"Your food stinks."
I was never ashamed to eat my mother’s homemade bánh bột lọc, a Vietnamese dish, until the day someone told me that only a weirdo would eat it. I don’t know why I never noticed my lunches were different compared to everyone else’s. Heck, my food was everything from nem nướng to bún thịt nướng; foods with names that no one in my entire school could pronounce. I never realized what the concept of normality was. I considered everything in my life to fit in the norms of American culture, but I didn’t know that the food I ate made me a social pariah amongst my own peers. I didn't want my lunches to make me different because I already felt like I stood out enough at school.
"I was labeled as an ESL kid for most of my childhood, consistently being pulled out of class to take English lessons until I was in the fourth grade....Coming home where I could speak my mother tongue and eat delicious, home-cooked meals made me feel safe."
- Jessica T.
I always felt inferior compared to my classmates since I only started learning English when I was four years old; Vietnamese was my primary language. I was labeled as an ESL kid for most of my childhood, consistently being pulled out of class to take English lessons until I was in the fourth grade. My home was my getaway. Coming home where I could speak my mother tongue and eat delicious, home-cooked meals made me feel safe. But, one day, I learned that my family would be moving, which would lead me to enroll in a new school.
The move was truly a new beginning for me. No one would know that I was in ESL classes, no one would think that I was different. The simple act of raising my hand on my first day was a substantial feat in my life, and it inspired me to continue my small acts of bravery. Small acts of bravery turned into large acts of courage. The next year, I read an entire chapter of Of Mice and Men to the class; the following, I volunteered first to present my project on Vietnamese culture. Now I host community socials and give guest presentations to local middle schools as a part of my presidential duties in Key Club.
I used to be ashamed of my identity, always wanting to fulfill the American standard. Now I am proud of my culture and am grateful to speak Vietnamese. Having a shared language has helped me connect with family members around the world and allowed me to help translate for recent immigrants and ESL students. My desire to engage with others has grown tremendously. I now use my voice to encourage others to serve the community, to speak about cultural differences, and to motivate academic achievement through competition. Speaking to others is one thing, but speaking for others is another. In the future, I hope to use my voice to advocate for those who are suffering from memory deficits. I aspire to study cognitive science and to specialize in the study of memory to help others regain their sense of self-identity.
"What I once tried to hide, I now proudly embrace. I know now that my background has played a large role in shaping me into the person that I am and the views that I have on the world."
- Jessica T.
Being the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants in the United States has led to its fair share of ups and downs, but from the many struggles that I have faced, I have learned significant lessons. First, I learned to be humble, to be grateful for the opportunities I have now I have because of my parents’ decision to immigrate to the United States. Second, I learned to be patient. I have had to accept the fact that every culture is different; not everyone will understand me, or accept me, and I have to move on with my life knowing that. Lastly, I have learned to be courageous. As a minority, I have struggled with others’ preconceived thoughts and stereotypes. I have come to terms that I must be determined to prove them wrong; to prove that I am individualistic and that I am my own person, and most importantly, to proudly embrace my culture. All in all, I intend to use these lessons in my life as I embark on my journey to college. I will take these lessons with me and use them to help me navigate the world.
E pluribus unum is the motto of the United States and, translated from Latin means, "Out of many, one." I know that out of many, I am unique because of my ethnicity and culture. What I once tried to hide, I now proudly embrace. I know now that my background has played a large role in shaping me into the person that I am and the views that I have on the world. I know that my culture has both prepared for me to overcome adversity and to be successful in the future.
- Jessica T.