THIS I BELIEVE
My family and I arrived at the Saint Louis Lambert Airport around 11:30 p.m. on August 24, 1994. A Vietnamese interpreter from the International Institute of St. Louis came to greet us at the terminal. As he was driving us to our new home, I looked at the rain drops hitting the window and excitement as well as nervousness built up within me as I question how my life is going to be in this new land.
I started school at second grade and I hated it so much. I didn’t understand a word of what my classmates and teacher were talking about. I couldn’t eat the school’s food nor join my classmates at recess. I just sat and watched my classmates all day. When I entered middle school, I understood English a little, but sometimes, it’s better to understand nothing at all. There was an American eighth-grader on my bus. She always picked on me. Half of the time I didn’t understand her, but there was one time when I clearly understood her words. She told me to go back to where I came from. At that moment, I really wish that I can go back to my country, to where I belong.
Then I went to high school and I gradually adapted to the American culture. Maybe it was because I dressed and spoke English better or maybe it was just that as people have grow older, they have become less blunt. In any case, I didn’t have to confront those words that would make me have a hard time sleeping at night anymore. I felt a stronger sense of belonging to the world that I was living in, which consisted of school, church, and home.
My parents called my aunts in Vietnam once in a while. My dad dreams of returning to Vietnam and live there one day, when the country is no longer under the communist’s government, but to me, this is my home.
I often speak English at home to my little brother and sister. My dad keeps yelling at me for that. One time, he and I got into a big argument. He said that it doesn’t matter how well my English is or how Americanize I am, the American will never consider me as an American and I can never be part of them.
It’s true. I can never be an American because I am not one. And I have too much Vietnamese inside of me to try to be one. The fact is that although I’ve been here for over half of my life, my Vietnamese is still much better than my English. However, at the same time, I have too much American in me to be a true Vietnamese like my father wanted me to be. And it’s hard to live between two very different cultures, in which one values freedom and independence while the other values submissive and loyalty. I like Vietnamese culture in some aspect, such as being polite and respect teachers and parents, but I also honor the Bill of Rights. I believe that to be able to get the essence out of the two cultures is an advantage, not a deficiency. Although some people, like my father, don’t value this experience, I cannot change my bi-cultural identity. I am neither a Vietnamese nor an American. I am a Vietnamese-American and this I believe.
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