For the first time in what seemed like forever, we took time to breath. Life had suddenly gone into overdrive for my daughter and I. She was in the beginning of her senior year of high school. I was at the very beginning of my newly found independence. We were both standing at similar crossroads in our lives with many paths opening up before us. It was an exciting time in our lives, full of promise but demanding so much of our focus that there wasn’t much time to slow down.
We decided to meet a a couple of family friends and take them along on our monthly pilgrimage to a Vietnamese mall. I was excited and already had my mental shopping list scrolling through my brain. We go there as often as we can to restock our supplies of rice, meat, favorite spices and sauces. We always take the opportunity to try something new as well.
When finances allow, my daughter and I shop for new áo dàis. My son is more interested in the candy aisle of the Vietnamese grocery store. He always finds something new and interesting to try. Our day isn’t complete until we stop by one of the restaurants in the mall to treat ourselves to our favorite Vietnamese dishes.
We took our friends to almost every shop in the mall and laughed as they tried their first cups of bubble tea, dried fruits and jerky. It was nice not to feel like the “new guy” for once and be able to show someone else all the new things I’d discovered. Having someone there who knew less than I knew made me feel less like an alien.
We paused to eat at a Vietnamese restaurant. My daughter and I ordered our usual bowls of pho and summer rolls. One of our friends was a bit squeamish about trying new things. I was happy that he braved the menu, ordered a meatball dish and then actually enjoyed it. The other ordered a version of fried rice and summer rolls. He gobbled everything down with obvious delight. I felt pleased and more than a little proud to be able to share our experience with them.
So that’s what it’s like? Did I finally get a taste of Vietnamese pride?
“So Sume,” one of our friends asked, “if you were raised by Americans, how did you learn about Vietnamese culture?”
“Like this,” I said, “going out and just exploring, asking a lot of questions and reading. Tons of reading.”
“That’s so sad,” he said.
“Yeah, I suppose,” I sighed, “but it’s been an adventure catching up.”
I smiled and tried to keep the mood positive. The day had gone so well. I wanted it to end on a positive note so that the kids and I would have happy memories of our adventures together. For them, I hoped our outings would serve as encouragement to explore their heritage and try new things in general. I’d spent my childhood trapped in my parents’ world of ethnocentric whiteness.
Oddly enough, it was after coming back to Texas that I realized for the first time, I’d grown comfortable seeing myself as Asian. But it wasn’t just that, I’d grown comfortable with myself as myself. The inner awkwardness (for the most part) was gone. Had I finally grown comfortable in my own skin?
Perhaps the feeling would come and go depending on the situation. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d think I was over a hurdle only to find it right back in front of me another day. Maybe that’s just the way it is. Maybe it’s not about conquering anything, but more about facing and then learning from each challenge, one experience at a time.