Irene opens up on her personal struggle with assimilating into her Asian culture and language.
When I was young my existence and culture consisted of my favorite movies, what toys I played with, and all the things that made me a kid. My whole being could be summed up in one sentence short and sweet: I was a child who liked to watch Disney cartoons and draw. As I grew older and added more skills to my list, the image of the person I thought I was became blurrier. While I could reign in my professional character due to academic and career pressures, my cultural identity has been neglected - left on the back burner as other aspects of my life flourished and strengthened over time. Although I sometimes still feel disconnected from my ethnicity and acceptance is not an easy journey, I have learned to embrace the parts of my identity where I can make a conscious effort to explore.
In the past, I had a sense of guilt towards not being more active in the events and practices of my people as a Vietnamese and Cantonese American. Especially since I was born in Vietnam, I feel like I’m obligated to at least be able to be fluent in Viet, but I could only ever speak and read stiffly. My Cantonese wasn’t that much better either, and after years of unsuccessfully juggling both languages and the stress of school, I ended up avoiding both languages completely. I had put considerable efforts into comprehension and practice, but the immense pressure to perfect every word and sentence with the truth that my motivations were from my own embarrassment of not being Asian enough had led me down a completely different route. Instead of assimilating, the only way I could describe it was like a rejected organ implant. Although I knew that being Asian is innate, I struggled in every way to be Asian.
Instead of assimilating, the only way I could describe it was like a rejected organ implant.
Only recently, I’ve opened myself to accepting my cultural background through finding outlets that are aligned with my own interests. Unlike before when I wrongly forced a process, I’m reminded that if I want long term results, there has to be room for mistakes and a true aim. Particularly, for me, bite size practice throughout the day enhances my ability to retain information and prevents me from being burned out. For instance, not only do I practice reading and writing with my parents, popular entertainment sources are an easily accessible way to become accustomed to popular slang and
social cues while studying how to listen to & speak a language.
As I continue, I hope to be able to gain fluency in Vietnamese and Cantonese eventually, but until then, I’m content with trying.
Culture is a complex topic to discuss and grasp, especially when you overburden yourself; if you genuinely want to engage with a culture, start with an authentic purpose and acceptance of the journey.