Rediscovering My Heritage
Posted on May 31, 2012 / Author: May Luong / Tags: Education, Culture and Communities, Asian Heritage Month, Vietnam
For many young second generation Asian-Canadians, the question of “what does my heritage mean to me?” can be a perplexing one as many of us try to reconcile this heritage with our Canadian identities. However, the path to discovering one’s heritage is a fulfilling journey of culture, language, and, of course, delectable cuisine.
My parents came to Canada from Vietnam in 1979 and sought to integrate and adjust to their new country while trying to hold on to the customs of their old country. When my sister and I were young, our parents would immerse us in the Vietnamese language and traditions, teaching us about our heritage, especially during Chinese New Year. We would wear áo dài (traditional Vietnamese dresses), help my mother make moon cakes, and attend festivals and dragon dance performances. I even found enjoyment in Vietnamese entertainment, watching Vietnamese variety shows and listening to songs by Trinh Cong Son. Early in my life, I identified myself as Vietnamese. My Asian heritage and cultural background were the elements that defined me and made me unique. I often remember my parents telling me stories about their lives back in Vietnam and about the vibrancy of the country, even during a time of political struggle and war. I would then retell these stories to my school friends as if they were my own lived experiences.
As I grew older, I began to distance myself from my Vietnamese heritage. I saw it as something that made me different, almost non-Canadian. It wasn’t that I was ashamed of my cultural background, but I saw my ethnicity as a distinct characteristic that took away from my Canadian identity. I no longer referred to myself as Asian-Canadian or Vietnamese-Canadian, but simply as a ‘Canadian,’ a term that I felt embodied my ethnicity as well as my heritage. This distancing from my Asian heritage wasn’t a conscious decision, but rather a gradual phenomenon, that I believe many young second generation adults face as they try to find a balance between their identity as an Asian and as a Canadian.
Recently, I was given the opportunity to come to Hanoi and visit the birth country of my parents. Although I have only been in Vietnam for a short three weeks, this trip has become a journey of rediscovering of my Vietnamese roots and my Asian heritage. Even with my poor Vietnamese language skills, the locals see me as a Vietnamese national rather than a foreigner, allowing me to rekindle my Vietnamese identity. Through my daily engagement with the locals, I have observed the cheerfulness of the Vietnamese people and the way they cherish and respect their culture and traditions as the country develops both socially and economically. This experience, thus far, has helped me understand that Asian-Canadians do not necessarily need to strike a balance between their Asian heritage and their country of citizenship, but rather to build a bridge between the two cultures in a way that ultimately encourages diverse identities.
The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.