SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch Fall 2005 Personal Memory Ethnographies
Asians Are Not the SameI hate Jason and his Vietnamese family! In fact, I hate all Vietnamese! Why? Because, most Vietnamese I know are too traditional. They believe that women should do all the housework. Not only that, they are loud and obnoxious. For example, when they talk amongst each other, it’s so loud you can hear them a mile away. They also have no manners. They chew loudly, with their mouths open and slurp soup when they eat. I never really hated Vietnamese until I dated Jason and experienced his way of life.
Jason and I met about 7 years ago in Houston, Texas. In the beginning, I was glad to have met an Asian guy. I thought to myself that dating Jason will be easy since we were both Asians and maybe held the same cultural beliefs. I believed that being both Asians was an advantage to our relationship. I naively believed that Jason and I wouldn’t have any cultural clash or differences. I was wrong.
My relationship with Jason became serious quickly. After dating for 6 months we moved in together. A year after living together, Jason asked me if I wanted to move in with his very traditional Chinese-Vietnamese mother. Jason explained that moving in with his mother, Linda, would save us a tremendous amount of money. At the time I thought it was a great idea and agreed with Jason. I was in for a rude awakening.
Soon after moving in with Linda, Jason and I started fighting. I was angry that Jason’s mom expected me to baby sit her 6 year-old daughter on weekends. Linda didn’t even bother to ask me if I had any plans, she would automatically leave Ann, her daughter, home. In addition, she also expected me to set the table, clear it and wash the dishes every time we ate at her house. In fact, if Jason got up to help me, she would tell him no. Not only that, Jason and I never saved any money from moving in with Linda since she charged as much rent as an apartment complex would. Linda’s parental approach was the exact opposite of my parents.
Growing up in a Filipino family, I was raised to believe that my parents were always going to be there for me. They are my ultimate resource and if I’m down, they will pick me up. I resented Linda for charging her son, her own blood, rent. To my family, money is just money. If Jason and I would have moved in with my parents, they would never charge us rent or expect any monetary compensation for it. In addition, I also grew up a little pampered. I never learned how to cook and doing dishes was not a big issue in our house. Usually my parents would do them.
I was also shocked to learn that Jason and his family did not celebrate Christmas. There was no Christmas tree, presents, holiday décor, or dinners during the holiday. To Jason’s family, it was just any ordinary day. In addition, they celebrated the New Year in February! New Year’s was actually an important holiday for Jason and his family. In fact, it was a week long celebration. I was also shocked to learn that New Years is about the only time to go to church or temple.
As you can see, my hopeful expectations that all Asians are culturally the same were shredded to pieces when I moved in with a Vietnamese family. In fact, my experience with them was so bad that I began to hate all Vietnamese. I began to think that they were all the same and that they lived in the past. I believed that their traditions were “backwards” and that they needed to modernize.
I think that Lisa never understood my family and our beliefs. Lisa always had an assumption when it came to my family. For example, she always assumed that because my mom talks loud, she is yelling. It’s just not the case. We have always talked loudly, even I can’t explain why. I don’t think that Lisa tried hard enough to understand my culture. She always compared her family to mine. Of course everybody’s family will be different.
It’s true that Lisa and I started fighting once we moved in with my mom but all the fighting and grief could have been avoided had she talked to my mom and actually tried to see things from my mom’s perspective. My whole family came into this country as refugees. We had nothing. We were very poor and my mom was forced to work hard to support her three boys. In fact, my mom worked hard to build a life here in the United States even though we lived in poverty for many years.
Lisa’s family had it easy. Instead of a boat, they immigrated here in a plane. They didn’t spend weeks or months in the ocean. In addition, Lisa’s family did not live in poverty like we did. Lisa had everything handed to her. On the other hand, my brothers and I had to work for it. To Lisa, money was nothing because she grew up with some. To us, it was everything since we never had any.
Jason and his family always spoke in their native language knowingly that I couldn’t understand or comprehend. This put me in a very awkward situation and made me feel like an outsider. It also made me feel as if they were talking about me knowing full well that I couldn’t understand them. I never felt so insecure. They also expected me to understand and laugh with them when there was a joke when in I had no idea what was going on. This happened on a daily basis that I just laughed when they laughed and nodded my head like a monkey as if I comprehended. My resentment for Jason’s family grew every time I had to endure a conversation with them.
Throughout my relationship with Jason, I pretended to like his family and culture when in truth I hated them. I tried to understand their culture but living with them just magnified our differences. I smiled and agreed so much that I began to hate every aspect of the Vietnamese culture. I hated how they talk, how they dress, how they value business over family, and even how they eat. The only thing I grew to like was Vietnamese food.
I believe that my hatred and misunderstanding of the Vietnamese culture may be due to the fact that maybe I was ethnocentric or maybe even racist. Once I saw our cultural differences, I began to form the belief that my culture was superior to Jason’s. For example, compare to Vietnamese families, I believed that Filipino families were more caring and nurturing to their children.
Looking back, I now see that I didn’t take into consideration the hardship that many Vietnamese, including Jason’s family experienced while immigrating to the United States. In fact, most Vietnamese were refugees escaping persecution from their home country. I didn’t see how hard Linda worked to survive and become successful in this country. So, I never comprehended or understood her values. I now realize that Linda made many sacrifices to give her children the opportunities and wealth that she didn’t have growing up.
“All Asians look alike” is a common phrase that I heard often. So common, that I bought in to the idea. Being homogenously categorized as Asian never bothered me. I believed that all Asian cultures were mirror images of each other. I never fully realized that each culture and person were different, different in how they look, talk, personality, beliefs, and values.
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