Of Shame and Pride: Confronting My Vietnamese Identity

Oftentimes, love and criticism go together. To fully embrace our Vietnamese heritage, we must be willing to rectify the bad, as well as nurture the good.


Saigon street scene at night.
Saigon street scene at night.

It was July 2002 when I stepped out of  Tan Son Nhat International Airport, and into the streets of Saigon, revisiting my homeland and my past.  The heavy humid air bore on me and my skin began forming beads of sweat.  Here it was, the Vietnam that I had so missed when I first came to America in 1992 — the noisy crowded streets, the musty air, and the people who spoke my native tongue.  As a child, I dreamt about coming back.  And here I was, 10 years later, a teenager who had grown up in America.

Back at the hotel that night and sitting next to the windowsill, I peered out my window as the faint voice of a food peddler announced last rounds before she retreated for the night.  I observed the scene with the fond heart of a native and the detached mind of a foreigner.  The next morning, I awoke to the hustle and bustle of Saigon traffic and looked out my window to see what daylight revealed that the darkness of night could not.

I scanned the horizon and glanced past the streets congested with people on their mopeds and bikes to see a pinkish building jump out at me, apparently a relic of Vietnam’s French colonial past.  Girls’ uniform ao dai’s flowed wistfully in the wind as they made their way to school, reminding me of the paintings that people sometimes brought back from Vietnamese tourist traps.  Along the edge of the road right beneath my vision, a young man in his dress shirt and slacks rode his bicycle.

Motorbikes in Vietnam.As I gazed out at them, it made me wonder what their lives were like.  Where were they heading off to? Was she a good student? Was he going to study abroad? What will become of them? These were things that usually escaped my mind when observing people in a place where I lived daily.

People’s faces in the streets were a stark contrast to the metallic shields of cars and reflections from windshields that I saw everyday in America.  Being able to see people as living bodies out in the streets instead of just getting  glimpses of anonymous beings in their metallic pods lent a faint feeling of familiarity to them.  It brought back memories and reminded me of the things I loved most about Vietnam.

I loved the circumambient air, the aesthetic beauty of girls in ao dai, the live faces I got to see on the streets, the fresh innocence of unworldly children, and mangosteens, rambutans, sapodillas, waterapples, and jackfruits. But despite my headiness at re-experiencing my exotic homeland, I couldn’t help being bothered as I recalled the way airport authorities tried to extract money from us as we checked out of the airport upon arrival.Mang Cut

I remembered the officer yelling at me and questioning me repeatedly on my intentions of visiting Vietnam—all because he had not seen any dollar bills slipped into my passport when he opened it.  Really? Yes, a petite teenage girl such as myself really held a threat to national security and needed to be questioned over and over again as to why I was visiting.  (Dude, that usually happens when you come to a rich country from a poor one, not the other way around!) We finally made our way out, but that incident still stuck with me.

How could anyone be loyal to a place like this? How can I be proud to come from a place where coercive government and domestic abuse still run rampant? Those were the defining questions that guided my identity formation in my teenage and college years.

The truth was, I was never quite sure that I should be proud of my heritage.  Although I was fortunate enough to retain my fluency in Vietnamese and enjoyed Paris by Night and Vietnamese food, I wasn’t wholly sure that my heritage was something worth being proud of.

Man beating wife in Vietnam.How could I be when I’ve seen what my motherland allowed? The beating and oppression of women bothered me the most since I am a woman.  And having grown up in a traditional household where I was expected to do chores while my brothers were not, this kind of subject really spoke to me.  How can a woman be proud of coming from a place that treated women as being lesser than men?

As I grew older, my philosophy gained more coherency from its previously fragmented state. Just as I was still an American despite hamburgers, widespread violence in the media, imperialistic foreign policy, and school bullying, I was still Vietnamese whether I liked it or not.   My heritage has influenced who I am as a person and how people chose to treat me.

No matter how American my philosophies are, the outside world will always see me as an Asian girl at first glance, and treat me as they have been conditioned to treat an Asian woman.  So to me, the importance of knowing where I came from was intertwined with the necessity of learning to navigate the stereotypes that people bestowed upon me.  Understanding the source of that stereotype opened up my empathy for Vietnamese women, and for myself.  Then I understood that my Vietnameseness ran deeper than the color of my skin or my black hair.

My heritage was to me like a baby is to its mother, and a mother is to her baby.  You cannot choose certain things; you are stuck with its idiosyncrasies.  But to nurture that which is close to you, you need to see what’s ugly about it to help you rectify the problem or at the very least, not make it an even bigger one.  Denying that there’s a problem will not help, yet denying that which is a part of you is to lose the totality of who you are.  And so I chose to cultivate my Vietnamese-American identity the same way a great mother cultivates her baby: to accept wholeheartedly what is hers, to nurture that which is beautiful and good, and to call out for rectification the bad behavior.Girls in ao dai picking white blossoms.

[This piece started out as a piece on why a lot of Vietnamese-American kids don’t like to speak Vietnamese because they think it is ugly, but my writing took on a different path as I recalled my own shame of Vietnamese culture.  There are a lot of factors involved in this shame: peers making fun of Asians, not seeing enough positive representations of Asians in the public eye, not seeing good role models around, not having positive experiences with Vietnamese culture as a child, etc.

But the sources of this shame have been discussed before, and it still hasn’t done enough to encourage Vietnamese American kids to embrace their roots.  What is needed now isn’t more dissection of the problem, but more good examples of Vietnamese Americans successfully navigating the two worlds while embracing and leveraging their Vietnamese heritage to live a meaningful life and ways in which we can encourage our youth to do the same.  More to come in future posts as I formulate my thinking more on these topics. I encourage you to post your suggested solutions to this problem.  Hopefully, as a community, we can help Vietnamese-American kids overcome this hurdle in forming a strong core.]


  • Pia Adios Barbie

    Great piece! We’d love to cross-post this piece over at http://www.adiosbarbie.com with your permission. We’d give full credit, of course. I look forward to hearing from you!

    • http://oliviahoang.com Olivia Hoang

      Thank you, Pia! You are welcome to use the piece.  I also have my writing on my own blog at http://oliviahoang.com. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Will-Nguyen/3606915 Will Nguyen

    This is beautiful writing that deftly captures the inherent challenges and rewards of being a hyphenated American (Asian, African, Hispanic, and so forth).  Looking forward to more! 

    • http://oliviahoang.com Olivia Hoang

      Thank you, Will! I enjoy writing these pieces very much as these were issues that I wrestled with for a long time =)

    • Outlaweggz

      I dont think most Americans hyphenate peaple from other lands, at least not for predjudice reasons. I do it sometimes, but its usually because it describes someone for who they are. You are Vietnamese, and that should not be wiped away in order to be politically correct. I feel we should not be afraid to say hes viet/african/jewish/irish as long as we embrace and are intrested in the differences. I want to see the differences, good or bad, so i can LEARN. We are all americans though, even you. Im a white guy, grew up in California, never felt predjudice against myself til I moved to my fathers homeland of Norway. There I was an utlendinger/invandrerer(outlander/in wanderer)(foreigner). And I was expected to climb into a mold of norwegianism or be cast down. I took the cast down choice, but not completely by choice.

  • Ganges

    It is totally misleading to think you should be proud as Vietnamese only if everything about Viet Nam is on the good side. There are plenty of bad things about Japanese, American, French, Italian etc…
    the Japanese still patronize their women. American can kill their children and get away with it legally.
    the French is still contemplating DSK as president even if he admits to having sex with the maid, oh consensually of course. The Italian still run their government like a mobster…You can find bad thing about everything.
    The world is revolving around bad and good, hence yin and yan. There is an angel and a devil in each and everyone of us just like the two sides of a coin. there are always pros and cons. How you manage that, makes who you are. No one can bestow on you anything unless you allow it to happen. Do you know that gay people are very proud to be gay?

  • Guest

    Thanks for your thoughtful piece. As a non-Viet I think there are many things Vietnamese have to be proud of. It is not possible to be utterly and completely proud of everything, there will always be good and bad aspects of a country and its culture…

    I get the feeling that you want to be proud to be Viet but the cultures and values of that country conflict with those of the country you live in now and that is causing confusion and frustration for you. You want to be proud but there are so many things in Viet culture that when measured against Western culture the Vietnamese should not be proud of…but I think equally there are many things in Viet culture that you should be proud of!

    I can understand your concern that the fact you are Viet-American influences how other people see who you are. People will base their impressions based on either ignorance or knowledge. You cant worry about other people’s assumptions and perceptions about you, all you can really do is break those paradigms and if someone isnt willing to change their perceptions then so be it.

    I will make an assumption that because you came to the US as a young girl that it was your parents that took you there. Your parents probably couldnt speak a word of English, they took a young family to the other side of the world and worked hard to give you everything you needed. They werent building a life for themselves as much as they were building a life for you. That’s what you (and many other Viet-American’s) should be proud of.

    During the second half of the last century the Vietnamese proved themselves amongst the most resilient on earth in both war and peace. The tens of thousands of Vietnamese who left everything they owned and knew and in many cases the ones they loved behind to make a better life for themselves and their children in other countries…for me as a non-Viet that is such an extraodinary gift of love from parents to children, I would be extremely proud.

    All cross-culture children struggle for identity, especially when all they want to do is “fit in” and be like all the other kids. Usually cross-culture children try to be more western than the western kids and it is not until they are older that they start to consider how their Viet culture and heritage has influenced them. Kids just want to assimilate and this can create a crisis of identity which is what you are experiencing now. That which you held dear, your “Vietnameseness”, has been shown to have some not so pleasant aspects but that is not a condemnation of Vietnamese culture nor an affirmation of Western culture, all of the things which western values would find objectionable in Viet culture are also visible in western culture, violence against women, nepotism and corruption etc. etc.

    Maybe I am rambling a bit, but the point I want to get accross is that Vietnam and its culture is not a measure of Viet-American or even someone born, raised, living in Vietnam There are some things in Viet culture which clash with western values but there are many things to be proud of as well.

    As you say, perhaps the best thing is to hold onto the good and work on the bad.

    PS: I think Vietnamese is a beautiful language. It would be a shame if the children of Viet migrants and refugees did not get the opportunity to pass the language on to their own children because they did not want to speak it themselves growing up.

    • http://oliviahoang.com Olivia Hoang

      I certainly agree that there are a lot of things about Vietnamese, and Asian, culture that is very admirable.  But you can’t deny that Western philosophy is ahead of the curve in terms of women’s rights.  Yes, there are elements of corruption and violence against women everywhere, but the point is the matter of degree.  It’s egregious in some parts of Vietnam.

      • Guest

        I certainly agree Olivia but you also need to consider that women are not considered equal to men in most countries of the world, right through Africa, Middle East, sub-continent, Asia. It is not a unikely Vietnamese problem.

        Consider women’s rights in the US 60 years ago to now. Women were expected by society to “honour and obey” their husbands, indeed in Christian marriage rites this was usually explicity stated by the bride in her wedding vows. This meant doing what the husband wanted, not going to work, maybe getting slapped around when husband comes home from a bar after work. Consider how domestic violence (and conduct) laws have changed over the past 60 years in the US as society has progressed in its protection and value of women. Imagine what consequences a husband faced to beating his wife “just a little bit” in the US 60 years ago? What were the chances that he would be arrested like he would be today? What are the chances that US police would behave in exactly the same way that VN police act today?

        Consider that the age of consent in England was only raised to 16 in 1885. I dont think that age of consent laws are an issue in VN but the point I am making is that in English society before 1885 it was socially acceptable for a man (sometimes older than 50) to marry a 13 year old girl.

        Vietnamese society, like many countries in the world, has a long way to go to catch up with Western society’s values of the value and treatment of women. It will take time and exposure to Westerner values for this to occur…

        In diplomacy this is called “soft power” – getting someone to change how they think and behave through gentle persuasion through exposure to different ideas rather than by overbearing demand or threat of force.

        Gently, gently Vietnamese society will change its attitutes to women. Real change can only come gradually and will be generational. The younger generation now (who are the most western-values oriented yet) will be the torch bearers for Viet society for the future. Social unrest and political upheaval occures when society’s are dragged too far too quicky in one direction or the other.

      • http://oliviahoang.com Olivia

        Yes, I agree that the social change should happen gradually if it is not to cause unrest.  But the point of the post was to address the shame that some young Vietnamese Americans may feel upon learning more about their motherland.  It is a way to identify and call together those who are facing the road of figuring out their identity amidst these truths about where they came from.

        The fact that those things are not unique to Vietnam is not the point, and I never said that those things were uniquely Vietnamese. The point of the post was to offer young Vietnamese Americans a guide to navigating the conflicts and frustrations that many face in trying to reconcile their two cultures.

        Knowing a lot of young Vietnamese Americans who distance themselves from Viet culture and also from the emails I’ve since gotten from the audience of this post, I know I was not the only one facing this problem. 

        Just like coming from a poor family may cause insecurity in people regardless of whether others also come from poor families or had ancestors who were poor, shame of ugly aspects of one’s motherland can exist regardless of whether other cultures also suffer from the same conditions.

        My post was not meant to be a comprehensive comparison of historical instances of women’s oppression, but as a way to say “hey, I’ve been there, and here’s what helped me”. 

    • http://oliviahoang.com Olivia Hoang

      I think you missed the central point of the post.

      • RandomGuy

        Hi Olivia, as a non Viet (but someone who has a fascination and empathy with the country, its people and culture) I may well have missed the point of your post.

        You might be interested to read this short blog posting form Australia “Stuck in the middle”: http://asiansdownunder.blogspot.com/2010/08/stuck-in-middle-15-generation-asian.html

        Not exactly the issues that you are tackling above but will likely be interesting to you none the less.

      • http://twitter.com/livhoang Olivia Hoang

        Thanks! I will check it out :-)

  • Nguyen

    Sorry for the word processors formatting. Without formatting issues I hope:

    Hi Olivia,

    Your views of Việt culture, and Việt Nam differ from mine. I forgot the exact words for the fish story. Give a person a fish, and you’re feed the person for a few days. Show the person how to fish, and they’ll be feed for a while. Educate the person about the ecosystem, and you’re have an educated scholar.

    You mention corruption in your post. One has to look at the root of the problem, and resolve it from the root (hint: not political).

    If you were entering Việt Nam with a U.S. Passport, and the official was inquiring that question then I understand why. Next time just go for the woman, and she’ll be a lot nicer.

    You mention loyalty, and domestic abuse still running rampant. Each country has its own set of differences, and pace of development. Where your loyalty lies is where your heart is. You won’t be able to bring all the money you have with you, or anything else for that matter once your dead.

    You mention how the outside world will always see you as an Asian girl. If you ask someone living in China, Mongolia, Korea (pick one), or Japan, how they see you. Would they reply they see you as an Asian girl, or a girl from Asia?

    I have no shame in being Việt. People who have Việt blood, and are ashame, either watch too many television shows, or can not accept Việt Nam, and its present conditions, or are due to their surrounding  lack information about Việt Nam.

    Uống nước nhớ nguồn
    Ăn trái nhớ kẻ trồng cây

    I dare you and everyeone else who is reading this to help change those peoples lives in Việt Nam in a meaningful and long term way. It is easy to criticize others and ask questions but what can one person do to help 80+ million people (hint: a lot)? One has to look in oneself, and see if they desire to enrich themselves, or to enrich the lives of others.

    Sincerely,
    No name Nguyễn person who will make a name for himself in a good way

    P.S. I stumbled across this website while researching something. This website is not a commerical one so I can’t favorite it (got too many wayyy too many) to return any reply you leave. My apologizes for the one way conversation. I can’t leave my name because I do not know the owners of this website, and I have no email. I hope you understand. Btw you are really really pretty (if thats your picture). Really really pretty :) If we ever meet in real life in Sài Gòn, and I’m not married, and you’re not married yet we should get to know each other over lunch, and maybe walk around, and admire the flowers  :) Have a good day everyone.

    • Tngo1982

      The root of corruption lies in the goverment since thats how top officials in Viet Nam get rich and you know it and the people in viet nam know it.  The problem is not new so don’t try to cover it you will only make it worse and slow the pace of Viet Nam developments.  If the root of corruption is not political then why did the officers at the airport took the money and they can get away with it. Even the people in Viet Nam said so therefore it not from tv shows like you said, communist = corruption.  I think you are the one who have no idea about Viet Nam because in Viet Nam the gov. controls the press and the press can only published what the gov. alllows them to publish.  Therefore, you and the people of Viet Nam only know what the government wants you to know.  You should start watching news about Viet Nam from international press to see the real picture of Viet Nam. We, as Vietnamese overseas always remember our root so there’s no need for that proverb here.  I have no shame of being viet too but it doesn’t mean that by loving your country you should cover its wrong doings. 

      • Fredrick Bloggs

        Unfortunately the root of corruption cannot be lumped at the door of Vietnam’s government – sadly, they are just part of an endemic problem that permeates through every segment and level of society.  Although there is corruption in Vietnamese politics, the root of corruption is not political – the root of corruption is the desire to better one’s life and the willingness to do this at the expense of others. 

        Corruption exists everywhere, perhaps it’s just more visible in Vietnam than other places as it is practiced at every level where the opportunity presents itself.  There is no political intent from the officer at the airport – just the greed of a lowly individual wanting to exploit for his own benefit, and because he knows he will not be confronted about it he will continue to do it as often as he feels he can get away with it. 

        If the Vietnamese continue to accept this, as they happily accept so much, including domestic violence, then unfortunately they will have no one to blame but themselves.  Acceptance is the way of the Vietnamese.  And look at what a mess the country is, because people accept it. 

        I am saddened that you do not feel pride in your country Olivia, but you are not the first young Viet I have heard say this.  Many I encounter who have lived or studied abroad face difficulties re-adapting to life in their homeland.  As said, they are reluctant to socialise with other young Viets, find it difficult to integrate back in to their families, realise that their standards and expectations have been raised whilst abroad and constantly feel that their expectations are not being met here.  Sad. But inevitable. 

      • http://oliviahoang.com Olivia Hoang

        There may be no political intent from the officer, but that level of corruption existed because of the political structure in place.

        I don’t think that Vietnamese people “happily accept” these things.  They just haven’t found a way to turn it around yet, a way that won’t involve bloodshed and war. 

        You seem to have missed the first and last parts of my post where I talk about my love for Vietnam, and have read the title as “Of Shame: Confronting My Vietnamese Identity”, missing the “Pride” part? There is a difference between valuing your roots and blind acceptance. Many westerners also comment on the weaknesses of their own culture/government.  Does that make you sad also?

  • Pia Adios Barbie

    Thanks Olivia, looking forward to more!
     

    • http://oliviahoang.com Olivia Hoang

      You might need to contact the Editor Anh Ton for approval though. We have a blog partnership program, and I’m not sure how the process works.

    • http://oliviahoang.com Olivia Hoang

      You might want to contact the Editor Anh Ton to see if there are any process requirements that VTP follows.  We have a blog partnership program, but I am not involved in that aspect, so I don’t know the logistics. 

  • Concerned Viet Girl

    Good piece of writing Olivia.  Like many other Vietnamese American youths, I don’t have much esteem for my Vietnamese heritage.  I’m proud of some of our accomplishments but can not blindly ignore misconducts such as bribery and violence against women among thousands of other things in our culture.  Of course, one person can’t do much to change the culture overnight but if we make others aware of the situations then we can hope for a small change over time, as much as a small stone causing ripples in water over time.  If we just blindly accepted it and go on our life like nothing happens, then nothing will change.  If you claim to be proud, if you claim you love Viet Nam, then do something about it…you don’t have to change 80 millions people, just 1 or 20 or 40 would be better than none.

    • http://oliviahoang.com Olivia Hoang

      I think along the same lines as you regarding how we can make a difference.  I think oftentimes, people can have a certain grand scheme about how many people out there they want to help, and oftentimes, the amount of people needing help is so staggering, that we end up feeling overwhelmed, and not actually doing much about it.  Vietnam’s conditions is a convergence of  many forces over centuries of time that one person or group alone cannot just change it.  Not knowing how I can change the root, my approach is to rather see what the conditions are and how we can best respond to them.  You cannot undo centuries of habits and thoughts in a single lifetime, and all successful efforts at behavioral modification has started with changing small habits in order to prepare for the big ones.

      • Outlaweggz

        You can change habits and thoughts in one lifetime. America did it, womans voting laws, womans rights, racism laws, equality laws,fights agains macarthyism, freedoms to gays, Its still happening here. Since the end of the vietnam war, vietnam has changed dramatically. Its beginning to embrace the capitalistic ideas of the U.S. (probably for the money and freedom to be an individual). 

  • Angie

    I’m always proud of where I am from regardless of how my country is. Maybe I have unconditional love for my country. I hate to see the Vietnamese students in my school trying to have as least contact as possible with other Vietnamese students. You can’t do anything to help Vietnam if you’re not united everywhere and all the time. What a shame!

  • Guest

    Olivia,  

    As a Vietnamese, I felt that your article does not go into much depth on the origin and the underlying reasons why almost every culture goes through the same cycle of evolution.  If you don’t fully understand the origin, you cannot completely comprehend how to fix the problem moving forward.  Also, if you have had experience in donating your time and money to enhance the lives of the less fortunate in Vietnam or third world countries, you would understand  the complexities and the dynamics of making a difference in someone’s life.  

    Maybe I am expecting too much from this article.  For that, I apologize.  Sorry for the criticism without a detailed explanation.  But I cannot devote too much time on this topic.  I hope you understand my points.

    • http://oliviahoang.com Olivia Hoang

      Thank you for taking the time to comment.  My article was geared more towards helping Vietnamese Americans navigate the growing pains of reconciling the two cultures that influence their lives.  So if you were expecting for more than that, then, yes, you were expecting too much.  I’m glad that you took some time to participate by writing this comment, and hope to see more contribution from you as to how to alleviate the problems.  I think readers would benefit from your knowledge. 

  • Andrew Nguyen

    Reading what you wrote made me think your post is nothing but a glimpse of Saigon ( I myself was born here in 1962) under an American tourist if you know what I meant. If I did not read your name you could be passed by a real American.

    • http://oliviahoang.com Olivia Hoang

      Thanks for participating, Andrew.  You are entitled to feel what you feel, and I respect that. 

      I am guessing you feel that way perhaps because you are reading the piece within your own internal framework of how nostalgic one should be when visiting. 

      You might have left Vietnam at a later age than I did, and so the emotional longing for your homeland might have been stronger than mine.  Or even if you did leave Vietnam at my age or younger, each person has different levels of nostalgia depending on their level of assimilation into American culture. 

      So it is entirely understandable that you felt I wasn’t emotionally tied to Vietnam enough.

      But perhaps that is a good thing for me because it allows me enough detachment to see things as they are. 

      Memories frame our lives and helps give it meaning, but being too tied to nostalgia can impede one from growing and moving forward in life. 

      Memories can make us smile or shed tears, and help us feel human. 

      But to me, a life worth living is one that appreciates the possibilities of the future and engages in the present while still acknowledging and respecting the past.

      Perhaps we will never see eye to eye on this, but that is the point.  This article was written for young people who have gone or are going through the same ordeal (there are many of them in the hyphenated community). 

      If the issues mentioned in the article never caused internal conflicts for you, then I congratulate you for having never experienced that.  It is an enviable position to always have a strong sense of identity without faltering once.

      • Andrew Nguyen

        Q.How could anyone be loyal to a place like this? How can I be proud to come from a place where coercive government and domestic abuse still run rampant.A. A corruptive officer: A government job in Vietnam usually has to be bought and he tries to take back what he gave for his job. Do a search  American domestic violence and criticize Vietnamese domestic abuse later. When I see an American kid calls his mother you f**king bitch I do not have an intention to tell her that it will never happen in Vietnamese culture.
        Q. But you can’t deny that Western philosophy is ahead of the curve in terms of women’s rights.
        A. When I think of white serial killers in US, I do not think all Americans are. My sister in law is a University lecturer and she has never complained about women’s rights or does housework.
        Q.This piece started out as a piece on why a lot of Vietnamese-American kids don’t like to speak Vietnamese because they think it is ugly, but my writing took on a different path as I recalled my own shame of Vietnamese culture.
        A. Their parents are so lost or suffer serious inferiority complex and do not know how to teach their kids to be proud. And when they grow up, are they parents awared that they will go through the same ordeal like you mentioned in your post?

      • http://oliviahoang.com Olivia Hoang

        Whether or not corruption has anything to do with the technicalities with the word “culture” is not really the point of the post.  It is something that exists very blatantly in Vietnam, and yes, many of us younger generations coming back to visit does start to question whether we have something to be proud of when we encounter such incidents.

        Using one off examples or examples from a long tail does not really add to your argument.  Serial killers and your sister in law does not make a majority of the population while domestic abuse and oppression of women IS a real and widespread occurrence in Vietnam.

        I am glad to see that you care so much for Vietnam.  For those of us younger generations who are educated in America and have been given a lot of advantages due to us being raised here, we have no problem attaching the American piece to the Vietnamese.

        My view is: we cannot undo the past, so why not create a better future by leveraging the opportunities we have here?

        We can continue to be angry at past injustices, but that doesn’t get us any closer to resolution. 

      • Guest

        I agree that this article is more like an observation, not a detailed analysis of the differences between Vietnam and America.  Therefore, treat it just like that.  For people that has already gone down this path, this article won’t give them any insight on what they have already observed.  

        I think main reasons on why Vietnamese kids don’t like to speak Vietnamese are:
        1)  In America, these kids don’t have the opportunity to learn Vietnamese as a primary language in school. Therefore, they don’t see the importance of speaking Vietnamese.
        2)  They are ignorant of the fact that every culture have pros and cons. They tend to compare Vietnamese culture with a perfect, ideal culture that they have been taught in school.  Thus, they are ashamed of acknowledging their Vietnamese background and speak Vietnamese.

  • Guest

    You are deeply troubled by how you are treated as a Vietnamese lady.   If I may, let me make a guess on your social interaction with other Vietnamese people.  Do you tend to shy away from making meaningful friendships with Vietnamese guys or male relatives because of the conflicts you feel inside? Do the bad experiences influenced your preference to meet and interact with asian groups other than Vietnamese? Trust me, not every male Vietnamese feels this way.  Actually you probably have come across some that are very “Americanized” and outstanding human beings.  However, because of your self-raised barrier, you might have shun away some positive influences.  I pray that you understand your past and that you are past the transitioning stage.  It is time to open up and try to fix/change what you think is wrong with Vietnamese heritage one day/person at a time.  If you cannot fix every broken windows in the house, at least you should try to fix  that one window in your bedroom first.  You can get more bang from your buck if you can make a positive influence within your proximity.  It is the people within your proximity that affects you the most.

    • Olivia Hoang

      You got all that from my post? =)

      You are very imaginative, and should write fiction for VTP!

      In any case, your guesses were wrong. I don’t make friends based on race, just based on behavior and character.

      So if there was ever a Viet guy that I didn’t want to befriend, it was probably because of his behavior, and not his race.

      I have many Vietnamese guy friends =)

  • Can/Viet girl

    Hi,
    I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed reading your post.  I’m a boat person myself, we left when I was about 3 and now I’m returning to Vietnam for the first time since we left, 30 years later.  It’s a very big journey for me and I can definitely relate to what you describe as your sense of identity vs the identity of the people from where you were born. 

    I consider myself to be very Westernized.  When I was growing up I remember wish I had blond hair and blue eyes like my best friend.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to embrace the “Asianess” of me, even using it to my advantage.  A lot of people treat me very nicely because I am small, cute and Asian.  I’ve also had the opposite experience of course of being treated like a second class citizen because of my Asianess.  I realize it comes with the territory.  There are still a lot of prejudices that people will have to overcome.

    I know I will be asking myself many of the same questions you asked yourself in the above post. I think the people who have criticized your post are not looking at it from your perspective.  They feel unhappiness or anger that you do not view their country the way they want you to or that you do not feel the same way as them.  I see your post as you voicing your internal thoughts and experiences of your journey back home.  Who is to tell you that your experience is wrong, or that it’s not what you remembered?  The insistence that you should see it another way is very strange to me.  Whether they realize it or not, they are perpetuating the human behaviour of intolerance to views that are different from their own by trying to “teach” you to be different.

    I did not feel like you were trying to tell me to be a certain way, or to believe in your beliefs.  I felt like you were sharing a personal part of yourself and for that I am very grateful.

    • http://twitter.com/livhoang Olivia Hoang

      Thanks for your support, and kind words!

      I’m very glad that you got value out of my writing.  I will be starting a blog on my journey to entrepreneurship in the near future, and perhaps, I can relate it to my Asian identity and maybe get it posted here :-P

      People like you is the reason I write.  I hope you enjoy your trip to Vietnam, and please do keep me posted of your experience when you can find the time!

      • Can/Viet girl

        I’m going to be starting a video blog too lol, a blog of my trip as I travel around Vietnam.  I’ll let you know when it’s up.

        Best of luck with your journey to becoming an entrepreneur! 

  • Nguyen_Quy

    First, I’d like to commend Olivia on a piece extremely well written. I really enjoyed reading this article. The images and emotions you conjure up are very striking, and perhaps have stimulated a number of very thoughtful responses here. Just for background, I am a Vietnamese American, born in Vietnam, and came to the US when I was 10 in 1982. I had the opportunity to visit Vietnam in 2003 after 21 years of growing up and getting my education in the US. It was an emotional and psychologically-whole experience, one in which I will never forget. It completed me! And yes! Prior to this experience there was shame. I am able to look back and relflect on my childhood, early teens, and twenties now with some selve love and embrace for my younger self. I was very much lost and searching for an identity, but my parents taught me enduring values such as respect for the culture and education. Now as a self-sufficient and sucessful bi-cultured adult I’d like to offer some observations:
    1. Time is the ultimate equalizer. Our perspectives, a snapshot in time, can change over time given changing inputs and insights.
    2. Our perspectives may be mistaken as truths particularly if our thoughts are supported by certain groups or mass media. All groups have an agenda. All I am saying is be aware of the influences you are receiving daily from mass media, which have already served to anchor your thinking whether you realize it or not. Much of western culture is anchored in images from the media. We all live here so I won’t go into this. On the othe hand, the Vietnamese culture is rich in history and traditions. Its stunning beauties from its people, landscapes and courageous examples of struggle and ability to adapt and overcome we should be lucky to be proud of. While we don’t have the same opportunity for the culture to be on media, we luckily still have our parents and extended families. They are a great source of teachings.
    2. Our perspectives

  • Quy Nguyen

    Sorry, had to repost as the IPAD failed me with an incomplete post the first time.

    First, I’d like to commend Olivia on a piece extremely well written.  I really enjoyed reading this article.  The images and emotions you conjure up are very striking, and perhaps have stimulated a number of very thoughtful responses here.  Just for background, I am a Vietnamese American, born in Vietnam, and came to the US when I was 10 in 1982.  I had the opportunity to visit Vietnam in 2003 after 21 years of growing up and getting my education in the US.  It was an emotional and psychologically-whole experience, one in which I will never forget.  It completed me!  And yes!  Prior to this experience there was shame.  I am able to look back and relflect on my childhood, early teens, and twenties  now with some selve love and embrace for my younger self.  I was very much lost and searching for an identity, but my parents taught me enduring values such as respect for the culture and education.  Now as a self-sufficient and sucessful bi-cultured adult I’d like to offer some observations:1.  Time is the ultimate equalizer.  Our perspectives, a snapshot in time, can change over time given changing inputs and insights.2.  Our perspectives may be mistaken as truths particularly if our thoughts are supported by certain groups or mass media.  All groups have an agenda.  All I am saying is be aware of the influences you are receiving daily from mass media, which have already served to anchor your thinking whether you realize it or not.  Much of western culture is anchored in images from the media.  We all live here so I won’t go into this.  On the othe hand, the Vietnamese culture is rich in history and traditions.  Its stunning beauties from its people, landscapes and courageous examples of struggle and ability to adapt and overcome we should be lucky to be proud of.  While we don’t have the same opportunity for the culture to be on media, we luckily still have our parents and extended families.  They are a great source of teachings.  If culture is what you are interested in, you don’t have to look very far. 3.  Looking back, I felt shame because I was different.  Now I understand this better, although not necessary completely.  It was subtle, and in some cases not so subtle, but I was taught that those who are successful and deserve respect did not look like me.  They were male and white.  Like many young Asian Americans, I felt second class growing up.  I’d like to emphasize this had nothing to do with the Vietnamese culture.  I needed a role model who is successful in the US, and the lack of exposure contributed to the view that somehow I was inferior.  The truth of it is, none of us are inferior.  We just have more challenges, so much more challenges to overcome such as language, and treatment as outsiders, etc., and much less opportunities to be the “face” of success, except for the most part where opportunities are near equal such as education and jobs where the use of the English language is not a barrier for example.4.  A final thoughts, I am now a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Air Force and was named the best officer in my field this past year.  I have many Vietnamese friends as well as friends from many cultures.  I have traveled all over the world, and it has changed my perspectives over time.  My mind and heart remain flexible and open to to more.  Be proud of your own individual beauty, talent and future contributions to your family, friends, community, country and the world.  Seek out your parents and thank them for their courage and sacrifice in order for you to have the opportunities you have.  Don’t let the media tell you what the mold for success should be.  Pull those anchors, be proud of your heritage, set your own vectors, dream your own dreams, and always believe that you can achieve your dreams if you work hard at cultivating your talent each day.Thanks Olivia for inspiring me to reflect and share my experience with other Vietnamese Americans.  

    • http://twitter.com/livhoang Olivia Hoang

      Thank you for your kind words and sharp insights!

      I’m so glad you liked my piece!

      And I encourage you to KEEP sharing your insights :-)

  • Jssmith3

    Ngày 30/4 thì như hàng năm ở hải ngoại sẻ có diển hành với cờ vàng ba sọc đỏ.

    Hơn 35 năm sao chỉ có một số nhỏ chia rẻ dân tộc. Như Ông Nguyễn Cao Kỳ đả trình bày; sự thật vẩn còn! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3GzYOkgS-fw&feature=related Những tên côn đồ là tiểu số. Phần đông họ là lính thất học, vô văn hóa, cùng lấm là sĩ quan hạ cấp, hoạc là bọn trẻ thanh niên rời Việt Nam còn nhỏ nên không nấm hiểu VNCH là gì và chưa hề cầm súng ra trận. Những đứa con trẻ đó giờ hơn 40/50 tuổi phần rất ích nuôi hận vô lý vì tư tưởng không chính đáng. Đây là một thí dụ cụ thể với văn hóa thô lổ của kẻ thất học http://latdocongsan.wordpress.com/2009/10/11/ho-chi-minh-is-son-of-bitch-ho-chi-minh-is-cock-sucker-ho-chi-minh-is-mother-fucker-ho-chi-minh-is-fucking-animal/Sau 35 năm, bọn phản động tiểu số lấy danh nghĩa giả tạo kêu gọi “hòa giải dân tộc” nhưng thực sự là xuất ngôn của tiểu số thổi phồng tạo ra vấn đề cần “hòa giải.” Ở hải ngoại là bọn côn đồ bị nhiều người cười và cho họ là bọn hề. Người Mỹ gọi họ là “anti-goverment protesters” thì là xếp vào hàng “terrorist.” Thực tế nhiều quốc gia, như Mỹ đả ban giao tốt với Việt Nam http://vietnam.usembassy.gov/ Thực tế nhiều người Việt Nam ở hải ngoại, ở Mỹ ích có phát ngôn vì họ luôn lo công ăn việc làm nuôi con. Tiểu số lấy cơ hội làm ồn; như bài “Cờ Vàng Mách Bu” trình bày trên http://sachhiem.net/XICHLOV/XichloViet06.php. Bọn tiểu số đó sẻ không bao giờ bỏ hận thù đâu. Đừng bận tâm mất thì giờ vì bọn chó săn cho ngoại xâm. Chúng tôi đả ghi tên họ và download những hình ảnh trên fb của họ nếu có và đồng thời hình ảnh của gia đình họ. Khi họ nạp hồ sơ xin visa vào Việt Nam chúng tôi có cách phòng hờ bọn phản động chó săn.Bọn phản động phần đông là những đứa con trẻ rời Việt Nam trong năm 1975 – 1985. Họ đã bị nhiểm độc hận thù từ Cha Ông nên tâm trí không vững. Cha Ông họ bị bệnh tâm thần mà Mỹ gọi là Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) Thương cho những đứa con trẻ giờ hơn 40/50 tuổi lên mạng chửi rủa nhau và gây rối cho Việt Nam. Họ sống trong gia đình bệnh PTSD nên chính họ cũng có phần bệnh tâm thần nầy. Họ là chó săn cho một quốc gia đang bị thối nác từ trong ra ngoài; http://endoftheamericandream.com/archives/40-signs-that-america-is-rotting-from-the-inside-out