“Your Heritage Matters More Than You Think”
Let’s be honest.
I got a lot of problems.
It’s inevitable and unavoidable. But hey. I also like to look on the positive side and see my problems as valuable life lessons. Yes, even the silly boy problems. However, there is one serious problem that I’ll never forget and it ended up changing my life for the better. When I was younger, I went through an identity crisis. More specifically, a cultural identity crisis.
And by that, I don’t just mean that you’re confused about who you are as a person, but you’re also confused about your culture and how to go about accepting it. This is something that I find significantly common in first generation children of immigrant parents, my own self included. The most likely explanation for this is that first generation children are exposed to two distinct cultures and if they are raised in the United States, they are more likely to accept the American culture as opposed to their actual culture.
Growing up, I was similarly caught between the Asian and American cultures. At the time, my parents could only teach me Vietnamese and I remember struggling so much in school to keep up with the other students. I had to go to ESOL daily, and it was a constant battle with the language barrier and the fact that I wasn’t like the normal kids.
As I got older and the rough years of middle school came around, I started to have problems with my Vietnamese culture for an entirely different reason. I was undoubtedly ashamed and embarrassed of it. This was when the racist Asian jokes and stereotypes started to develop, and instead of standing up for my heritage, I merely shrugged it off and laughed awkwardly along. I simply desired to conform and fit in with the other American students. I refused to accept who I was. And to this day, one of my deepest regrets is not defending and being proud of my heritage.
People use to scoff at me and tell me that I was “so Asian” with such a negative connotation. I even remember the weird stares and snarky remarks I received when I wore a traditional Vietnamese dress for sixth grade picture day.
I will never forget this one girl (who is actually Vietnamese herself!) that would make fun of me for my slight accent and even ridiculed me for eating traditional foods because it looked disgusting. Looking back now though, I don’t feel bitterness or resentment towards her…I just feel bad for her. How unfortunate is it for someone not to love their own culture.
I know a lot of young people nowadays have a cultural identity problem, where they chose not to learn more about their origin or they refuse to accept it like I once did out of embarrassment. Then they get labeled as “whitewashed” and that’s not something anyone should want to be called.
Fortunately for me, I finally learned to love myself and my culture because that is one of the special components that makes me who I am. And that’s something everyone needs to realize.
Being proficiently fluent in both Vietnamese and English is a blessing I don’t take for granted and it’s disheartening because people don’t really expect young people to be bilingual. I have had older folks approach me that were so impressed and shocked that I can understand and speak Vietnamese.
Even having the chance to visit the motherland a few times is an amazing opportunity I wish everyone can have. When you trace back to your deep roots and sit down with your relatives to hear about their life stories in an entirely foreign country, it puts everything into perspective. I was able to see how beautiful Vietnam is. It may not be the wealthiest country in the world, but it is definitely rich in culture and history.
It really does broaden your horizons.
Now that I’m in college, people still tell me that I’m “so Asian,” but it’s never in the bad way anymore. In fact, there have been multiple friends who have told me that they enjoy my company because I make them feel more in touch with their culture. I cannot think of a single better compliment.
So don’t settle for less.
Let your culture engulf you. Accept it. Embrace it.
It has so much to teach you and it is certainly nothing to be ashamed of. Even if you aren’t sure that you’re ready to embrace it, get to know it. Learn to love it and let it be a part of you. Whether you like it or not, your heritage is a major component of who you are and by hiding it, you’re not being honest with yourself.
Why deny yourself this wondrous experience?
Besides, there isn’t a rule that says you can’t accept both your American and Asian backgrounds. Personally, I love intertwining the two in my everyday life. I am able to learn about these beautiful dynamic cultures, and I can even teach one about the other and vice versa.
My advice is to willingly open up your heart and mind; see what your heritage has to offer you. I promise that once you get a taste, you’re not going to turn back.