As a child, I was constantly told by my parents about how hard our family has worked to get to where we are today. Every time I threw a fit because I didn’t get something I wanted, my parents would always say “I didn’t get to do that when I was your age”. The older I got, the responses kept getting longer. It then became “I didn’t do that when I was your age, because I had to focus on school and take care of my brothers and sister ”. These responses became so repetitive that I started to become dismissive of it. However, by the time I was in my late teens, it was “I didn’t get to do that when I was your age, because I had to focus in school, take care of my brothers and sisters and earn money to help the family”. I remember thinking to myself “Why did they have to do all that, wasn’t that grandma and grandpa’s job?”. Now in my mid 20s, I can begin to answer that question.
Despite my hissy fits, I had a very privileged life. In elementary school, my birthday parties were always the talked about party of the year, with moon bounces and waterslides in the backyard involving all of my friends stuffing their faces with ice cream cake on a hot summer Saturday afternoon. Looking back, I couldn't even imagine how my family felt seeing me enjoy my birthday when I now know they never had anything like that growing up. This is a photo of me and my Aunt Tracey at one of my birthday parties.
I have found myself as an adult extremely thankful for where I am today, but it wouldn’t have happened if my family didn’t take the risk to find a better and safer life. Through the many sacrifices they had to make, it has made me curious about the stories of hundreds and thousands of other families who went through similar, horrific tragedies to get where they are today (if not, worse scenarios). Unfortunately, I also know many of these people did not survive to have that opportunity. My curiosity about all this only began in the last few years.
It’s crazy to think at one point as a child I didn’t want to associate myself as “Asian”, more so Vietnamese for the matter. But now without hesitation, I love embracing every aspect of it. From the pho-nomenol cuisine to getting my nails done at Vietnamese-owned salons (just kidding, of course I do them myself) – I say we’re killing the game. I am so thankful and proud to call myself a daughter, granddaughter, and niece of Vietnamese refugees. The photo below is from one of our Thanksgiving gatherings.
A non-profit like the Vietnamese Boat People is something I have always wanted to partake in since I was in college, but I wasn’t sure how to approach it nor was I fully comfortable embracing myself and my background. A big part of growing up is about self-exploration, of things bigger than yourself and who you really are as a person. The most exhilarating part about it is that growing up truly never stops - there’s always something new to uncover, no matter how well you think you might know yourself.
Words can’t describe how proud and excited I am to a part of this journey to document the stories of the Vietnamese Boat People. As a second generation Vietnamese American, we owe it to our elders, to preserve their stories, pass it down and unite to pay-it-forward for today’s refugees all over the world.