message is one that hits home. Growing up in a Vietnamese-American household, he feels he didn’t have much interaction about personal feelings growing up.
“I haven’t even written a letter myself, so I was thinking about what I would write,” Ly said. “I’m learning from a lot of these [participants] that it’s very therapeutic for them, it’s a way for them to provide closure.”
“These are not topics that we talk about on a day-to-day basis,” he added. “I think family dynamic is always a strange thing.”
Ly had help from his girlfriend, Maxine Lubrico, in setting up the display. Though the mailbox was Ly’s curation, Lubrico stands by the location occasionally.
“Seeing the responses makes me realize how different everyone’s private worlds are,” said the third-year art education major. “There’s something cathartic about anonymously writing it in a letter and forgetting it in a mailbox.”
For Ly, the mailbox as a realistic piece is aimed to provide more comfort to participants.
“The action of [sending it out] is really uplifting…they feel relieved…they get to send it off, metaphorically.”