I am first generation Vietnamese-American, but who am I? My parents were born in Vietnam in a little rural village of Hue. I was born in California, in the little town of Pittsburg. That's where our similarities end.
My parents and their family members escaped Vietnam during the civil war in pursuit of a better life. It became a life that gave me two identities.
I grew up in a little working town of Pittsburg, California. As a working class community so small, people in neighboring cities hardly knew we existed. Yes, there is a town called Pittsburg (with the H) in Pennsylvania. When describing Pittsburg to fellow Bay Area residents, I just tell them, "Do know that very last stop on the BART? All the way in the corner?"
It's a blue collar community made up of immigrants and minorities of blacks and Hispanics. There is a nonexistent Vietnamese population and a nonexistent Asian community, for that matter.
When people ask for my nationality, I tell them I'm American. They, without hesitation, follow up with, "No, no. I mean, what are you? Where are your parents from?"
"My parents are from Vietnam, and I'm from here. Did you mean my ethnicity? It's Vietnamese-American."
I only recently started to question my own identity. I call myself Vietnamese-American, and I am proud to say I am American. But at the same time, I was hesitant of calling myself full Vietnamese and taking pride in saying so.
It's was if I did not deserve the title of calling myself Vietnamese. Why? Because I grew up differently from natives, and I hardly knew my cultural roots. I didn't know where my parents were from and what they left behind for a better life.
How do I identify myself, and what do I call myself? I see friends and family who grew up in communities that had large a Asian population. They had Vietnamese friends, they had other Asian friends they grew up with and their identities reflected what they saw in each other.
I would witness them holding conversations in Vietnamese, laughing and enjoying themselves. While I sat there — lost and barely being able to decipher the single-syllable sounds used to construct the Vietnamese words — embarrassment would follow because I had no clue what was happening.
I'm sure many people who live in the US can relate. The US is known for being a melting pot of cultures and diversity. These are all great things because other countries and cultures may have stripped these things from them.
I don't care if you're African American, European, Middle Eastern or Asian because there will be others who will experience the same thing and have little to no knowledge of their cultural heritage. I'm telling you from firsthand experience to embrace your cultural roots. Don't be ashamed.
Here are five ways you can learn more about your cultural roots:
1. Speak it.
Speaking multiple languages makes you desirable because you're able to communicate with a wider range of audiences. Speaking it also re-enforces your cultural identity. You'll be able to bond with friends, family and strangers.
Practicing the language also allows you to pass your cultural identity down to your kids. Wouldn't you want them to know where their cultural roots are from?
2. Eat it.
The food is the soul of the people. You can learn a lot about a culture through its food. Food is what brings people together, and with that comes a bond.
Also, being able to cook a cultural dish brings a feeling of accomplishment. When you can cook a dish to share with other cultures, you're inviting them to see who you and your family are.
3. Learn it.
To know where your family comes from will deeply touch you. Knowing the hardships, pride and culture will help build your sense of identity. Learning about your cultural roots will also bring you closer to your parents because you'll understand where they came from.
4. Embrace it.
Take pride in family identity. Too often, people are afraid to say they're this or that. Forget all of the stereotypes that come with your ethnicity, and embrace it.
That's the beauty of life; we're all different. That is also the beauty of our world and the vast amounts of culture that live on this planet.
5. See it.
Travel to where your ancestors came from at least once in your lifetime. To read about it is one thing, but to actually see the motherland takes it to a whole new level.
The Internet has broadened our knowledge of other cultures. We've became a melting pot of a planet where there are no borders. But, it can be easy to lose track of that and lose the sense of identity within ourselves.
Take the time to learn about your culture. Read about it, experience it, eat it and embrace it. Because that is truly what's beautiful about this life.