A heritage seeker is someone who has a close connection to the country that they're visiting. Perhaps they were born there, their parents were born there, or even grandparents were born there. I was born in Vietnam and came to America when I was only a year old. Most of the trips I took to Vietnam occurred when I was younger, with the sole purpose of visiting family. Throughout my life, I sometimes felt like I was on this bridge trying to decide where I belong — Vietnam or the United States. Nonetheless, coming from a Vietnamese background, there is always an underlying connection that I want to continue building on.
Traveling to Vietnam by myself was exciting, but also daunting. I did not have my parents to guide me and show me everything, but I was not completely lost either because I was culturally prepared, especially with the food and language. I knew the basics to be able to get around and communicate with the local residents. However, I still felt a little social pressure. Even though I can understand and speak Vietnamese, I am not very fluent with reading and writing. What will people think of me, especially as a Vietnamese-American? Will they notice that I can’t pronounce certain words correctly? Will the way I dress be viewed as ‘too foreign?’ How much will transitioning from being a minority in the United States to a majority in Vietnam affect my time abroad? These questions of how people would perceive me were always on my mind. I felt like there were higher expectations for someone like myself, and that I had to meet those standards or else I would be seriously judged.
While at the airport with my US passport, I felt like people did notice, but they didn't say anything. When I was in the city speaking English with my friends, people would stare for a moment. When I was in the taxi, I didn’t verbally say the address I wanted to go to...I just showed them my phone, while feeling afraid. If the driver asked again, I would speak slowly so that I didn't mess up. The way I dressed was less noticeable in the city compared to the outskirts because there were a lot of tourists and people generally dress more “Western” in District 1. Even if I understood the language, there were times I didn’t understand the full context or reference, which made me feel like an “outsider” again.
Despite the pressure, I genuinely enjoyed my experience. It was an enlightening time where I not only advanced academically, but also grew on a personal level. I got to deepen my understanding of the culture and different societal issues that I didn't necessarily know previously. After the trip, I felt even more connected to Vietnam. I miss the fresh fruits, the delicious street food, the bargaining adventures at the Ben Thanh Market, and my relatives.
Now, instead of trying to choose one ‘home,’ I have two places to call ‘my home.’ There were times in my life when I tried to choose one identity, but why not take the best assets of both cultures and just be ME — a proud Vietnamese-American.