The Vietnamese zodiac is a repeating 12-year cycle based on the lunar calendar. The Vietnamese zodiac resembles the Chinese zodiac, but has some modifications. Each year is classified by an animal, and each animal has differing characteristics and personality traits.
My mother, who immigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam in 1975, was born the year of the Dog, often known for their loyalty and honesty. I always trust my mother’s instinct, especially whenever she's theorizing how impactful the Vietnamese zodiac could be.
In late January, my family and I celebrated Tết (Vietnamese New Year or Vietnamese Lunar New Year), the Year of the Rat, which also happens to be my given zodiac year. We went out to Eden Center in Northern Virginia, a bustling Asian-American marketplace with boba shops, jewelry-souvenir stores, and korean barbeque.
After eating dim sum for lunch, we observed the strip mall’s New Year’s festivities. Street fireworks went off sporadically, red confetti blanketed the asphalt, instrumental music blared. Everything was all in fun and games.
I used my boba receipt from Vivi Bubble Tea to redeem a ‘The Year of the Rat’ mug. Upon receiving my complimentary yellow mug, I noticed there was a huge scratch dented across the back of it.
I went back to the mug booth and asked to get a new one. The guy running the booth repeatedly said no, because this was the mug I chose. My mother then came by and talked to him in Vietnamese, further explaining I was the Year of the Rat, and because of this it will bring bad luck. He gave me a new mug, scratch-free.
My mother believes that when it is your Vietnamese new year, the year will inevitably incur bad luck, so it’s important to wear red, forecast decisions, and remain positive.
Ironic how the Year of the Rat rolls around and 2020 turns out to be one of the worst years in our living history.
This year has certainly taken a toll on everyone, catalyzing toxic politics, systemic racism, and a pandemic like we haven’t fully experienced before. Hopefully it'll end up being one of those years that will be looked back on as something we all overcame.
I don't know the science behind my own reasoning or taboo, but maybe picking a broken mug and receiving a fresh new one because of my mother are minute examples of a greater, metaphysical meaning. Everything that happened in the past, every small choice or huge decision, leads up to now. It roots back to our very essence, to our innate abilities to make decisions and inspire change, to the idea that life is what you make of it.
That’s what I love about my mother. She has a knack for things like BTS, knitting, and the Vietnamese zodiac. I like how growing up, she disciplined my brother, sister, and I to prepare us for the world, so we can enjoy an easy life with easy hobbies or interests. The reality is, life is hard, but with the right mindset, there can be joy. I’m grateful to have the chance to live with an attitude that mirrors hers.
I’ve been trying to find the joy in 2020, while also listening more and acting on my impulses less. I've read and took a better look at my privileges and challenges as a mixed-race Asian-American. At times my mind's reverted back, reflected on simpler times. I recall being raised selflessly by my ông ngoại (maternal grandfather) and bà ngoại (maternal grandmother) in Westminster, California, while my parents worked full-time and father was finishing graduate school. Times were carefree at four years old, when all you really thought about was McDonald's for breakfast and racing toy cars on the pavement.
This year, there have been moments too where I’ve been at a loss for words, when I saw Black Americans, people in Beirut and Nigeria, victims of COVID-19, and countless others experience more pain and frustration than I have. Even months later many are still affected and my heart continues to goes out to them. I want to acknowledge that their struggles are seen and they still have space to process and heal.
With wishful thinking, 2020 could be a wise man's tale. An end of an old cycle and the beginning of a better one. Nothing is guaranteed in this world, and this life is short. However this year, as chaotic and unconventional as can be, I’ve learned that the best thing to do is make the most of it. Learn as if this is a lesson. Celebrate moments and find joy on everything. Practice gratitude and kindness. Treat others with respect. Give space to those who need it. Trust the process, because the future is unwritten.
Jackie Reed is a DC area-based radio programmer, music writer, a volunteer for WAMU 88.5 FM and team member on Vietnamese Boat People Podcast. Check out her portfolio at jacquelinerreed.com.