A short piece I was asked to write for the 10th Anniversary of ICAN (www.ican2.org)
I arrived in California in 1975 at the age of eight. I grew up in this country for many years in places where there were not many or any other Vietnamese people. Over the years, I was very much part of the melting pot that is America. I learned English and to this day it is my best language though I never lost my mother tongue. While I don't have the vocabulary of my Vietnamese friends, I feel lucky to be able to speak, read and write though I stopped school in Vietnam when I was only in the third grade.
Culturally, I became a mutt of sorts. I grew up among people from various origins. I learned a bit of this culture and that culture. I became a mosaic of many sources and was quite comfortable with that. It was not until 1999 when I returned to Vietnam for the first time that I experienced a stirring inside that had been dormant for a long time. Like a sleeper awakening, through the people I met, the places I visited and the home that I grew up in as a child.
It struck me that even though I have had so many other experiences in various countries and with various non-Vietnamese people for so long, there was still a very large part of me that remains Vietnamese. It was the start of a journey that I will be on for the rest of my life. However, it is not a simple journey of finding what bits of me connect to the culture I was born into because after all of these years, I realise I am a product of many roots.
I am not Vietnamese like the people who never left Vietnam. I am not Vietnamese like the many friends I have who grew up there then came here. I am not fully American either and to a great extent, it is a cloud of thoughts that has and still does sometimes blur the sense of who and what I am. There is not a simple easy answer but over time, I have come to accept the complicated nature of belonging to more than one people, than one place and culture at the same time.
There is richness in it and I know it will always be an adventure and learning experience.
— Dao Thai Son