Sunday, August 31, 2014

Vietnam, my motherland: Musings of a Third Culture Kid

My trip to Vietnam was particularly special since it is was my first visit, literally, to the motherland - my mother was born outside of Saigon and spent her childhood years there before becoming a refugee in the United States.

Although my Vietnamese name and a love of Vietnamese food suggests otherwise, I don't think of myself as Vietnamese. I wasn't raised with much of the culture - a direct result of the early death of my mother. However, my Colombian godmother did the best she could to expose us to anything Vietnamese (as she did with all cultures).

The most Viet influences in my life came from outside my home. My neighbors' apartment, where I took my shoes off, ate fruit with chili salt, and listened to Vietnamese entertainment play on the TV in the background. The local restaurant, where every so often our family would walk across the street for a cheap bowl of pho. And for a while, I enjoyed a weekly bahn mi, picked up from the Vietnamese shopping center my Nana passed after she drove herself to her chemotherapy sessions.

I viewed my 20 day stay in Vietnam as an opportunity to learn more about my heritage. I felt this visit would be all I could ever really know about my Vietnamese family. So, every place I went, I purposefully formed a connection... an explanation for who I am. I aimed to fill a void in my history with every stop I made.



From Saigon to Hoi An, I saw faces like mine, like my mother and my siblings. The same type of smile, dark skin, and black hair. I was reminded that I AM beautiful, almost daily, by the hotel front desk clerks, shop keepers, and waiters we encountered. I embraced the free flowing compliments - commentary I'm not usually privy to hearing in the western world.

I related to the sales atmosphere of the cities - the constant pushing and negotiating to make a dong. I'm sure Vietnam must be where I get my natural business affability. With humor, I recognized my innate entrepreneurial spirit within every persistent stall owner we passed at the street markets.

When we rode through the central highlands, we passed happy faces among the windowless huts, herded cattle, and expansive rice fields. I thought THIS must be the common ground my Vietnamese mother and Mexican father shared. They both left a third-world rural area for the pursuit of the American dream.


One night, about mid-way through my motorcycle journey, I was told by my half-drunk biker guide that I was "the same" like him. He said my half-Vietnamese blood was enough to share the same spirit as the Vietnamese people, but unlike him, I was so lucky to have been born in the United States - away from poverty. That thought had occurred regularly throughout this journey. I could have easily been born into a system where it is impossible to move up and out.

I've always felt a bit of an intruder when I travel, my American accent masking my inherited ethnicity. I was especially aware, when traveling through Vietnam, that my Asian face would betray me. Despite my hesitancy, I actually felt like I was treated with a special consideration. I guess that should be the case when you visit family.


1 comment:

  1. I love this. So heartfelt. So you. I am glad you were able to bring meaning to your traveling and come full circle with your heritage. xx

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