Healing Our Wounds

Name: Emily Nguyen
Age: 20
Ethnicity: Vietnamese/French/Italian
Nationality: American

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Story (transcript of audio):

In the third grade, my mom put me in an after-school program because she didn't have anyone to look after me while she was at work. And I usually never brought food to the study sessions, but one day, my mom decided to pack a meal for me that my grandmother had cooked since I did not eat breakfast. That day, she cooked thịt kho for me, which was Vietnamese caramelized braised pork belly with eggs and it is one of my favorite dishes even to this day. When it was break time for us, I brought out the lunch container and opened it. I then saw the kids around me immediately start making disgusted facial expressions, and soon everyone was laughing, asking me, "Why would you eat that, it stinks." I had never had a reaction that big from my peers, or really any kind of attention when I was little, so it was a lot and this kind of attention did not feel good whatsoever. My instructor, who was aware that I was getting made fun of, viewed me as a distraction to the other kids and instead of helping me out, he sent me outside of class where I had to sit and eat alone. I began to tear up and I honestly remembered wanting to cry really bad, but as a kid of an immigrant parent, I was instructed to cry for more “significant things,” such as if I were to attend someone’s funeral, then that’s really the only appropriate time, not when it has to deal with my emotions. I was trained to suppress a lot of my feelings, so at that age, I told myself to suck it up even though it hurt me really bad. I was too embarrassed to bring Vietnamese dishes after that even though it was my favorite cuisine to eat. I liked my grandmother's cooking but I couldn't eat it comfortably outside, so it was something that I could strictly enjoy in my Asian household. And now that’s something I really do regret which was taking her cooking for granted. Fast forward a few years, the same built-up anger, tears, and feelings that I had felt that day, just came back. This took place after practice when I decided to get food with my dance team. We headed to Newport Beach that day, which was noted to be home to many racist individuals, but I never expected anyone to be blatantly racist. My group and I stood in line for doughnuts at a bakery that was located near the ocean, so it was absolutely freezing that night but everyone’s company made it worth it. When our group finally moves up through the line, I spotted two girls who seem to be around the same age as me that suddenly just split our group up. I asked my teammates for confirmation just in case I was mistaken and I had confirmed that that was what exactly had happened. I approached the girls and said, "Hey, I believe you accidentally cut in front of us." Instead of responding, they glanced at me up and down, laughed, and ignored me while continuing to block the entrance. This led me to believe that they believe that I was going to be quiet about the situation as if I was not going to say anything. Even though I am someone who dislikes confrontation and was quite timid as a kid, throughout the years I have understood that people have painted this image that just because I am Asian, I have to stay quiet or I have to serve this stereotype that I am submissive so you can talk to me however you want when that is absolutely true at all. My mom has told me to toughen up and be strong, not speak unless you are spoken to, and honestly, dealing with generational trauma is enough….so why must I deal with this too? It absolutely outraged me and I have dealt with racial microaggressions way too many times but you know this time, I was fed up, and I was honestly tired of being viewed like that. I pushed through them and I then requested them to move again. Their response this time was, "You came at us aggressively, it was simply a misunderstanding." When they said that I wondered, then why did you laugh at me and then ignored me completely afterward? How is it that you could say that now but not earlier? I thought to myself, I saw you inside at the entrance that is directly next to the massive see-through glass window with a bunch of people that are lined outside along it. It was practically impossible to miss it. How privileged can one be, to be outraged by someone who simply asked them to move nicely even though they were in the wrong, such as cutting in line and then continuing to behave as if I had done something wrong? I knew it was an excuse and the fact that now this story is being switched up so I can fit this villain narrative that they have put in just because I spoke up. It upset me so much because I was being nice and I always tried to be nice, it was not cool. It was not about getting the donuts honestly or having to wait in line, it was the principle that mattered to me and it was just overall, disrespectful and inconsiderate. I typically let things go, but not this time; I held firm, and even the shop owner confirmed that they had cut by looking at the cameras. This elicited a reaction from them, causing them to instantly reply with "So do you want us to buy a doughnut from you or what?" Mind you, this is also an Asian-owned business. Throughout the entire conversation between us, the girls’ boyfriends were outside of the shop, yelling “Go back to your country," and “Bring out the dogs.” And I thought to myself too, this is not even original, I have heard it all before and it has been normalized throughout my childhood and written off as okay when it has never really been okay. First of all, I was born here and have never even visited Vietnam so already the statements were not logically correct. As someone who is also European, I have never felt linked to that side because I have only lived with my mom and I have always looked more Vietnamese. Therefore, I have always felt connected to my roots, and that's how I've always identified with the most; being Vietnamese is home to me. And me getting shamed because of my race, ethnicity, and the boundaries that I established… it honestly just perplexes me and I am still trying to heal that wound today and trying to end that cycle of letting people just be mean to me over my own identity.