A few months ago, I went to DC to hang out with my cousins. The plan that night was to meet with one of my cousin's friends, and then go bar hopping. This was my first time meeting her friend, who upon seeing me, turned to my cousin and exclaimed, "Another one of your cousins?! How many do you have?"
My mother and father have a combined total of 15 siblings. During the Vietnam War, all but one fled to the United States. Of the 14 who entered the US, three moved to different states. The remaining 11 siblings, including my parents, relocated to either Virginia or Maryland - all within driving distance of each other. My mother and father began their relationship in America, got married, and eventually had my brother and me. Around the same time, give or take a few years, their siblings also got married, and had kids of their own.
The grand total = 24 kids! Below is my family on my father's side.
Due to the close living proximity, family get together's were easy to host, and as one might imagine, they were always a full house. Like most Vietnamese, my parents, aunts, and uncles considered their family bond as their number one priority. They made a point to have family gatherings frequently, and would take us all on trips together. As clearly shown by our facial expressions in the picture below (of one of our many trips to Ocean City), these family outings were either a hit or miss.
When you grow up with 23 other children who are basically your siblings, you tend to see the worst of them, and they tend to see the worst of you. However, the same holds true for the other end of the spectrum. I had 23 close friends who I could count on (most of the time) whenever I needed advice, a shoulder to cry on, or just someone to talk to.
This seemed to be a common theme among most first generation Vietnamese families: where most, if not all, members of the family fled Vietnam and relocated to areas within driving distance of each other. As a result, many of my Vietnamese friends had the same support system as I did, and had the same deep rooted family values.
Does this mean that you have to have a large family to have family values? Of course not. I had friends whose parents didn't have any siblings or close relatives anywhere near them, and yet they were all a close family unit. That being said, I knew kids who weren't close to their families, and grew up without a sense of self - acting out as a result.
Above are my cousins, my brother, and me getting jiggy at a family wedding.
To say that I didn't take this luxury for granted would be a bold-faced lie. Being born into this type of environment, I didn't know how good I had it. The high school I went to had few first generation immigrants, and you weren't considered "cool" if you spent all your time with family. In an attempt to fit in, I started to distance myself from my family. We started seeing each other less and less, and eventually, they stopped trying to invite me places. It wasn't until I had a bad break that I realized what I was attempting to throw away.
Fast forward 5 years after high school. I had just had a falling out with my business partners from a venture that I had dedicated 4 long years to. Swallowing my pride, I moved back to my hometown, and was astonished when many of those whom I considered friends didn't want to give me the time of day. The only people who did were (you guessed it) the 23 people I call family. From checking up on me to see if I needed anything to putting in referrals to their hiring managers for me, they helped me get out from arguably the lowest point in both my professional and personal life.
Above are my cousins on my mother's side and myself celebrating my grandma's 80th birthday.
Today, I make a point to keep my family as my number one priority. I realize now that there is truth to the phrase "blood is thicker than water." That is why I am excited to be a part of the Vietnamese Boat People Podcast's mission to spread knowledge of the heritage, culture, and to tell the stories of those who value family as their number one priority.