Like many refugees that fled from Vietnam to America, my parents definitely did not have it easy. My parents and their families fled to the United States in search of freedom and happiness. They fled Vietnam by boat headed out to sea, crammed with hundreds of other people. After encountering many struggles, my family settled in San Jose, California. This where I was born, along with my younger sister who was born two years later. San Jose is known to be my home and where I grew up. I was a first generation Vietnamese American in my family. Factors such as family, culture, religion, race and gender have helped me shape my identity.
Growing up, I was always surrounded by catholicism. At the age of 7, my parents put me through Catholic school, which I attended every Saturdays. Shortly, I started attending every Sunday mass with my family. My parents made me speak mostly Vietnamese around the house. This was crucial because my mom does not speak any English while my dad did eventually went through school and is now fluent in English. For the most part, I could only communicate and keep conversations with my parents in Vietnamese. Every year, my family and I celebrate Christmas and light firecrackers for Vietnamese New Year as a tradition in the Vietnamese culture. Being Vietnamese also comes with eating delicious Vietnamese food. Waking up to a hot fresh bowl of pho is the best feeling ever! It has always been this way for the longest I can remember, a mix of Vietnamese and American. the combination of two different cultures has been the norm for many people, including myself and I’m sure generations after me.
The search for my identity became more apparent when I visited my family’s homeland back in 2010. It was the first time I was culture shocked. Moreover, this was my first experience being profiled as what they call an “overseas Vietnamese”. This to me didn’t sound necessarily good nor bad. All I knew was that it made me different. It was the feeling of being different enough to not be treated as their known kind but not different to where they would say “go back to your own country.” This affected my identity quite a lot because I felt like I was stuck between two very different cultures. My two worlds did not seamlessly blend together as they did back home. I finally came to realized that I felt neither Vietnamese nor American but I am the outcome of both. I am Vietnamese American.
My parents immigrating to the United States, has allowed them to pursue their own pursuit of happiness and gave me the many opportunities that comes along with being an American citizen. In the article, Understanding Our Perception of Asian Americans, written by Peter N. Kiang, he states that “Southeast Asian refugees share many experiences in common with other immigrants, such as the language barrier, culture shock, racial discrimination, and the challenge of starting new lives.” One important thing I have learned throughout the years is that cultural identity brings people together whether they have similar or different values, beliefs, gender, race and religions. Cultural heritage has given me a sense of belonging within the Vietnamese community. According to the article The Importance of Cultural Heritage, it states that “Another benefit that comes from preserving cultural heritage as a whole is the communal support. Those that identify strongly with a certain heritage are often more likely to help out others in that same community.” I find this very true because being a college student, I find it more easy to approach and talk to others with similar backgrounds as me. In the article mentioned earlier, Understanding Our Perception of Asian Americans, also discussed that “Asian Americans have emerged as the nation’s fastest growing racial group.” It fascinates me how much the Asian American population still grows each year, especially with interracial marriage being more common today. It is also noticed that with generation after generation, many asian cultural influences is being preserved and carried on.
Another factor that impacts my identity is how I identify myself. I identify myself as a female. I believe that fashion ties in with one’s gender identity. Fashion is an idea that allows everyone to make statements of their identity through clothes and jewelry. Fashion also helps to voice who they are and what types of social groups they fit into. Starting at a young age, I was always wearing more girly clothes. I would wear mostly pink or glittery clothing pieces and play with dolls. In addition, environmental factors have impacted my gender identity through my interests, behavior and preference of things. For example, I am more interested in doing make-up than playing video games. I believe stereotypes has a huge role in how society influences identity. We are so use to being taught from our parents that boys wear pants and sneakers while girls wear dresses and flats. In the article, Society shapes identity, written by Jessica Fussell states “Through our gender, society dictates what jobs would be suitable for us, what we should wear, how we should look, who we are to socialize with and what is acceptable or not.” Fashion does connect to people wanting to share their religious, ethnic identities through the clothes and jewelry they choose to apply on their face and bodies.
Thus, I believe that being raised in a certain type of household and peers makes a big difference in one’s identity. In the article Early Childhood Emotional And Social Development: Identity And Self-Esteem, by Angela Oswalt explains that “Peers also have an impact on young children’s self-concept. Young children who have playmates and classmates that are usually nice will develop a positive self-image. [kids] who are left out develop low self-esteem.” This means that if you surround yourself with positive peers that are accepting then it’ll be easier to find your own identity. In addition, if you’re taught to be more feminine then you’re most likely going to carry that throughout your whole life. Compared to someone that is raised in a non-traditional household, you’re able to experience your sexuality with little to no restrictions. It is important to also acknowledge and teach others that it’s never too early to teach children at a young age about sexual orientation, cultural heritage and religious traditions.
Race is another factor that has affected my identity. America has and still face racial discrimination. Some individuals have certain perception of others based on their skin color. This relates to me, because living a melting pot country made it easier for me to build my identity. The high school I graduated from was diverse for the most part. I saw many people of different skin colors and ethnic backgrounds. Growing up in a multicultural community has allowed me to be more accepting to others that are different in race and ethnicity. In the New York Times article, Race and Racial Identity Are Social Constructs, by Angela Onwuachi-Willig says that “Racial identity can be fluid. How one perceives her racial identity can shift with experience and time, and not simply for those who are multiracial.” Racial identity affects our identity because it considered natural and we do not get to choose what type of skin we want, our ethnicity, etc.
Throughout middle school and high school, “Why are you so white?” and “Did you dye your hair black?” were comments that stayed with me while I was trying to discover my identity. I use to compare myself to other Vietnamese girls at my school who had darker skin tone and light hair. For the longest time, I struggled to be comfortable in my own skin. Living in California, it was expected to have nice tan skin, since California is known for its sunny hot weather. Fast forward to today, I am starting to become more comfortable in my own skin. Surrounding myself with different cultures has allowed me to really embrace my racial difference.
In conclusion, these are just some of the many factors that had an impact on my identity. I can finally say that I have come to slowly understand where I fit in and my identity overall. I am proud of my Vietnamese American identity and will carry it through future generations. Of course, my identity is still a lifelong process and is something that will continue to be defined and redefined moving into adulthood.
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