So…I just found out the month of May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month; and while I’m not a fan of the “Eat Whatever You Want” Day / “National Pickle Day” days (or months), this one’s pretty important to me. Only the last couple of years has this feeling become especially impactful* in my life.
(This is going to sound rhetorical and stupid.) I’ve grown up Vietnamese my whole life. I’ve eaten what’s placed in front of me (most likely rice or noodles), done my fair share of “chuc” during Tet, and I never asked many questions about my heritage. I never needed to; it’s usually told at me.
I listened to my parents/relatives/teachers/Vietnamese strangers tell me what it means to be Vietnamese…I’ve heard the “boat people” story a million times over, and I’ve actually gone to classes for Vietnamese. I had a general sense, and that was enough for me (at the time). However, it is truly only a few years ago that I’ve taken it to heart. It’s like I woke up and realized, “Shit, this is important. This food is good and not just average. I should probably remember how this food was made, where it comes from, why my parents came to America and where I came from.” (This feeling might have started during my undergrad years when I was lacking Vietnamese food in my life and didn’t know how to cook it myself.)
I’ve woken up because of the people around me, and the people I encounter at the grocery store or coffee shop. They’ve gone beyond the frequently asked question, “Can you say something in Vietnamese?” (The answer is yes, but it’s so I can talk about you in another language.) They’ve asked me deeper questions about where and why and how…and I didn’t know these answers. I’d have a vague answer or say, “I don’t know, it’s just always been this way.” I still don’t know all of the answers, but I’m slowly learning. Whether that’s through cooking or research or asking my parents myself, I’m learning (again). I don’t know if many Asian Americans have had this experience, but I felt compelled to tell a little schpiel. I’ve definitely taken homemade pho for granted. Or should I say pho-granted? (I’ll stop.) (Spoiler Alert: I don’t have many Asian American friends and I can’t stop the food puns.)
I’ve also woken up because I’ve seen more “Cafe Sua Da” at non-Asian shops, reinterpretations for Banh Mi and people asking me where my favorite pho shop is. (The answer is Home.) What seemed so normal and average to me seemed like a discovery to others. When thit nuong seemed to be a staple of family parties is almost a treat now. With this slow learning, I’m entering this discovery process too. From a different perspective, I think, but definitely with perspective. I try and not take it for granted. Instead, I try to take it and appreciate it. Maybe even elevate it (in regards to food, and it will definitely take time). I want to do my parents proud, my grandparents proud and my heritage proud.
I don’t want to be a person who doesn’t know where her food comes from, why we have tea ceremonies on the morning of a wedding, or why there is liquor on every table at a Vietnamese wedding. (The last one…I actually have no idea and if you know, holla at yo girl. I figure this was cost-effective and well, Asian people like to drink one thing aka cognac.)
Before this sounds like dribble (because I may or may not have written this while drinking), I wanted to celebrate and toast to my heritage. It’s not often I do this in writing…or at all. I’ve tried to show it to others in conversation and food (the best education there is), but I wanted to write something. I’m proud to be an Asian American. A Vietnamese American. It’s truly a blessing. Who knows how long it would have taken me to discover the amazing-ness of Bánh Mì Thịt Nướng (with pâté, obvi) or Chao Tom or Bánh Chung or Cha Chien…this list could go on…