Coming to America at the age of 13, I did not have the early childhood experience that PP is going through right now. I feel like I am living and learning about America again through his eyes and childhood, and wonder how it would have changed my life if I were born in the U.S. and not Vietnam. I wonder the effect of my learning and cultural experience if English were of my first language, and if Vietnam is a country that belongs to my parents but not mine.
I also wonder about the parallel universe if I were to stay in Vietnam and hadn’t had a chance of coming to America. Mom and I always joked, that if it were the case, I would have dropped out of high school at 15 and married a fisherman whose life splits between the sea and bottles of hard core alcohol. At 18 I would have at least a child and pregnant with the second. And then goes off my life depending on an alcoholic husband whose face I would rarely see.
That joke became a nightmare at times, because with the environment that I lived in back then, the parallel future was that easily predictable. My cousins from mom’s side all fell into the trap of such lives that they could not even rise beyond poverty, and it also effect on their children’s future.
But who am I to cast judgement on how their lives turned out. Perhaps that’s the culture, the ways things are, and my cousins are content and happy even with little money or saving they have, and however bleak the future of their children are.
There were, and still are, times that I feel caught in between cultures, being the 1.5 generation Vietnamese-American and not the first or the second. It was much more of a difficulty back then in my teens and 20s, but I think being in my 30s brings that self confidence and contentment that I no longer care much about picking an identity. In fact, nowadays, I am more inclined to accept myself as American more than being Vietnamese. And now that I have a five-year-old who is about to enter early childhood education in America, I am more excited to see what the “growing up American” experience would entail.
Today I volunteered at PP’s Valentine’s class party and it was a fun learning experience. Yesterday I was at Walmart buying frosting, sprinkles, and heart-shaped marshmallows to help the kids making Valentine’s snack. I also remembered picking up a box of cards to have PP writing his names down on each so that he can give them out to his classmates today. When we got home I had him diligently do the task at the dining table.
During the class party, the kids were divided into four groups and they rotated to four different stations — craft/arts, games, story-reading, and making their own individual snacks. After working on their snack, the kids were instructed to line up and one by one putting cards and presents into paper bags that have names of their peers written in the front. Each bag was decorated with cut-out heart shapes and glued on. At the end of the party, they all gathered together and eat their snacks while talking about the best part of the day.
When PP got home he was excited to see the presents he received from friends. I allowed him to eat one piece of artificially flavored and colored candy. He knew that these are forbidden at home, so he asked for only one.
I did not have this experience while growing up in America; I was too old (starting 7th grade) upon arriving and too fresh off the boat (speaking/understanding minimal English) to weave around the American culture during these so-called Hallmark holidays. As I got older, I used to despise these days, because of my thinking about the aspects of commercialism and marketing strategies that people got into. Even now, O and I are indifferent about giving gifts or celebrate Valentine’s. But for PP, it’s a new and exciting experience that he could not wait for the day to arrive.
And he is entitled to that, because he truly is growing up American!