When I was nine years old, my mom encouraged me to learn Vietnamese. She did not want me to be like my peers who can’t read, write, or for some even speak the language fluently. They have assimilated into American culture completely.
Every Sunday morning after church, I lingered over to the small school building next to the church, my hands shoved in my pockets. As I entered the classroom my classmates were throwing a football around, chasing each other, yelling, and drawing on the whiteboard. The Vietnamese culture and language lessons were sluggish, the teacher having to explain the lesson in English, because most of us did not understand the lesson and Vietnamese language well enough, even though we spoke it at home with our parents.
At the end of the school day we had free time, either in the sun-soaked front yard or in the enormous cold basement in the winter. All you could hear spoken was English, no Vietnamese at all by the children. One by one, many kids gave up the school simply because it was too hard. Their culture was a blend of American and Vietnamese, but they slowly drifted away from their Vietnamese culture.
My life, too, is a mix of American and Vietnamese cultures. My mom cooks both Vietnamese and American dishes for us, and we speak both English and Vietnamese. In trying to connect with my heritage, I’ve learned more about my culture and its traditions. I know about the new year celebrations and traditional dance, for example. I watched the dragon dance, where two to five people put on a long dragon costume and dance around, and people gift the dancers money by putting it into the dragon’s mouth!
I feel it’s important to know both American and Vietnamese culture because it is large part of my identity, and as I discovered more about my culture and heritage I was able to better connect with my relatives. It was personally important to me to learn some of the Vietnamese language so I could easily communicate with my grandparents and relatives who can’t speak English.
This knowledge will help me as I move into college and beyond, because my experiences in exploring my culture and heritage helped me gain a new view of the world and younger generations. I now understand why the newer generations are mostly American with some areas of Vietnamese culture mixed in. Trying to learn the Vietnamese language also taught me that I have to be dedicated to learn and be willing to learn from my mistakes. From my experiences I’ve learned to explore a subject, any subject, deeply if I’m passionate about it.