“I’m afraid that my child won’t understand the culture (s)he came from.”
This is one of the main concerns I’ve heard from parents since I started working with OneVietnam Network. We’re reaching the era of 2nd generation Vietnamese Americans—those who were born here and have never stepped foot in their homeland.
I’ve always believed that the best way to experience culture is first hand. You have to be in it and feel it all around you to be able to really understand it. The Jewish community knows this well.
A great example of that is their Birthright Israel trip:
Taglit-Birthright Israel provides the gift of first time, peer group, educational trips to Israel for Jewish young adults ages 18 to 26. Taglit-Birthright Israel’s founders created this program to send thousands of young Jewish adults from all over the world to Israel as a gift in order to diminish the growing division between Israel and Jewish communities around the world; to strengthen the sense of solidarity among world Jewry; and to strengthen participants’ personal Jewish identity and connection to the Jewish people.
A foundation, running completely off of donations from their community and government, has sent over 260,000 young people back to their homeland for a 10-day, fully-paid trip so that they can understand who they are, know where they come from, and build a connection with their community.
Pretty much any Jewish young adult can apply for this – as long as (among a few more restrictions) you have never been on a study program or lived there past the age of 12. Even if you have visited with your parents in the past, you’re still encouraged to apply so that you can experience the country with your peers.
That’s another place where I think the Jewish community hits the nail on the head. Traveling without your parents is a completely different experience. Though I’ve never been to Vietnam without mine, I do remember one moment that changed things. We were in Nha Trang and I decided to break away from everyone, so I grabbed my things and headed to the beach. For the first time on that trip, I was alone—no parents, no aunts and uncles. For the first time, my experience of Vietnam was not filtered through the memories of my elders. Running through my head were no longer thoughts of why we left Vietnam, but rather why I wanted to return to this beautiful country. This was all from two hours of being in Vietnam “alone.” Imagine what a whole trip could do.
So my question is: Will the Vietnamese community ever pull together enough to be able to send their children home with their peers? Can we get to the point where hardworking parents, without the extra income, will still be able to send their kids back to Vietnam with the help of their community? Does it even have to be a program initiated in conjunction with the government, like Birthright Israel was? Will we ever find that unity to be able to expose our children to the place we were fortunate enough to know and love so that they can fall in love with it too?
I know that the Vietnamese community and the Jewish community are not perfect comparisons—our cultures are different, and Vietnamese Diaspora history hasn’t spanned nearly as many centuries as that of the Jewish community. But, I don’t think our love for our Vietnamese culture and our want for our children to know their homeland are any less. So, here’s to hoping.