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How My Vietnamese Roots Have Shaped Me Into Who I Am Today

Growing up, I’ve had periods of identity crises where I’ve wondered if I was “Vietnamese enough.” Sometimes, I felt a need to assimilate to my environment and become more “Americanized,” while other times I felt as though I was losing my Vietnamese background. However, being able to connect to my roots to understand my family dynamic and culture better has shaped my identity today. 

I remember that as a kid, I would be embarrassed to speak in Vietnamese in public. Since most people speak English in public settings, I felt that it was necessary to follow the norms of everyone else. I even avoided speaking on the phone in Vietnamese in public in fear of being ridiculed. Of course, now looking back, I realize just how absurd my fears were. Why should I be ashamed of speaking a second language in public when it’s a way to communicate? This understanding has led me to be more appreciative of my ability to speak Vietnamese proudly. 

four people holding hands on the beach
Photo by Jude Beck from Unsplash

Vietnamese tradition and culture are things that I’ve come to cherish now that I’m older. As a child, I would throw temper tantrums when I had to go to celebrations with family because I found them boring and tiring. I will always regret my attitude toward these celebrations as a kid. Now, I’m working on appreciating these moments with my family whenever we come together to celebrate Vietnamese events and holidays. My favorite holiday now is Vietnamese New Year because all of my relatives can come together to share food, stories, laughter, and company while connecting to each other based on our Vietnamese roots. Seeing this celebration firsthand has shaped my identity in being thankful for family and for the moments I can spend with them. 

Being so used to seeing my parents in the present, I’ve never had the urge to ask them about their lives before I was born. However, spring quarter of freshman year was my first opportunity to get to know my parents’ past. During this time, I was involved in the Roots Project for the Vietnamese Student Union (VSU). As a participant, it was essential to have a conversation with my parents about their past, which included their childhood, how they immigrated to America, and how they built up their lives after immigration. Initially, I felt too awkward to even ask my mom about her story. This was one of the first times where I actually sat down with my mom and listened to a personal story. Hearing about her roots made me understand my own better and why my parents do what they do. Even more so, it’s made me embrace my Vietnamese identity because I am able to respect what my parents went through to pass down their traditions in a new home that they had to adjust to after coming to America. 

crowd of protesters against Asian hate
Photo by Jason Leung from Unsplash

With the spike in hate crimes against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, it’s important as a member of this community to stay resilient in connecting to my roots to shape the actions I take in the present. Being Vietnamese has shaped me into who I am today in terms of my involvement in extracurricular activities, how I interact with friends and family, and what I want to accomplish in the future. In these tumultuous times, it’s important for me to understand the strengths of my Vietnamese background while recognizing the role it plays in the intersectionality of current significant issues as well.

Jamie Vu

UCLA '23

Jamie is a second year student at UCLA. She loves to listen to music and enjoys going to concerts and listening to artists live. During her free time, she likes to go out and explore.
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