As we ring in the new year, I wanted to take the time to reflect on my past and how my family’s history has inspired me to be a part of the Vietnamese Boat People Podcast Team. I was born in West Covina, California, but from pre-school up until sixth grade, I grew up in Middleburg Heights, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. My family was one of a handful of Asian families in the neighborhood, if not the only Vietnamese family. My parents owned a nail salon where I spent weekends playing with my sister, counting change, and helping my parents run the credit card machines. We had Sunday dinners at the restaurant Friendly’s, and my mom made meals like spaghetti and pancakes. But, she also made homemade phở, bánh cuốn, and congee (we called it by its Cantonese name, juk). To be honest, I knew our family was Asian and not like other families in the neighborhood, but I didn’t fully understand that we were Vietnamese, or rather, that my parents were Vietnamese refugees.
(My 9th birthday in Middleburg Heights, Ohio)
My mother’s side of the family is ethnically Chinese but they grew up in Saigon. While my mom and her family know Vietnamese, they speak Cantonese to each other and I grew up learning that as my first language. My father is also Vietnamese but by the time we moved to Ohio and were no longer around my mom’s side of the family, I stopped speaking both languages all together.
It wasn’t until I moved to Orange County, California, around age ten that suddenly, I found myself completely immersed in Vietnamese culture. Orange County is home to the largest diaspora of Vietnamese people living outside of Vietnam, I was surrounded by Vietnamese friends and had access to a plethora of Vietnamese food. Despite all this, I never thought to dive into my parent’s history and how they came to the U.S.
(My dad’s first day in America with his sponsor, Don Hills, in Longview, Texas)
It wasn’t until after I moved across the country to New York City for college that I began to ask these questions. For my senior thesis in journalism, I attempted to document conversations about what it means to be a second generation Vietnamese-American. What started off as an investigation into my own identity, became an outlet for others to share their family’s journey. I found myself having hour-long interviews with strangers, some of whom are now friends.
A new year gives time for us to reflect on our accomplishments and set goals for what we want to achieve in the coming year. 2018 was a turning point for me in realizing these stories, our stories, are so important and need to be documented for generations to come. Maybe it was the feeling of guilt and regret for not wanting to learn about my family’s history before. Maybe it was the fact that I had learned about The Vietnam War in school and saw movies like, “The Deer Hunter” and “Apocalypse Now,” all of which barely touch upon how the lives of civilians in Vietnam were impacted. Or maybe it was just “growing up” and being away from home. Something just sparked within me.
In 2019, I am looking forward to continuing these conversations with my own family and others around the country. I am thrilled to work with a group of people that share these similar values and can’t wait to see what we will produce in the coming year! If you have a story to share, give us a hollar at firstname.lastname@example.org.