Kara and I were in a children’s resale shop the other day, and a cute blonde-haired ~6 year-old girl approached us.
Goldilocks: Aww she’s so cute.
Calm Me: Aww thank you so much. Say hi, Kara!
Goldilocks: She looks like she’s from Japan!
Keep-your-cool-she’s-just-a-kid Me: Actually, she’s born here just like you were!
Then, I realized that my daughter just had her first run-in with racial identity at just 6 months old.
Six months old. Wait… Okay. She won’t remember this, but what? I thought that Houston’s racial and ethnic diversity has significantly increased the last 20 years?! I thought this would be a non-issue by now. We even have the 3rd largest Vietnamese population in the United States. Why else do you think fish sauce creeps its way onto trendy menus? (*ahem* those amazing Uchi brussel sprouts!)
But you know what? All of that does not matter. No matter where I raise my daughter, she will have to find her own identity.
It broke my heart a little because I sometimes forget how confusing the journey can be to establish a secure sense of heritage balanced with individuality. Like that time I realized, “OH. Not everybody eats their spaghetti with chopsticks?!” But at the same time, there are some very powerful clarifying moments that made me walk a little taller. Like that time I learned that my mother escaped Vietnam the day after Saigon fell in 1975 via 13 foot fishing boat with her parents, 8 brothers & sisters, and 2 nieces.
Racially, my daughter is half Chinese and half Vietnamese. Culturally, she is 3rd generation Asian American who will most likely identify herself as a Houstonian, a Texan, an American. (Yes, in that order.) That’s quite the matrix and it’s my responsibility to simplify things so she understands her roots, yet, at the same time, avoid oversimplification in order to protect the integrity of our families’ legacies.
Wow. That’s a tall order.
But you know what? A close friend and mentor has this motto, “Think Big. Act Fast. Start Small.” I think I will adopt that motto for my parenting style. Big picture: a person confident with her identity. Acting fast and starting small: well, let’s just take it one day at a time.
One small thing we’re doing is celebrating the Lunar New Year from February 19-21 at home. We will dress her up in a hand-me-down áo dài (traditional Vietnamese dress… if she still fits it then!), and also give her lì xì/hong bao/red envelopes filled with money. Some day, we will make it out to the huge Lunar New Year celebration at Viet Hoa Center. But for now, our activities are dictated by the cadence of naps every 2 hours. Remember, start small!