As we began to fiercely celebrate BIPOC in 2020, conversations also turned towards the Asian community in America. It really made me realize how little people know about Asian cultures. The term “Asian American” refers to a panethnic and pancontinental group that includes diverse populations, which have origins in East Asia, South Asia, or Southeast Asia. This includes people who indicate their race as "Asian" or reported entries such as Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Other Asian. In 2018, Asian Americans comprised 5.4% of the U.S. population. When you include multiracial Asian Americans, that percentage increases to 6.5%. Source. As hate crimes motivated by anti-Asian sentiment continue to jump (1,900% in New York City in 2020) I decided it was time to use my platform to educate and inform.
Besides the Vietnam War, many people, even my followers on Instagram, didn’t know much about Vietnam or Vietnamese culture. It's so important to me to highlight that as one of the newest immigrants of Asian descent, we have overcome a war that was just a little over 40 years ago. Our generation assimilated into a country that was so different from our own, yet we were able to make it on our own.
“A century ago, most Asian Americans were low-skilled, low-wage laborers crowded into ethnic enclaves and targets of official discrimination. Today they are the most likely of any major racial or ethnic group in America to live in mixed neighborhoods and to marry across racial lines. These milestones of economic success and social assimilation have come to a group that is still the majority of immigrants. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of Asian-American adults were born abroad; of these, about half say they speak English very well and half say they don’t.” Source.
From a young age, I have fought my own culture and the 'weird stigma or superstition' that entails being Vietnamese. I'm of Vietnamese and Chinese descent, so growing up with two different households speaking two different languages and the expectations that follow were not only difficult; they were frustrating. I rejected both cultures and 'tried' so, so hard to be Western. I never used my Asian name, but instead called myself Jenifer (my parents misspelled my name when we naturalized, I think they were supposed to spell it, Jennifer). I hardly ever spoke my language or practiced anything that's accustomed to being Viet.
Although I retaliated, it doesn't mean that I didn't pay attention. Now that I’m in my 30s and a mom, it’s important to me to teach my daughter about her heritage. I'm a practicing Buddhist (like my grandma), I participate in all the ancestral rituals (like my dad) and I can cook a mean traditional meal (like my mother). If you asked me this 10 years ago, I would say hell no! These days I can truly say I’m finally comfortable in my own skin.
I am a Vietnamese female entrepreneur and I am proud to celebrate our stories with other women alike. I think it's more important than ever to celebrate what we have accomplished, having only been here for such a short amount of time. I see my fellow ladies, and I am damn proud. I want to use my platform to bring us all together, to share stories, and to lift each other up - because we are all so similar in so many ways. So with that, I have interviewed some powerful Vietnamese women that I’ve always admired. Let me tell you, we dove straight into the hard questions!
Coming from an Asian background, my parents wanted me to be a lawyer. Did you have similar pressure from your parents and how did you overcome that?
I was very fortunate that my parents gave me full reign over what I wanted to be. They rarely gave me pressure on what to pursue. I think because I've always been creatively expressive they assumed I would pursue something in the arts. If that didn't work out, I was talkative and boisterous as a kid so at least I would be able to talk my way into a good career, lol!
They were both always working multiple jobs to keep our lights on. We also came to the States much later than most Vietnamese immigrant families. The thought could have also been that as long as we were surviving, we would all be alright.
How did you get started? Did you always know you wanted to do this career? If no, what was the path you were on before?
I struggled with what I wanted to be. I just knew I wanted more in life. So I set myself on a path of acquiring 'more'. Somewhere on that journey, I was told many things. "You should draw,” so I attempted to be the best artist in second grade. “You should write,” so I wrote for my school newspaper. “You should take photos,” so I became my high school yearbook photographer. My best friend told me, “you should pursue PR or marketing,” and she knew me best, so I went and did that. I always just did what I felt others thought I should do. Maybe because I didn't have my parents pressuring me to do anything, I attempted everything.
What are some challenges you see as a woman, and being a person of color?
The challenge that hinders being both women and Asian is that we hold a small space to exist [and not just physically small!] We keep our voices low, our heads down, and walk gently on our life path.
These gestures are inherent in our culture and more so as a woman! We have roles to play and because we're told to do good, get married, reproduce and live quietly on this land that is not entirely ours -- our parents did just that!
Fortunately, for us today, we can do things a bit differently. We can speak louder, hold our heads up higher and run further!
Do you have any advice for other women/men that want to start their own business or be their own boss?
Work for others first, learn from their mistakes. Follow your fire. Have fun along the way. The secret is on the path and rarely at the destination.
As I got older, a lot of things my parents taught me now resonate - do you have anything that you've learned as a child that today you live by?
In my second-grade art class, my teacher shared a quote that I will forever remember:
"A line is a dot that went for a walk.”
Everything has a starting place. Great things come from very small places. Celebrate the small and allow it to grow.
I later learned that quote came from an artist named Paul Klee. I rediscovered the quote and his artwork at a museum whilst in Canada for a work trip. Later that evening, I woke to a dream that is now Good Hause.
I’ve always fought my culture and wanted to be Western as I saw our culture's beliefs as so antiquity. Now as a mother, I am teaching my daughter about our heritage and also our language. How do you merge both cultures in your life today?
I came back to cultural celebrations [Tet, Moon Harvest Celebration, death anniversaries] and both appreciate and enjoy it more now as an adult and as a mother.
I mix both English and Vietnamese when I speak. I make sure my daughter spends quality time with my parents every summer. I cook Vietnamese food and I take her on trips to Vietnam. I have always been very proud of our culture. I am glad that I now have the confidence to wear it on my skin, speak our words louder and prouder, and giving myself time and space to share our culture with my daughter.
Where can readers find you?
*Photos by Allison Nguyen