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Connecting back to my Asian roots in the best ways possible

Aug 27, 2021 1:01 PM

Photo Essays

Growing up as a first-generation kid, I was fortunate enough to be raised by two immigrant parents who loved me very much. They gave up a lot of things just for me to get a good education here in the United States. But, in exchange for good education, I was left with little-to-no connection to my roots. I’ve begun to notice how my parents have assimilated Vietnamese and Chinese traditions into my daily life, which were the only ways I could feel as if I originated from Asian roots.

In the year of 1995, my hardworking parents got married on what seems to be the grassy fields of Vietnam. Despite the portrait being old, it is hanging in our living room as a reminder of where they originated from. It is the main centerpiece of our living room, which I’m very glad for because I can see how my mother and father lived in Vietnam, and how youthful they were before the draining task of raising children aged them. Even now, living in America, I can see the joy my parents felt of being in their homelands. I yearned for the same.

In America, there is an unspoken rule for us where we are obligated to celebrate American holidays. In this case, it is Christmas. My foreign parents didn’t understand the American way to handle Christmas. Although they did buy a (fake) tree for me and my brother to celebrate, I remember my mother turning on Vietnamese music rather than English music — a subtle choice that reminded me of Vietnam at home in America.

Just like Christmas, my parents wanted to celebrate my brother’s birthday. If you look carefully, the table is not only filled with American food like fried chicken but also fried rice and noodles. As for the cake, it isn’t your traditional vanilla buttercream frosting cake. Rather, it is a cake with durian filling bought from Chinatown, which is more interesting.

These Asian calendars have always been a part of me since I was young. It is a reminder of the Lunar New Year back in Asia with Chinese Zodiacs printed on each month’s page. These calendars are often bought at Asian supermarkets and hoarded by my dad. Why? To give to his brothers and sister. Although these calendars aren’t exactly correlated with any special traditions, the designs on the calendars remind me about my Asian identity here in America.

My family, despite immigrating from Vietnam, celebrates Lunar New Year through red envelopes. Bought at an Asian market, these thin sheets with gold hold loads of dollars. Yet, it is the meaning and love behind them which give these envelopes warmth. Every time I am handed one of these envelopes, it makes me grateful to my family and relatives who’ve shown me the spirit of Lunar New Year.

Eating with the older generations of my family helped me grasp what it is like in Vietnam. Often, when I visit, my grandmother whips up a homemade Vietnamese dish that was once my mother’s favorite. Eating it together with family makes the taste of the food more filling and gives me a sense of belonging. Seeing and tasting the traditional Vietnamese dishes in front of me, I can’t help but be proud.

There are times where I feel disconnected from my family roots. For example, at times, I feel like I’m not Vietnamese enough during family gatherings. Through these little things, I realize that my roots still are prevalent in my daily life with the help of my family. No matter how I’ve grown up here in America, my parents are the ones showing and teaching me cultural things I have yet to learn.

Although I am not the best photographer out there, these photos mean a whole lot to me. The memories behind each, the lessons they’ve formed, I’ve learned a lot. I am a first-generation Asian American living in America, but proud of my culture and proud to share these photos with you all. There’s no such thing as being too Asian in America because your culture is what makes you unique. There’s also no such thing as not being Asian enough. We all can claim our identities, no matter where we were raised.