Rice and Mooncakes

September 7, 2008
By
I’ve always tried not to identify myself by race. It shouldn’t matter if I’m dark-skinned with brunette hair and brown-colored eyes, nor can I use my ethnicity as an excuse for being unathletic or short. It’s just who I am, and I like to think people can look beyond the color of my skin. Growing up Vietnamese-American, it feels like I’m living two different lives. The one at school and the one at home. My friends have a hard time relating to my Vietnamese culture, and I have an equally tough time explaining some of my traditions. But denying my heritage would also be denying myself because both go hand in hand.
From an early age I was taught elders should be treated with the utmost respect. When I walk into the house, I immediately walk over to them and cross my arms, announcing my arrival. A simple “Hello” is not enough, and I must go into a long complicated speech telling them where I was. “Dạ thÆ°a bà ngoại con má»›i tá»›i”. The same must be done when I want to leave the house. I ask my parents and grandparents for permission and again, I must say “Dạ thÆ°a bà ngoại con Ä‘i chÆ¡i”. Sometimes I wish I could just take the easy route and tell them “Goodbye” or “I’m leaving”, but I know my parents would correct me and that leads to even more lectures. Occasionally, I’ll ask my mom why I can’t just say it the normal way, the way my friends tell their grandparents hello, but she always answers, “Because it isn’t the proper showing of respect, and you are Vietnamese. You will do things the Vietnamese way.” I never argue with her. Sometimes the best thing to do is to just not say anything at all.
When I sit down at the table to eat, it’s typically the same things. Rice, meat, some vegetables, and ,of course, soy sauce. I douse my food in every condiment you can imagine some more unusual than others. Most of my friends complain the food I eat is too bizarre, but I think it makes dinner more interesting. On holidays or special occasions, my mom usually cooks chè, banh hoi, or bánh chÆ°ng. But my favorite food she makes is her eggrolls and phở. Phở is a traditional Vietnamese soup that contains noodles, meat, and other garnishes. It’s really delicious, and whenever I’m sick, I always ask her to make it for me. The only problem. It takes at least a day to make so we don’t get to eat it often. Vietnamese food isn’t the healthiest stuff either. Sometimes it is smothered in fat or butter, and then we drench it in lime or other sauces, but I’ve gotten so used to eating this food, it feels different whenever my mom cooks American dishes.
I have many fond memories of Vietnamese New Year. It usually takes place during the beginning of February, and as a celebration, we get together with family and friends, giving thanks for another fortunate year. Eating bánh tét and mứt, the whole day is filled with people laughing and gossiping. We devour way more food than our stomachs can handle, and set off firecrackers for fun. For entertainment we have múa lân or dragon dancing. Kids dress up as dragons and dance around in synchronized choreography, while the audience gives money to the ông địa for good luck. The younger children get money in red envelopes, and at the end of the festival, we all wish each other another happy, healthy year. At night, I make an effort to call my grandparents and wish them a good year, too. Sometimes I get lazy and forget to call them. Rest assured, my mom always complains if I do, and I have to promise her I won’t do it again next time.
It can be really difficult to make other Vietnamese friends. Thankfully, I go to a Vietnamese church where I can meet different people, and at the same time, learn more about my culture. As silly as this may sound, whenever I meet someone else who is Vietnamese, I get all excited and instantly want to talk to them. It’s almost like I can have conversations about things I normally wouldn’t be able to tell my other friends. Vietnamese food, their movies, music, the language.
It’s like living in two different worlds. Sometimes I become confused, and I feel like I belong to one world more than the other. Am I Vietnamese? Or am I American? I can understand Vietnamese and semi-speak the language, but I can’t read or write words, and I don’t always understand the different traditions. At the same time, both of my parents are Asian. That is who I am, and even though I was born in America, Vietnam will always be a part of me. Should I marry a Vietnamese? Our families will have an easier time getting along because there won’t be that language barrier. They share the same culture, and so it should be better. But what if I don’t. Will they have a hard time talking to each other? Will family gatherings be awkward?
When I was younger, I use to be ashamed of who I was. I didn’t like being looked at differently, or having little kids make fun of my eyes. It use to bother me that everyone in my family had the same dark shade of brown hair, and at school, I would feel left out because I wasn’t like everyone else. But now I am proud. I have embraced my heritage. I want to show it off. I can be both American and Vietnamese. The two different worlds don’t have to be separate. They don’t have to be so different. This is who I am. This is who I will always be. A Vietnamese-American.





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Mrs. Gibbs said...
Sept. 17, 2008 at 1:37 pm
I love this essay!! Your writing is very heartfelt and full of voice. Great work!
 
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