My name is Lisa. My father is Vietnamese and my mother is of mixed European descent (English, Irish, German). Simply put, ‘white’ lol.
Both of their families were against the marriage at first (1970’s). There was a critical moment when my mother’s father refused to attend the wedding, but after some loving/firm words from the pastor, he agreed.
Things worked out in the end, and I think my 2 sisters and I did not turn out as ‘confused’ as my grandfather feared. Maybe a little ;)
Like many of you, my sisters and I got a lot of “what are you?” growing up. Although living in the diverse Bay Area of California certainly helped, sometimes I wished no one had to ask. I feel fortunate not to have experienced the schoolyard taunts some of you have endured though.
I think my sisters and I tend to identify being ‘American’ rather than ‘Vietnamese’ or even ‘Vietnamese American’ due to not being taught the Vietnamese language and having limited cultural exposure to Vietnamese life, aside from occasional family parties and weekly trips to the noodle house for bowls of pho at lunchtime. YUM!
As kids, my sisters and I found solidarity in spotting other ‘half kids’ whenever we went out as a family (although I’m sure there were many others that went unnoticed!) I agree with many of you, it certainly helps to know that you are NOT ALONE!
Growing up I tended to have Asian friends (mostly Chinese, Vietnamese), but always felt a little bit of an outsider at the same time. I think it was mostly a cultural/language barrier. Fortunately I made up for it by enjoying their company (duh!), and of course, heartily eating all the FOOD placed in front of me, even if I wasn’t sure what it was.
It wasn’t until i took a Hapa class in college (yes, they exist!!!) that things fell into place. I met people with similar experiences, learned about the historical context (in America as well as abroad), and decided that, in the grand scheme of things, being Hapa isn’t bad at all, nor is it a massively big deal. It’s fun, mysterious, liberating, a little annoying/confusing…
What saddens me most is hearing stories of people around the world who are severely displaced due to their mixed race (mixed Vietnamese kids living in Vietnam, ie ‘dust children’ hit close to my heart). In comparison, it makes my life experience seem self-absorbed and petty.
Anyway, I was prompted to pipe in here due to being mistaken as Korean while enjoying tea in a Korean tea shop with my long time Chinese friend this afternoon (I think I am in love with jujube tea *sigh*) of course, all I have to do is open my mouth and they switch to English at the speed of light!
I have been mistaken for:
Mexican (let’s just say i have a little more ‘junk in the trunk’ and hips than the average asian girl) :P
Eastern European (wah?)
About men: when single (er, and now), Latin and African American men tend to notice/respond to me than other men. Again, I can only assume it has to do with my body type, or maybe body language/vibe? IDK. It’s flattering nonetheless.
My fiance is also Hapa (italian american / pacific islander–yay rota!) We share similar Hapa childhood experiences, as well as a love for vietnamese / rota FOOD!!!! Yep, he’s a keeper.
When/if we have kids, I look forward to what the future will hold…
Thanks for reading, and I hope this story–and others–lifts your spirits and keeps you feeling connected! I certainly do.
dear quynh anh, thank you very much for your kind words. i am indeed very proud of my heritage, and grateful for a loving family to share the wonderful and challenging moments. i only wish i was more immersed in vietnamese culture growing up…
however, after a family trip to vietnam last winter (the first for dad in ~40 years!) my dad is FINALLY teaching us vietnamese! we meet once a week at a local noodle house and learn step by step. i still feel too shy to speak to the waiters :P
many thanks again.
I salute you, my dear, for all you’ve overcome in your childhood and as an adult. Be proud of your heritage and what molds you who you are today. It was nice reading your article. Wish you the best, love