Journey to Embracing My Asian Pacific American Heritage
By Trung Ho, YMCA Solutions Center Staff
I have an Asian name.
Growing up, I hated it. Roll call each morning was always approached with trepidation, especially if there was a substitute. Will they pronounce my name right? Will the other kids laugh? Why couldn’t I have a name like Tom or David? It was a stressor that followed me outside the classroom, and into any situation where my name would be called out loud. It was awful.
I was born in San Jose, California, almost exactly a month after my parents first got off the plane from Vietnam. They did their best to raise me, and eventually my brothers, in a household that embraced Vietnamese traditions, and California culture. But no matter how hard they tried, I chose to reject their traditions and fully embrace what I saw in the classroom, on television, and in the media. I’m sure it hurt my parents to see me adamantly defy the traditions and practices that defined them for something so foreign. But whereas I denied their efforts, they accepted the path I chose. I chose pizza over spring rolls, hot dogs, and hamburgers over rice and noodles.
I identified as an American, a Californian, from San Jose, long before I would identify as Vietnamese.
Now in my 40’s, and with a daughter of my own, I reflect on the lost heritage that was presented to me in my youth. My parents achieved the American Dream and found success. They gifted me all the toys and video games I ever asked for. But now, I realize the gift with value was the gift I always tossed aside – culture. Tradition. Heritage.
Every child wants to belong – the sense of belonging is a driving factor in youth self-esteem. I still can’t place my finger on it, but there was something about growing up in the 80’s that made me feel that to belong, I had to give up who I was to look like, sound like, and act like everyone else.
Never give up who you are to belong. I missed out on years of joy in celebrating with my parents our culture and traditions. I missed out on being me so that I could be more like my friends – an African American, a Peruvian, a Japanese, and an Asian Indian – perhaps we all gave up something thinking we had to be more like each other.
I have an Asian name.
Growing old, I embrace it. My name is a reflection of who I am, and the culture and heritage that birthed me. I am a Vietnamese American, and I’ll eat just about anything.