If you haven’t sat down with your mother, especially after you became a mother yourself, then I definitely recommend doing it.
Honestly I only heard bits and pieces about my mother’s upbringing throughout the years– especially when she was trying to teach me a life lesson. The truth is, I never asked her any questions. Therefore, we didn’t have many conversations about what her experiences were like as a Vietnamese woman coming to America and even her experiences now (25 years after the fact).
A Candid Interview With My Mother
So here is the candid interview I had with my Asian immigrant mother:
Me: Hey Mom! So I’ve told you that I was going to do this piece on you. I wanted to know more about your journey to America. First question: why did you come over to America?
Mom: I noticed that many people coming back to visit Vietnam after being in America were doing well and were making money. They were changing their lives and didn’t seem to struggle financially anymore.
Me: How were you able to come over to America?
Mom: In 1978, and other years before and after that, many Vietnamese people were sneaking into boats to go to other countries. After the war, there weren’t many jobs, and poverty was high. People had to do what they had to do to make a future for themselves. So my father went and ended up in America towards the end of his journey. Once he became a citizen, he invited me over.
Me: When you first came over to America, what did you think?
Mom: It was nighttime when I landed. I landed at the airport in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The lights were so bright from the airplane. I just couldn’t stop thinking about the possibilities that were waiting ahead. I had never been on an airplane, and everything was so new to me. Then when I saw the street lights, I noticed that it was so dark. In Vietnam, there are street lights everywhere, and I’ve noticed that a lot of new immigrants say that. Everything just seemed so dark, and I felt disappointed after that. After waking up, the first meal I had was fried chicken. In Vietnam, only the rich people (during that time) would eat fried chicken. So one of my family members bought me KFC. I just couldn’t stop thinking about how the food was so good especially since many things were expensive in Vietnam.
Me: How did people treat Vietnamese/Asian people in your eyes?
Mom: I really didn’t go to many places. I never had to wait in a proper line in Vietnam, but here everyone was so proper. When I first went to the mall here, I started to crowd the counter to pay. But I could tell that other people were judging me for not getting in line or understanding the customs. Something else Vietnamese people are used to in Vietnam are larger crowds and bumping into each other (which is normal). But here it’s considered rude to bump into people. I didn’t know how to count cents, either, so I would just throw a pile of coins on the counter. I would point to the cashier and say, “You,” then point to the coins. People might think that’s rude, but that was the only way I knew how to communicate.
Me: What about at work–working at a nail salon?
Mom: There have been customers in the past that thought I didn’t know how to do nails based off my English proficiency. But I’ve learned a lot of English through basic conversations with my customers, and now I know a lot of details about their lives.
Me: What is something you want people to know about immigrants–or at least your experience as an immigrant?
Mom: Just to be graceful to those that are coming over to America for the first time. This might be a language and/or culture barrier. We’re all just trying to learn and navigate somewhere outside our norm.