hi! i just wanted to drop by and say that i really love your writing. i'm vietnamese as well and although i still speak vietnamese, it's certainly not anywhere near fluent and nowhere near the standards of the rest of my family. thank you for capturing those feelings of loss and shame, and thank you for showing me that i am not alone.
; u ; Thank you so much. I’m happy that ‘What I’ve Lost,’ was able to touch so many people, including yourself, on such a deeply personal level. Losing language is a struggle that many people in our generation have a hard time with, so it’s good to know that we don’t go through those feelings alone.
Vietnam, I’m Not Home Yet - Nhi Vo
Nhi Vo, a Vietnam born motion artist and graphic designer currently studying in LA, made a little video dedicated to her mother country, a place she misses dearly: it’s a moving love letter she is sending from Los Angeles to Vietnam.
Nhi describes the video as “a visualization of [her] homesickness.” She’s been in the states for three years and, while invaluable time, she still finds herself missing home. The video is (nicely) dark and quiet with thin, orangey line drawings of her idea and longings for Vietnam. You follow a little paper airplane as it flies in reverse from her home town to Los Angeles, a little metaphor that she is physically here–but her mind is elsewhere.
The thing that amazes me most about Viet Nam is the same thing I miss the most when I leave. It’s not the warmth of the people or the delicious food or the ridiculously low prices. Nope. The thing that amazes me most about Viet Nam is the language. It always takes me at least a few days to wrap my head around the fact that Vietnamese is the official language of the country. The signs were in Vietnamese. The forms and emails and phone keyboards were in Vietnamese. I didn’t need to request a special translator. I didn’t even need to interpret for my mother. Conversations of passerbys were in Vietnamese. A whole entire country…everyone speaking Vietnamese. This remains to be one of the most amazing things about VN to me.
I’m often told that my Vietnamese is more than adequate. But I’ve never been really confident with it. My tongue trips on the words and my brain swims around in the spelling and grammar. Even so, Vietnamese has come to represent comfort and familiarity and love. It is the language of home. The language in which my grandmother told me old VN legends; the language in which she sang my lullabies. It is the language in which my mother scolds me. And the language in which I first learned how to describe the world. It is the language of family, of anh and cô and chị and bác. Everyone was an auntie or a brother or a sister. It was nearly impossible to feel isolated and lonely when speaking Vietnamese, at least to me.
However, from the age of four and up, Vietnamese became something I had to tuck away on the shelves of my brain whenever I stepped out my door. English words shined in my mind because it was more practical. We were living in America, after all. Vietnamese in public became a delicacy. My ears perked whenever I hear a Vietnamese-esque conversation and I can’t help but look at the conversationalists with a knowing smile which says, “I understand you. We are of the same blood.” (But not in a creepy way, of course.)
I met someone in VN whom I’ve dubbed “Wingman.” (Another post on this particular character coming soon; he’s a fascinating person.) He said to me,
People like you, children of the Vietnamese diaspora, are the key to changing VN for the better. You who balance the best of both worlds, who effortlessly juggle the two languages, you are the key. You are the key to expanding the minds of the Vietnamese people because like your mom said: writers are the doctors of society and literature is the medication. Don’t worry about writing your epic novel. Learn the language. Translate. Bring the greatest works of literature to VN. (And translate it well. Because today’s translators are shit.) You have the heart and the skill to bring about change. That could be your mark on the world.
That is one of the worst and best things you can do for me: make me believe that I have the ability to change the world, to fix and improve on something that I love so dearly. You’ve given me a very important mission, o wise Wingman. And I shall do my best to not disappoint you and this tiny, mysterious, loving little S-shaped country whose secrets and stories and songs and everything beautiful are whispered in ever gentle Vietnamese.
(I’m still gonna work on Turtle and Miles and Alden and Camille and all that. Don’t worry. I can change the world AND write my epic novel. I CAN HAVE IT ALL!)
all autocompletes were screenshots of actual searches on 12/3/2013
photo credit: Mike Allen
The idea was inspired by the UN Women campaign by Memac Ogilvy & Mather Dubai.
Racism from Absence
In my 19 years in America, I’ve never been stopped and frisked. Cops are always nice to me. People have no problems sitting next to me on the bus. No one’s scared of me no matter what direction I pointed my cap.
The kind of Asian racism that makes headlines is cultural misappropriation -when some “insensitive” entertainer wears silk kimonos and painted faces to look exotic.
This never bothered me.
It’s the subtle, slippery racism that’s far more sinister. The absence of Asian leads in a non-martial arts movie or TV shows means I grew up knowing only non-Asian celebrities and role models. And if you’re an Asian guy, you are not the stuff of fantasies girls grew up dreaming about.
The absence of Asians from politics and upper management means that Asians can be hard workers and geniuses but never leaders.
Above all, there seems to be some perma-foreignness about Asians. It’s not unusual to be told to “go back to China” and to be mocked for an accent we don’t have. The manifestations of this viewpoint range from the seemingly harmless to the outright hostile. But the underlying message is the same. Asians are not real Americans.
I vividly remember seeing this racism first-hand in a conversation with one of my former business partners. I wanted to create a mentoring program in a predominantly Asian school organization.
He flat out told me he had no interest in helping Asians succeed in America. I asked him, “Are you serious?” He said, “Yeah.” He laughed a little.
He was serious.
It was a wtf moment for many reasons and was a major factor behind my decision to leave my position as a co-founder. I eventually heard from a mutual friend that he said I was a follower not a leader.
In retrospect, I’m fortunate to have heard him verbalize something that others keep to themselves. It allowed me to move on to bigger and better things instead of wasting time working with someone who never saw me as a partner.
Confessions of an ABC Banana Twinky
I’ve been uncomfortable being Asian since the 2nd grade. Back then I was the foreign kid who didn’t speak any English who became the butt of every joke.
This bullying motivated me to learn English fast. By 3rd grade, I was nearly fluent and huge chunk of my vocabulary were insults and comebacks.
In 4th grade I started seeing my race as a handicap. I thought the only way to be accepted is to break every Asian stereotype. As a result, I avoided the other Asian kids. I stopped caring about my grades. Then there was the denial. For a period of my life I was Chinese Clayton Bigsby. I actually felt like I was white.
In the 6th grade one of my friends picked a fight with me for no reason and told me to go back to China. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have taken it so hard. But I did. I couldn’t look past the fact he was just some 12-year old taking medication for hyperactive aggression. At the time I felt the full weight of my racial identity and caused me to stray further away.
When I moved to a better school district in the 8th grade, a lot of the overt forms of bullying disappeared. Despite this, I still scoffed at Asian cliques and was embarrassed to speak Chinese in public or do anything which reminded people of who I really was.
The only time I referenced my race was through self-deprecating humor.
In college, I became “ok” with being Asian. I didn’t feel embarrassed to speak Chinese in public anymore. I also started to see some value in Asian culture and re-developed interest in the history.
I was also in a serious relationship with someone who accepted me fully. I also joined a business fraternity that was predominantly Asian.
I took a lot of steps in the right direction, but I still felt divided. It wasn’t until my second time meditating with a Shaman that I finally confronted the self-loathing I built up through the years.
I learned that by acting opposite to my stereotypes, I’m still letting ignorance control my life. Instead, the only thing that matters is figuring out who I want to be, and seeing if my actions are consistent with that version of myself.
The challenge is being honest with myself and admitting when my actions come from a place of insecurity and defensiveness. Committing to change that behavior is one of the purest expression of “self” stripped of delusion and denial.
Note: I’m just a guy with a Finance background who rescues cats and makes videos. I’ve never had diversity and sensitivity training. I just know my own experience and how it shaped the way I think today.
But, I do hope some parts of this resonates.
If you have any comments, agreements, or disagreements please drop me a line via the confirm/deny link on the upper left corner. I’m also reachable by email here. Or tweet @stevesdrop.
social/cultural issues themed spoken word event coming up soon on campus. should I or shouldn’t I?
So I’ve been practically MIA from this blog since Christmas. However there is a reason! If you didn’t already know, I finally transferred up to Sacramento at the end of last month. Since then, I’ve met so many amazing people amongst my fellow Circle K’ers. In fact, yesterday I attended my first ‘party.’ (It wasn’t the best experience, don’t ask, I won’t tell.) These pictures aren’t from that particular experience, but they’re from a wonderful benefit dance I attended at UC Davis last night. Everyone I’ve met has been so kind, warm, and welcoming to me and also Basilia— I miss my family and my home, but I’m content here. I appreciate the followers that have stuck around in spite of my absence. I haven’t stopped writing— writers rarely do— but my online presence will probably lessen for some time. I’ll be in school, meeting people, and doing plenty of community service. I’ll still be around, reading everything you guys write, showing support, blabbing every now and then of what’s going on in my life. Hopefully someday in the near future, I’ll feel the need to publish my writings again. But for now, I’m just going to revel in new friendships, new academic standards, and the rigor of finally being at a four year university under the tutelage of spectacular, intelligent professors.
I hope you guys had a fantastic new year! Make it your year; grab what you want with both hands! Literally or figuratively, whatever, as long as it doesn’t constitute as sexual/physical harassment.
how to write poetry like a white person
- the taste of you
- save me
- no wait save yourself
make sure to left align and god forbid touch a capital letter
Happy New Year everyone! May your year be blessed with happiness, health, and prosperity.
It’s my first tet away from home, and I miss my mother’s banh tet and thit kho. Maybe it’s time to try that really terrible pho place on campus. Desperate times, guys. Desperate times.
I wish you all the best!
I'm an Americanized Vietnamese college student, too. English & Japanese major. Love the few things I've read on your blog. Makes me nostalgic for something. Grappling with my relationship with my heritage; vanishing memories, affinities. Glad to have read your stuff.
I’m really glad that what I write is relatable to so many other second generation Vietnamese kids. (Kids? Pseudo-Adults? Large Kids?) I guess it’s time for you to make some new memories with your heritage! Thank you for being kind and reaching out to me.
I’m using my coffee maker to brew some tea and it sounds like I’m peeing inside of my room into a cup and I’m really self conscious about it.
your writing is incredible. I love writing too and I just hope it would be as personal, authentic and powerful as yours. I can relate and it's so simple yet comes within your heart. I can feel and understand your feelings as I read, it's like youre letting me inside your head. Thank you for sharing. You're incredible. I don't remember how I found you but I'm really glad I did. I am Vietnamese too and I find this blog amazing. Don't stop!
Thank you so much! Honestly, I’m always speechless whenever people say such kind things to me. Especially even more so now since I haven’t been actively writing for a while. But thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing me such an uplifting message.
People down the hall from me are having a twerking competition in their room.
I…. just. Where am I?
UPDATE: THEY ARE WHITE, THEY ARE WHITE.