I was born with black hair, small eyes, a semi-flat nose and yellow skin. The freckles came later after spending so much time in the sun. My childhood was a tug-o-war between my parents, mom and dad, pulling each arm until I was torn down the middle. I went to a total of 6 different schools before entering high school, and to the world, I was always the new Asian girl. I came with a permanent label that defined my existence in every public and private school that I attended. I struggled with growing up as a “normal” kid. On top of that, I struggled between the lines of two cultures; one that I currently live in and the one my family came from. Growing up I was torn between two worlds, two identities; Tran and Jessica. I wanted to be like everyone else, to assimilate into the American culture, to be like the blonde haired Barbie dolls that lined the shelf of Toys R Us. Lunch time was the worst. I stashed away my packed lunch of com & thit kho or ca kho, and I’d get in line with my lunch tray and wait for the chicken nuggets and mac and cheese. Truth is, I was ashamed by the scent of nuoc mam and soy sauce that forever stained my being. I was ashamed of peeling open that lid of the container that defined my culture, defined the color of my skin. I was different, and at that age, all I wanted to do was blend in. I was ashamed of my own Vietnamese name and the last name I carried because it sounded too “foreign”. As I grew into my teenage years, my black hair became a lighter, reddish/brownish color. My eyes were heavy with eye shadow and eyeliner that attempted to make my eyes look bigger, more beautiful. My face was hidden behind the make-up and foundation that I wore, covering up the Asian face behind the colors and the darkness that burdened my cheeks and the circles of my eyes. I walked down hallways filled with taunts and Asian jokes, laughter and whispers under their breath, they talked and giggled while their blue eyes peeked at me. I grew up in a place where subtle Asian jokes were “okay” as long as everyone else deemed it as funny. But it wasn’t. But who am I to speak out against the rest of them. They were the 99 and I was but a single one. So I went through my middle and high school years being “okay” with the subtle Asian jokes and the Asian comments. “Ching chong this” and “how much, love you long time” that. I grew up in a place where I laughed along with the Asian jokes, but being ashamed and disappointed at my own self, torn between being in and being me, torn between two identities. I was Tran at home, a true Vietnamese that new the language like the back of my tongue. At school I was Jessica. And now looking back, I’m disappointed in the Jessica that I used to be.
With the increase in awareness about racism through social media tools, people are starting to get the message. With everything going on, I thought, racism has been so prevalent lately, so why now? But then I realized, it hasn’t just been about now. It’s always been there, but our generation has always chosen to ignore it, hoping it’ll go away eventually. Growing up where a culture of predominately Caucasians, it was easier to go along with the subtle Asian jokes. It’s different now though. What I’ve noticed about this generation of Asian Americans is that we’re willing to take a stance regardless if we’ll be in or not. It’s not about that anymore. It’s about standing up for our rights. We’re a generation of push backs against the 99%.
I’ve never been so proud of being Vietnamese as I have been in the last three years. Coming to college and finding my niche with the VSA family, I realize how important my culture is. I’ve never been so proud of the way I look and the way I speak fluent Vietnamese in and out of the house.