Written By: Michelle Truong
Growing up as a first generation Vietnamese American, I can vividly recall my parents struggling with the delicate balance of assimilating to American culture while keeping our Vietnamese roots, language and customs alive after immigrating to the U.S. from Vietnam.
Today as an adult with kids of my own, I’m finding that I am experiencing a similar struggle of wanting to pass on our rich Asian culture to my kids while celebrating the melting pot of cultures, foods and traditions we find in our vibrant home city of Houston, Texas.
Without a doubt, one of the most important aspects of Vietnamese culture is food. Food is a way we connect with loved ones, celebrate special occasions and preserve memories of the homeland. From flavorful charcoal grilled meats called “thịt nướng” to savory and sweet dessert soups, also known as “chè” and everything in between. Vietnamese foods will always hold a special place in my heart thanks to the dedication of my parents.
Many Vietnamese immigrants living in America have made it a priority to preserve their culture by seeking out traditional ingredients to continue making the dishes they love, such as bánh cuốn (thin sheets of rice paper stuffed with savory fillings), bánh mì (French influenced baguettes with meats, pickled vegetables and unctuous handmade mayonnaise), and bún bò Huế (spicy beef noodle soup.) It is also common to gather with family and friends to make and share these dishes, passing down the cooking techniques and recipes generation by generation.
I am always surprised, yet overjoyed, when my children ask for phở (the national dish of Vietnam) for dinner or when they happily add pungent fish sauce onto their favorite Vietnamese dishes. If you’re finding yourself feeling challenged with keeping your own culture and traditions alive, below are 5 habits that I’ve adopted into my parenting that have helped both me and my children nurture our Asian American heritage and embrace new traditions.
- Practice traditional greetings! While it is difficult speaking Vietnamese to my kids all the time, it is a must that they are able to greet their elders in a traditional manner. When greeting their grandparents, they’re expected to fold their arms together and bow as they say, “Chào bà ngoại” for grandma or “Chào ông ngoại” for grandpa.
- Research the national foods of your country of origin and beyond! Commit to making a new cultural dish as a family. In our family, my kids love to help cook fragrant jasmine rice, which is a staple in the Vietnamese dietary pattern. They are in charge of rinsing the rice until the water runs clear and they love splashing starchy water around in the rice pot. Common Threads has an extensive collection of culturally responsive recipes that can help get you started in exploring the foods of other cultures!
- Interview an elder! Our elders have amazing stories of how they persevered through difficult times. Whether they were immigrants, like mine, or were born in America, this practice of generational storytelling can help connect both young and old.
- Celebrate the holidays of your native country! Our favorite Vietnamese holiday is Lunar New Year (Tết) which is celebrated in either January or February. My children love saying, “Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!” which means “Happy New Year” in Vietnamese before being rewarded with bright red envelopes filled with lucky money. In Vietnam, it is tradition to wear new red Vietnamese dresses called “ao dai” and visit our elders.
- Make new family traditions of your own! While traditions passed down by generation are wonderful to honor and practice, it’s also great to build new traditions of your own. In my family, we find ways to connect by playing a game at dinner called “High, Low, Tomorrow” where we all share the best thing that happened during the day, the worst thing that happened, and something we are looking forward to tomorrow.
Family and traditions are important. They help to foster a positive and healthy family culture that can be passed on from one generation to the next. They also give us a true sense of belonging while reinforcing our history, values and beliefs. Whether it’s practicing an old tradition or adopting a new one, embrace your roots, celebrate those that came before you and take pride in the special mix of cultures and traditions that make you who you are!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michelle comes from a long line of educators and believes it’s in her blood. Her grandparents and mother taught for many decades before passing the torch down to her. She is a seasoned educator with a passion for teaching a culturally responsive curriculum and equipping youth with life skills that will prepare them for adulthood. As the Education and Training Manager at Common Threads, Michelle gets to combine two of the things she loves most– education and cooking!