TWICE MINORI TIES/
WHAT KIND OF VIETNAMESE AMERICAN ARE YOU?
PHOTO BY TIM SANTOS OF DAVID HUYNH
02 | TWICE MINORITIES
letter from the writer
Focused on the unique strengths and common challenges of the twice-minority Chinese-Vietnamese, I want to inspire and connect with Chinese-Vietnamese across the United States -- even internationally. Many people in our admittedly small community are confused about or neglect their multicultural identities. I personally found it challenging to engage in coalitions or groups that identified strictly as Chinese American or strictly as Vietnamese American. I felt constrained in the divisiveness of choice, and I lacked a sense of belonging and ownership of both affinities. For years, I sat quietly with internal conflict when asked the simple question, “What’s your last name?” I conveniently skipped past pronouncing it, and chose to spell out “U-O-N-G” instead. While compiling this zine, I realized I have the power to self-construct my own cultural and ethnic identity. Ultimately, I chose to identify as a multicultural Asian American. I resonate with many parts of Chinese, Vietnamese, and American culture and I fully own my participation in all three affinity groups. Now, I pronounce my last name proudly as “Wong” and highlight its unique spelling. It is my opportunity to educate others about my multicultural heritage. I celebrate my multicultural identity in Asian American affinity groups where multiple ethnicities are recognized. By thinking bigger, I found a sense of belonging, ownership, and celebration.
I hope in creating my own sense of belonging with this brief zine, I can help create space for self-discovery and empower my fellow Chinese Vietnamese Americans. I want to encourage and challenge our community to identify with the common experiences of Vietnamese Americans in hopes of multi-ethnic collaboration. Instead of presenting one grand sweeping story of the Vietnamese American experience, I’m excited to expand the definition of what it means to be Vietnamese American and celebrate the multicultural ethnicities of Vietnamese Americans. More than ever, in 2018, we need to understand the potential and growing importance of a collective civic voice for the greater Asian American community. I hope you enjoy my small addition to our overarching Asian American narrative.
With love & warmth,
cat uong YOUR FELLOW ASIAN AMERICAN
03 | TWICE MINORITIES
while the first-time minorities are initially fragmented, the twice-minorities arrive as a solidarity ethnic group -Yen Le Espiritu Our Stories Don't Quite Fit
Many of us can describe ourselves in
different ways -- Chinese Americans whose parents were born in Vietnam, Vietnamese Americans who are Chinese ethnics, multicultural Asian Americans, and I'm sure there are many other narratives I have yet to encounter. Our stories don't quite fit in any bucket. So we have to create our own. Second generation Chinese-Vietnamese Americans, like myself, must actively choose our American-hood and simultaneously redefine our Asian American identity. We share the similarities of war-torn stories and some cultural foods of the Vietnamese. We may share the languages and cultural values of the Chinese. Some may identify more Vietnamese, others more Chinese. We are a fusion example of early migration and globalization, while our experiences are highlighted given a complicated Vietnam War history. Twice-Minorities, Twice as Strong According to ethnic studies researcher Yen Le Espiritu, the ChineseVietnamese people are twice-minorities because Chinese ethnics were a minority in Vietnam and again in America. Defying the challenges of other minorities, the Chinese-Vietnamese had created community organizations and institutions in Vietnam and many prospered economically. Once in America, the Chinese-Vietnamese brought this knowledge and experience of community development and many re-established their ties and networks. Compared to other immigrants and refugees who were first-time minorities and had to build communities from scratch, the Chinese-Vietnamese had community development skills that translated well in American society. While the pioneer Chinese-American immigrants were uneducated farmers or laborers, the Chinese-Vietnamese were often urban, well-educated merchants. Many Chinese-Vietnamese business owners in America relied on the early pioneer Chinese-Americans for supplies and industry know-how. Subsequently, Chinese-Vietnamese business owners have bridged the Chinese-American and Vietnamese-American communities in many Chinatowns and spawned newer developments of Vietnam Towns and Little Saigons across the U.S. Some examples include San Francisco's Chinatown and Tenderloin, Oakland's Chinatown and San Jose's Viet Town, or Los Angeles' Chinatown and Orange County's Westminster. Pairings of ChineseAmerican and Vietnamese-American communities also reside in New York City, Boston, Chicago, and Houston, to list a few. Internationally, we have Paris, France's Chinatown 13 arrondissement and Melbourne, Australia's Richmond district and Springvale suburb.
PHOTO OF DRAGONFRUIT FARM IN PHAN THIET, VIETNAM BY CAT UONG
MARCH 2018 | 04
1.4M South Vietnam had the
largest Chinese population, 1,400,000 Research presented by Joe Chung Fong, University of California Los Angeles, 1988
The term `ethnic Chinese' means those people of Chinese descent who escaped from Southeast Asia. South Vietnam had the largest Chinese population, 1,400,000; then Cambodia, 310,000; and Laos, 37,000. Until August 1979, the ethnic Chinese constituted at least 75 percent (222,870) of the `boat people' who had fled Vietnam since early 1975. However, these numbers are esimates at best. Him Mark Lai, the noted Chinese-American historian, said in November 1987, â&#x20AC;&#x153;No one really knows how many ethnic Chinese from Southeast Asia are in this country. Some are using both their adopted Indo-Chinese name along with their Chinese name.â&#x20AC;?
05 | TWICE MINORITIES
One central question that has always followed me is "What am I, if my last name is Tran?" Tran is typically a Vietnamese last name, but for us it's the Vietnamese spelling of Chen, which is my real last name. So it's really weird that I am Chinese (Teochew), grew up in an environment where my grandmother, father, mother, and aunt spoke Vietnamese to each other but they never taught me. Grandma watched Vietnamese television and Cantonese television. I couldn't understand a word of Vietnamese, but I could order food perfectly in Vietnamese which is weird because I adopted the tones. It's a fun trick I can do, I can order Vietnamese perfectly and they'll talk to me and I won't know a single thing they're saying!
TO BE THANKFUL INSTEAD OF RESENTFUL AN INTERVIEW WITH NORMAN TRAN, 26 SAN CARLOS, CA.
When I went to public school in San Gabriel, CA, there was a pretty broad mix of Latino, Asian, African-American, and white students. I was bullied for the smell of my food. My mom sometimes made Vietnamese dishes, despite being officially Chinese. We have this dish called cháşŁ láťĽa and it's kind of like a Vietnamese sausage. Even as early as 5th-7th grade, students were making references to the food to make fun of me. And that was upsetting, but I never quite felt ashamed of being Asian. It wasn't really a thing that ever crossed my mind.
My parents said you're probably not going to use Vietnamese, so we're just going to have you use what will have the highest ROI, which is Canto, Mando, and English. You got your bang for the buck. They growing up had to learn English, Chinese, and Vietnamese, which is insane. Having gone through the suffering of the war and starting from scratch in their 30s, they had a parenting ethos of minimizing suffering. They said, "Well, I don't know how much benefit there is for him to learn Vietnamese, he's already struggling in Mandarin class. I don't think we're going to push him."
I IDENTIFY MYSELF AS ASIAN AMERICAN I have so much compassion for my parents, instead of being angry for me not having learned how to take care of myself. They gave me what they could. To be thankful instead of resentful. Because of them, I was able to pursue my curiosities at a velocity that made me go beyond my years. "If I follow the definitions and origins of my last name, I would probably identify myself as Asian American."
TWICE MINORITIES | 06
KAREN, 26 LOS ANGELES, CA.
My dad was the only working parent in my family. I was an only child and my mom stayed home to take care of me and take to and from school, and just made sure I got fed and that my Dad was fed when he came home. He worked extra hours and I barely saw him when I was growing up. I don't know if they had the time to think about passing down these cultural traditions or moments. But I do remember growing up around the time of Tet or Lunar New Year's, my Dad would always think of this celebration as being very fond. He would say "If you ever go back to Vietnam during this time of year, it's super fun and I would love to go back with you." But we haven't made the trip yet. -Karen P., grew up in Los Angeles, CA. and identifies as Vietnamese American
F R O M
T H E
I N T E R V I E W E E S
we don't have all the answers What is beauty to you, and how much of it originates from your American cultural absorption versus your Asian upbringing? What traditions do you want to pass onto the next generation and why? What are the communities like now that you hangout with, and how much are they based on your cultural identity or your own constructed identity? -Norman Why didn't my parents tell me their childhood stories from Vietnam as much as American families share stories with their children? How do my parents identify culturally and ethnically? What are my parents' perspectives on being a part of a large family growing up and having a small family now? -Karen A lot of cultures have a different or not stable relationship with their fathers. Do Vietnamese children have that experience with their fathers? -Daniel
07 | TWICE MINORITIES
NAVIGATING VIETNAMESE IDENTITY, CULTURE & HISTORY AN INTERVIEW WITH DANIEL D., 23 OAKLAND, CA.
C: Let's start off by talking about yourself, where you grew up, what's your background, and what got you to where you are today. D: "I grew up in Southeast San Diego, it's a predominantly Hispanic and Black neighborhood. Growing up, I talk about how I would hang out with Chinese kids and I would hangout with Vietnamese kids. And I didn't understand there was a mix within me. Sometimes I would ask my Chinese friends, don't you guys like you know, gáť?i cuáť&#x2018;n? And they would ask, "What is that? I've never heard of it." So early on, I thought about how I was a little different from my peers. But growing up, I noticed that my Vietnamese friends tended to be less well off than my Chinese friends. So early on, when asked if I was Chinese or Vietnamese, I would always lean towards saying I was Vietnamese. Maybe to this day, I understand I'm ethnically Chinese but culturally Vietnamese. But I guess I reject that Chinese side because growing up where I did, it felt like Chinese folks had a little more privilege compared to the Vietnamese counterparts that I grew up with."
C: At a young age, what led you to identify more with Vietnamese culture as opposed to Chinese culture? D: I feel like the Vietnamese kids tended to be cooler than the Chinese kids. For me, growing up in a really rough neighborhood, you know, all you want is friends. So I identified as Vietnamese. But they would talk in Vietnamese and I would kind of understand what they're saying but I don't really. I was always called out a little bit, like "Oh, but you speak Chinese though." So I was kind of rejected from Vietnamese groups, 'cause you know, "Dude you're not Vietnamese enough." C: And how would you respond? How would you navigate being called out like that? D: I mean I still feel the consequences of the war. Recently throughout college, I still got called out, like "You're not even Vietnamese." I was always very hurt when people said that. The war and the politics hurt me and my family as much as your family. My family was displaced as well. The impact of migration and displacement still impact my well-being and my parents' well-being, so why am I being rejected? It hurts like "Oh, you're not Vietnamese, but that war that kind of messed up your family isn't valid." C: What about Vietnamese culture stands out to you? D: When you think of stereotypes, Vietnamese stereotypes for me are more thuggish, gangster looking -- tattoos, coyfish, dragons. Because in my neighborhood I grew up, the Vietnamese kids were kind of like that. There was a stark contrast between them and Chinese people. Chinese people in my neighborhood seemed kind of average to me. Of course I'm generalizing, they just seemed very normal to me. But maybe my view of normal is very different. Part of me still really identifies as Vietnamese. I understand I don't speak the language as fluently as others. But I think the history and how it's impacted my family is probably the strongest indication that yeah, I am Vietnamese.
TWICE MINORITIES | 09
ONE DIVERSE VOICE & WHY IT'S IMPORTANT PRISCILLA CHAN, CHAN ZUCKERBERG INITIATIVE
VICAN SUN, VIET HOA INTERNATIONAL FOODS
LISA & HAO LAM, BEST IN CLASS EDUCATION CENTER
I recognize the challenge here. And yet, to bring all Chinese Vietnamese Americans together is a dream worth striving for. After interviewing several Chinese Vietnamese Americans and collecting a small handful of prominent Chinese Vietnamese Americans, I can see the importance of a collective identity for our small and fragmented community. As each of us rise in our own careers and civic lives, our cultural identity is a key part of our narrative. For Chinese Vietnamese Americans, we could benefit from a common approach to how we relate to Chinese, Vietnamese, and American culture. For example, Priscilla Chan, Mark Zuckerberg's spouse, has seen more than several online debates about her cultural affiliation. "Can we consider her Chinese? She's really Vietnamese though, isn't she?" Instead, we could pursue solidarity with other Chinese Vietnamese Americans, multiethnic Vietnamese Americans, multicultural Southeast Asians, and Asian Americans as a whole. Together, with one diverse voice, we could highlight the issues and policies that matter to our community and make an impact on civic and public affairs in the 21st century.
WORDS TO PASS ON
"Avoid the trap of binary thinking. It's really easy to think I must be American or... insert culture here. You incur a huge cost of alienating an entire part of yourself. A more difficult, but more valuable approach is to integrate things you like about the cultures. Culture is just the operating system that you got-- if you look at yourselves as iPhones, from the factory--that help you deal with two fundamental things in life. Getting ahead versus getting along. That's what culture is. It's important to think about which aspects you want to keep and discard. Think about what aspects of what I'm being taught about "how to be" are actually relevant to my current context. So I can live a life that allows me to successfully interact with the challenges for my time instead of forcing these strategies that no longer work because they were taught down from 2,000 years ago."
"As Vietnamese Americans or Chinese Americans, we try to make our parents more American. I know for a fact that they're kind of stuck in their ways. We can't create this mold and expect them fit into it. I'm trying to understand where my mom comes from when she tells me certain things and being kinder to her. Not going to lie, she gets on my nerves sometimes. Why don't you become a doctor or a pharmacist? Because it's very easy money. I just try to take it with a grain of salt because we don't think about the sacrifice. I think some people do, but it's important to recognize that we knew our parents for all our lives. But they haven't known us for all their lives, they were people at one point and then we came into their lives. It's trying to understand that they are people too, you know?"
"First and foremost, I would say to embrace it. To embrace the cultures that are around you or that are happening with you and your family and your community. We need more people to be aware of what's going on in and around their communities. I don't think people don't talk about it enough. Especially living in America, you're always going to have all these American traditions, holidays, and marketing thrown at you. But culturally, with these other minority cultures, you're not going to see that much of it when you go out into the real working world. At least that's been my exposure. I've always been in this Asian bubble whether it's in the 626 or Westminster. And then when you go out into the working world, you're like, "Well, there's more to it!" Sometimes it's hard to navigate that, but also to be able to educate people on these bubbles you've lived in and how you saw the world through that, is important as well. There are other people who are living in their Hispanic bubble or wherever it is, and they also need that kind of education and insight into other bubbles."
thank you cảm ơn
Special thanks to my parents and extended family, friends, classmates from APALI CLP 2018, colleagues at The Silicon Valley Organization, Chopsticks Alley, and more.
1 | Fong, Joe Chung. “The Development of the Chinese-Vietnamese Community in San Francisco.” Online Archive of California, The Regents of The University of California, 2009, www.oac.cdlib.org/view?docId=hb887008sp&query=&brand=oac4. 2 | Gerson, Judith M, and Diane L Wolf. “Sociology Confronts the Holocaust: Memories and Identities in Jewish Diasporas.” Duke University Press, 11 July 2007, pp. 267–269. Google Books, books.google.com.au/books?id=-pUYs2f5En0C&dq.
7 | Santos, Tim. “David-Huynh-Chinese-Vietnamese.jpg.” Narrating the Chinese Vietnamese Identity, Francesca Huynh, 2014, chinesevietnamese.com/david-huynh. 8 | Spera, Rebecca. “Asian Family Grocery Store an 'American Dream' Story.” ABC 13 News Houston KTRK, 16 Nov. 2017, abc13.com/food/asian-family-grocery-store-an-american-dreamstory/2658770/. 9 | “Viet Hoa International Foods.” Viet Hoa International Foods, Fox News, 19 May 2017,
3 | “GettyImages_615868688.0.Jpg.” Recode, Getty Images, 10 July 2017,
www.recode.net/2017/7/10/15771676/priscilla-chan-facebook-philanthropy-markzuckerberg-initiative-cure-diseases. 4 | “History of Immigration from Vietnam.” Origins: Immigrant Communities in Victoria, Museum Victoria Australia, museumsvictoria.com.au/origins/history.aspx?pid=97. 5 | “Lisa and Hao.” Best in Class Education Center, www.bestinclasseducation.com/ about/#history. 6 | “Little-Saigon.jpg.” Dave's Travel Corner, www.davestravelcorner.com/guides/losangeles/ la-little-saigon/.