Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Daily Email Edition

Get MN Daily NEWS delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday!


Being a recent-American

The first and foremost thing my family taught me was to be grateful to be here in the United States.

My mother, father and older siblings were all born in Vietnam and fled our homeland to the safety of U.S. soil. They were running away from mass murder, starvation and a Communist regime hell-bent on crushing those who opposed them. I’m the first in my family to be born in the United States, so the first and foremost thing my family taught me was to be grateful to be here.

All my life I have been told of the hardships of living in Vietnam – that I was lucky to have free education, health care, flush toilets and running water. Every quarter I have spent playing an arcade game has been tempered with the knowledge that “25 cents could buy an entire bushel of cabbages in Vietnam that would feed a family for two weeks.”

Imagine growing up feeling guilty for being so darn lucky, so spoiled with the finest amenities the likes of which your ancestors had never imagined. Then try reconciling that guilt with the drive to accomplish great things in college in order to make money to send home and spare family members from poverty.

Those expectations make going to college much more complicated than simply finding the major you love. It makes every selfish decision in college, any spare moment spent having fun, every poor grade feel like a wound to the family.

It’s a common theme I see across students of all ethnicities who come to college – study hard, get a degree and make life better for your family and community. In spite of how pervasive that drive is, I never see this reflected in mainstream college culture. That lack of visibility makes it much harder to talk about the frustrations of reconciling family expectations with personal desires.

When we express that frustration, recent-American students like me are encouraged to be “more American.” That means dropping the heavy burden of familial expectations and pursuing our personal, most selfish dreams.

Our nonimmigrant peers have a hard time understanding the nature of self-sacrifice and familial dedication that is the backbone of our upbringing. They also struggle with the idea of ethnic student associations – why the need for ethnic student associations if we’re all American and having a White Student Union would be taboo?

I have found it difficult to accommodate my culture and background with my identity as an American. In spite of the United States’ long history with immigration, U.S. culture has not found a way to embrace other cultures and welcome them into the fold. It is as if maintaining one’s ethnicity is inherently un-American, and to forget it completely is the rite of initiation to Americanness.

The way I see it, everyone can benefit from the immigration experience, even the mainstream culture. My family has benefited greatly from adopting American values to replace some Vietnamese ones, i.e. feminism and that beating women and children is not OK. I think mainstream U.S. culture could benefit from learning things that my culture has to offer, like the fact that we Americans are probably the luckiest people on the planet.

I’m grateful, as all of us recent-Americans are, to be here and to experience the freedoms and the rich culture that the United States has to offer. I hope mainstream U.S. culture learns to cherish its immigrants and what we bring to the table (beyond our delicious cuisine).

Quynh Nguyen welcomes comments at [email protected].

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Accessibility Toolbar

Comments (0)

All The Minnesota Daily Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *