AM I AN AMERICAN?
A Vietnamese-American Life

It has been a long time since I have had to confront my past. Until recently I never really gave my race much thought. I am a "Vietnamese-American," or at least that is what it said on my high school transcript. Does that mean I instantly became an American when my plane landed on United States soil? It was confusing to me, always telling people that I was Vietnamese when I lived with white parents. I guess there is a lot more to my background than I really understand. From what I know about Vietnam, we have a long and beautiful history. "Epic tales from a timeless past reveal that the Vietnamese people began with a fantastic union between the powerful sea god, Lac Long Quan, and the lovely mountain goddess, Au Co" (Cohen, p. 41). This legend is similar to the legends told by many Native Americans about their creation. Vietnamese land is also said to have been inhabited by people during the Paleolithic age…

Not much is said about Vietnam in the United States unless the subject of war is brought up. Then Vietnam becomes a major topic on which everyone has something to say. In 1954 the northern part of Vietnam’s people wanted something new, communism, but that was not what the southern people wished for, and consequently a new war broke out in Vietnam… America’s initial involvement was small. However, by 1968 more than 500,000 U.S. soldiers were stationed in Vietnam.

The war lasted many years, and to this day it is hard to account for all the lives lost and families destroyed. One thing remains, though – the countless number of refugee children and children who do not know who their birth parents are due to the war.

There is a very big difference between immigrants and refugees. "Immigrants choose to come to a new life, whereas refugees are forced to flee" (Freeman, p11). Vietnamese refugees came with no plans and in large numbers to a country that had made virtually no plans to receive them, especially in such great numbers, and did not know how to provide informed assistance. Because of the commotion in the United States once Vietnamese people began arriving, many solid families were forced apart after they had escaped the terror of their country’s war.

Many tragedies occurred in addition to the senseless killing in Vietnam. Thousands of women were raped by both U.S. and non-U.S. soldiers, leaving many of the babies born to these women without fathers, resulting in "early deaths for the babies as well as them being given up for adoption" (Freeman, p.191). During the fall of Saigon in 1975, the U.S. Army began airlifting as many people as they could out of southern Vietnam, taking them to various countries. Babies were no exception. The only drawback was not enough room for both parents, and many times not even enough space for the mothers of the babies, causing them to be sent away without either parent.

I was a baby born in Vietnam, forced to live without either of my biological parents. Fortunately for me, my life in America has been relatively "easy". I was adopted by two loving and caring people who were involved with the refugee children from Vietnam arriving around the same time in 1975 that I did. Many of the babies coming from Vietnam were injured or very sick. A positive thing that Americans did was to set up various shelters and adoption centers to find good homes for these unfortunate children.

It has taken me a long time to figure out what or where my niche is in "the great U.S.A." Now, as I have reached my twenty-first birthday, I think I might have found it. I am Vietnamese/American, but not by choice. I came to the United States in 1975 as a young infant, without my birth parents, without any legal evidence of who they were, and more than that, with no legal birth records to tell me who I really am. Being adopted and raised by white Americans, I did not grow up in the Vietnamese culture. We played Vietnamese music and language tapes and ate Vietnamese food, but the Vietnamese culture was not my adoptive parents’ culture, so they could not pass it on to me, and we knew no Vietnamese families. I guess the people who teased and mocked me for having no true culture from my country were right to call me "White Boy."

I hate that I have lost the true heritage of my country. The Vietnamese Tet festival comes and goes every year, and I have never been.

What I hope I have done by writing this paper is to have learned a little more about my people’s culture and the struggles they have been through just to get to this wonderful place named the United States. I have learned more about my country, and I hope I am able to help anyone who feels they too have no true knowledge of their culture or history find a way to see that no matter where they presently live and no matter who they live with, they are always going to be what their mind and heart allows them to be.

I am a proud Vietnamese man, and it does not matter who I live with or where I was raised. I have pride for my homeland and in my country. No one can ever take that sense of pride away from me, regardless of what they say or do. I love that I am Vietnamese.

Keywords :
  personal experiences : culture
  cultures : child's perspective