Whenever I tell people that I’m Vietnamese, inevitably, the response is “Oh, like the war?” This is usually followed with an attempt to mansplain to me my own people’s history through their White American Savior lens. As an anti-military industrial complex person myself, I find it hard to just smile and nod as they take pride in ‘helping’ my people even though we all know that the United States sent its people over to die for nothing. It’s even harder to think about when my own grandfather is a war veteran who spent a decade in a POW camp.
I cannot separate my identity from the trauma of a war I wasn’t even involved in. As a second-generation daughter of immigrants, I had the classic upbringing of strict parenting, gaslighting, and guilt-tripping. My mother didn’t live through bombings and assimilate to a brand new country where she had nothing for me to be an ungrateful child who didn’t do well in school. However, rather than simply accepting myself and other second-generation Vietnemese children, the media and people around us have either made fun of us for our foreignness or have indulged in an obscene interest in the morbid trauma of our past.
Generally, Asian people are stereotyped into tropes of ‘nerdy academics’ who don’t need affirmative action because they are naturally smart. In reality, Asians are often forced into these societal molds by our parents and cultures as a from of erasure to cover up mass suicide rates and depression with Kpop or aesthetic foods. Our accents are mocked and used for humor.
That’s not even the worst part, which for me, is the fact that I have grown up with little to no representation––or bad representation at best. White actors in yellowface, buck teeth, horrifying accents, and deviant personalities. The existing ‘good’ representation of Asian characters takes one type of ‘mainstream’ Asian persona and applies it to the entire race. This can be seen in T.V. programs such as the Taiwanese family in Fresh Off the Boat (a show I enjoy, but lament over some of the more unique situations). Suddenly, all Asians are Chinese people that eat sushi and dogs who look like Korean actors. There is a clear problem here.
In my personal experience with media exposure, the only Vietnamese representation I get––books, TV shows, movies, etc.––all have to do with refugees of the Vietnam war. I want to feel like I am more than my trauma.
People like to glorify their ‘scholarly’ knowledge of the Vietnam War as if people don’t actually have a connection to it. They feel distanced from the true horrors and forget about the normalization of racism against Asians simply because they are non-violent microaggressions. College admissions officers love to read essays that are nothing more than trauma porn so that they can feel better about ‘saving’ someone from their past.
This is not meant to discredit anyone who feels validation and representation themselves, but I just wish I could see more diversity and genuine consideration of audiences within media industries and executive choices. I want a Vietnamese-American girl who is a pirate in the 18th century, or whose family traditions cause problems in her dating life in a romantic comedy, or someone whose identity is not related to the plot at all. I shouldn’t have to settle for every small bit of vaguely Asian representation I can get. I deserve to see myself on the screen, on the page, and on the stage just as much as the next person.