It’s funny how I didn’t realize my family went through/is going through the Southeast Asian experience until near the end of my high school senior year. I didn’t understand why or how my parents knew Vietnamese, but my siblings and I grew up speaking Chinese. I didn’t know my parents were in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. I didn’t even know my parents were refugees until recently.
So much shame runs through my mind when I think about how little I knew about my parents and my history.
I remember when I was a junior in high school (about 2 years ago), I went to the Chinese Historical Museum in San Francisco’s Chinatown and I got a tour of the history of early Chinese immigration. As we walked past pictures and artifacts from those who came from China and discussed their discrimination, struggles, and occupations, I kept thinking to myself, “how come I don’t remember anyone in my family ever talking about his?” My parents never mentioned the building of railroads, the queue hairstyle that was always negatively depicted in American society, or any of the history of Chinese immigration.
My parents don’t like sharing their stories and history with me because they believe I’m too young to understand— that and they think everything they’ve been through is the past and shouldn’t be brought up again. This hindered me so much in understanding who I am and where I came from and my identity. I feel so stupid thinking back to middle school when I used to make up a generic family immigration story because I knew my parents were uncomfortable talking about their experiences. I told the class that my parents traveled on a boat from China, which is nowhere near what really happened.
It’s hard because I’m only starting my educational journey of discovering now. I’m taking Asian American studies classes in hopes of learning more about my history and finally being able to make connections with my family’s history. Slowly, I’m putting the pieces together by myself. I can’t believe how much I’ve grown in one year, knowing where my parents came from, their experiences, their struggles, and finally, more about them outside of just being my mom and dad. I’m finally beginning to understand who I am and how I identify as Southeast Asian. I’m starting to notice the little Vietnamese words that are mixed into my broken Cantonese. The Vietnamese dishes my mother makes when I come home. The stories my dad tells me about growing up in Vietnam. I always knew my Chinese culture closely related to the Vietnamese culture but I finally understand how. It’s hard to explain how I’m Chinese and Southeast Asian at the same time because it’s only started making sense to me now (thanks to SASC, Asian Am 20A, and my own investigations) but the discovery has made my life so much more clear.
Out of all this, I’ve gained so much appreciation for my parents. So much love. I have never been so loving and caring for my parents. I think it freaks them out. But I won’t stop. I’ll keep asking them about their past. I’ll keep hugging them when I go home (even when they refuse to hug me back). I’ll keep loving my parents and continue to try to understand their intentions. They’ve lost a lot to be where we are today and they still continue to sacrifice so much. I love my mom and dad more than anything and I hope they see/know/understand that.