SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2009       Personal Memory Ethnographies

Glenn Manuel Jr.

Differences Within a Generation

I once knew a young woman who was Vietnamese-American who was born 2 years earlier than me. She was born in the United States after her family moved from Vietnam in the early 1980’s.

I had been working there for about 2 years when my boss hired her cousin to come work for her. Glenn was replacing a woman who took advantage of how nice Susan was and didn’t show a good work ethic. I began working for her right as I finished high school, and in a lot of ways, she is a close friend and mentor.

Everything I had heard about her from my cousin Susan that she was good. Actually, more than good, it seemed as though Marie, her assistant was god’s gift for all the good deeds she had done in life. She was indeed one of the hardest working individuals I have ever known.

I have always had the work ethic instilled in me by my family. It is my obligation to myself and to my family that I do my best in whatever I attempt. Working at the office for Susan was no different. The attorney who owned the office, Susan was a very nice and generous woman. I became good friends with her. I could talk with her about anything and I was happy to rely on her sound advice as I began my college career. After several years, Susan’s cousin started working for the office. He was nice and we became friends. We were not very close, but we spent quite a lot of time together, and developed a good working relationship. I didn’t develop the same kind of relationship with him as I did with Susan. With him, the relationship wasn’t nearly as personal and I just didn’t feel comfortable discussing my personal life as openly with him as with Susan.

The office was a very small one. Besides Susan, Marie and I were the only ones who worked in the office. We often dealt directly with each other in a one-on-one relationship. I very rarely had contact with Susan while in the office. I was the administrative assistant/receptionist and answered to her. Marie held a more direct, complex and in some ways confidential working relationship with Susan as she handled many of the more legalistic matters.

Through several shared experiences I discovered more about her personal life and family relationships. She was the second of two daughters and I became aware that this was an important aspect of her personality and character. Despite being an adult, albeit a young one, she was completely devoted to her family. Despite unfair treatment between her and her sister, she never spoke angrily of her treatment, but rather, accepted this as her place in the world. I became aware that her acceptance was due to several culturally driven reasons. The first was that in her tight-knit family, it fell to her as the youngest daughter to supplement the work force at her mother’s salon, despite holding another job and going to school full-time. In addition to this, she was charged with the task of being on-call to carry out typical tasks as shopping, and buying the groceries for the family, and generally providing a taxi service for whoever needed a ride somewhere or wanted something delivered. Her sister on the other hand, enjoyed a comparatively easy lifestyle, relying on Marie for many errands and chores, etc.

One thing that I couldn’t discuss as openly with him was the reason why it seemed like I was always getting calls from my family, and having to leave right after I was scheduled to get off. I had disclosed some things about my family to Susan that Glenn wasn’t aware of. My mother had visited a spiritual psychic before my parents fled Vietnam and they were told various details about the future of her family. The first was that they would indeed make it to the United States. The second was that they would have two daughters. Regarding their second child, my mother was told that I owed a debt to my mother specifically, and my family generally. In my lifetime, it is required of me to satisfy this debt so that my spirit can achieve balance upon leaving my body. My religion requires that I submit to my family to repay this debt to my family so that I can obtain redeem my soul. While Susan tried to respect my own, and my family’s beliefs, I knew that she didn’t respect them. It became difficult at times in my life to experience life the same way many of my friends expected me to.

The transnational border is bound to result in some differences between peoples. Growing up in another country with different customs and beliefs will lead a person to value different things. In addition to these common differences in culture, the time that a person grows up in and the environment of their childhood and early adulthood will affect them for the rest of their lives. I grew up in America with a single mother. From my point of view growing up, she was very independent, and didn’t put up with some of the same kinds of things I’ve seen my friend put up with.

In my family, our primary concern was financial stability. Ideas that gender differences and various ethnicities or races were affecting our life were non-existent. We had relatively risk-free lives. My mother grew up in the nineteen-sixties and seventies and was very aware of the various social movements of that period including the “mass exodus” of peoples from Southeast Asia to the United States. I grew up in our home not really aware of some of the suffering that has gone on in the world. I was raised in a household that didn’t promote anything, but I was also aware of the various movements of women for women rights. In the early years of my life I took for granted the rights and independence of people from their family. These are all things that until later in my life I didn’t realize were issues that varied from nation to nation, and ethnicity to ethnicity.

My friend is part of a household that was born and raised in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Her family is Buddhist and because of this fact and the environment of their early-adulthood they value different things. They did not experience the same movements such as women’s rights in the workplace, or some of the same racially charged movements while the Vietnam War was being fought. Their primary social movement at the time was a more nationalistic independence movement. Either this or a hatred for what was going on around them plagued the life for many in Vietnam. The concept of being independent from the family is not a goal for many who grow up in an environment where the family is the most important unit of organization. It becomes vital that a person commit their efforts to the betterment of their family in all ways.

The U.S. is more centered on the way that an individual makes his own way in this world. Unlike in some other cultures/nations the success of the individual is not interdependent on the success of the family. I was raised that while the family is important, if they didn’t understand your honest and worthwhile efforts, that they were the ones being unfair, and that I had every right to pursue my dreams. It seems as though this attitude is not as prevalent in other cultures from Southeast Asia and among those who have crossed the transnational bridge and immigrated to America.


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