Growing up in the 80’s the Vietnam War was still too fresh in many American’s memory, Vietnam’s identity was consumed by a war that brought more shame than pride and so I too avoided this part of me. Vietnamese-Americans were still coming to America trying to survive that also came with a the dark side of some who had turned to gangs, Hollywood blockbusters like Rambo glorified killing the gooks or and movie sound bites with Vietnamese prostitutes that became mainstream rap lyrics, “me so horny, me love you long time.” After swearing off Vietnamese movies for a decade I discovered 90’s Franco-Vietnamese movies that I would watch countless times with relief that the stories were not about the war, the total opposite of Hollywood with antiheroes who were poor and didn’t get the girl along with depressing endings that went back to the loop of mundane routines. Films like ‘Cyclo,’ ‘Scent of Green Papaya,’ or ‘Three Seasons’ with typical French style cinematography which had drawn out scenes of water dripping off a lotus leaf or watching a person lying in a room next to a rickety fan just sweating for what might have been a minute, but felt like an eternity. Finding these rare Vietnamese movies that made it to the mainstream without stories about the war was a far cry from the hip Vietnamese culture people nowadays embrace from the trendy food trucks in many cities to Vietnam being a top travel destination.
When venturing out of the predominantly white neighborhood that I grew up in I'd sometimes meet other Vietnamese people, though these encounters brought both excitement and uninvited judgment as I proved to be the same only in appearance, but then had little else to show for my heritage and the momentary joy quickly turned to disappointment. It's not as if being Vietnamese was a sham, but rather that explaining my story was both complicated and met with mixed responses, the worst being pity for having lost my biological parents. Because of this I'd just as well not want to explain much or just let them make up my story. It wasn’t till high school and college that I started to make some Vietnamese friends, we found common ground in being American and I was always curious to learn about their families. Things like hearing about their journeys to the U.S. or familial duties that was something totally foreign to me and intrigued me as I was searching for anything to learn about being Vietnamese.