Wednesday, August 25, 2010
THE VIETNAMESE IMMIGRANT EXPERIENCE
Bich Minh Nguyen's Stealing Buddha's Dinner is a very nice memoir of one Vietnamese girl's experience growing up as a refugee immigrant in Grand Rapids, Michigan; her family's hurried escape from Vietnam as the communists won; and her view of life as an outsider within American society (mostly school), as well as her role in an unusual family. It is a sad story, in many ways, especially as the truth of her family in revealed and the pain that can be inflicted by intolerance. Food is a unifying theme throughout the story (and also literature). My favorite members of the family are her grandmother Noi (serene, loving, unperturbable, devout) and, oddly enough, her stepmother Rosa (who reminded me much of my mother, with a slightly more activist bent, who seemed to keep that family together, and deserved more creidt and love [at least from my perspective]). Some of the author's troubles resulted from the kind of person she was: shy, studious, middle child, self-critical. Much of her story resonated for me, as I was not an immigrant (although my mother came from Ukraine when she was about sixteen) and I didn't look ethnically different than most of my classmates, but because many of her feelings are universal. Her story made me think about my family who were caught in the post WWII diaspora, some of whom made it to America, many of whom I have never met or only barely met when I was very little. (I also have a large family on my Dad's side that I didn't even know about until a few years back, and I have never met, but that's another story). Although my childhood was roughly a year before her's, I still connected to the cultural landmarks she mentions (music, tv shows). But I felt that she was truly blessed to be raised by members of her family and near people of similar background---my ex-wife is Vietnamese, but she was orphaned (and adopted at age 2 by a white family in northeastern South Carolina) and grew up with few connections to Vietnamese culture, but she experienced many of the struggles and challenges of being different (or being treated as different). Of course, every person's experience is different, no matter their background, and growing up is a challenge for most of us, but it is interesting to see how others dealth with their worlds, or remembered how they did so. This is a good addition to the growing body of literature of the immigrant experience.