What mama says, what I think

Alert: written when I was upset and needed to flush out my thoughts––no structure, no solid argument at all. Might be the best to take everything I say next with a grain of salt.

This morning I had a heated conversation with my mom about the way I dressed. I was wearing a cami and high-waisted pants with a silk scarf at work. As a student intern, there’s nothing inappropriate about this (I later checked with my colleagues and supervisor to make sure). It’s hard to explain to my parents the environment I’m in right now, and to let them know that I’m mature enough to decide what I want to wear. Dressing is a very personal matter, and unless I ask for their opinion, I don’t think anyone can interfere with my right to wear what I deem right and feel comfortable with. I can’t imagine after so many years, all my life, now that I’m 20, I still have to talk to my parents about this. It’s not just about clothes, it’s about personal identity. They didn’t feel ok with the way I dressed because I appeared like an “easy” person. I couldn’t even believe in my ears! More than anyone, they know that I’m not an “easy” person, and even if I were, the way I dress has nothing to do with my personal values. It was very hurtful that my parents said that. I used to think “oh come on, it’s family. They can say whatever and still love you,” yet my feelings got hurt, and I couldn’t lie and feel okay about that.

It’s hard to imagine that I still have to struggle to be who I am with family. It was not even a proper conversation because I was so upset and taken aback that I hung up the phone before I teared up. My parents were upset as well. As soon as I started expressing my opinion, my dad became angry and told me to stop talking. It has always been like that. There’s a word in Vietnamese called “cãi” which means quarrel with or talk back at someone older, normally your parents, in a disrespectful manner, and my parents always use this word to me whenever I express my thoughts. So over the years I learned to write to them instead. I don’t know why I can’t talk to them or anybody else when I’m angry and upset. I can’t form my words properly, and I’m hardly able to control my emotions.

Now, I know that my problem is not the end of the world, since a lot of people experience this, especially when children start forming their identities.Yet for me it’s harder to adapt and accept since my parents are considered quite progressive. Whenever I talked about my concerns with my friends back home, they always said something like: “Come on, you have the best parents. We’ve been through worse. Why are you even complaining?” I know they’re not wrong, but they’re not right either. Every family works differently, and you can’t say one is better than the others if you just look from the outside. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family so much and feel grateful for what I have. But I constantly have to fight for who I am and what I believe in, and I have a hard time accepting any issues within the family. What I dread the most is family conflicts, which may lead to my relationship and communication with my family being changed. Funny enough, I also feel guilty whenever I argue with my parents and we can’t come to an agreement, although that doesn’t stop me from trying. I realized that there were things that couldn’t be changed, at least not in the way we expect.

I understand that the generational and cultural gap always exist between me and my parents. Before college, the cultural gap was not national; it was personal. I wasn’t able to express what I believe in as much, but I always knew the differences existed. I was so tired and upset of the way they told me not to do things that made me comfortable and proud, but I always did anyways because I knew they just wanted to protect me, especially in the chaotic context of my hometown. More importantly, they’re family, and family matters to me a lot, if not most. Then I came to college, and things changed drastically even without me admitting. I feel so comfortable and happy at Bennington because I’m able to be exactly who I am. No one judges me; I don’t have to pretend and make people pleased just because I want them to accept me. My confidence and health are boosted. I’m happier and more fulfilled. I have been learning and doing a lot of things to discover the world and myself. I’ve learned to love me the way I am, to feel completely comfortable within my own skin. My personal culture, for the most part, resonates with the culture of the place. I feel welcomed. When I come to my people back home, they tell me that I’ve changed, but still look at me and expect me to be the same person they know. They told me that I didn’t represent my culture and my family. Well, I don’t! I am the way I am. I represent myself. And even if I changed, I’m just better! I’m more mature and educated. I speak up for what I believe in and want to fight for. I care about race; I talk about sexism; I advocate for women’s rights and the way people perceive women in different cultures, my own culture. I just cannot choose the safe way to behave anymore; I don’t want to be silent and ignorant just to be happy not knowing what’s happening around me. I just wish that there was a way for me to tell my parents that they would never lose me, because I love them so much, and family is the biggest value in my life. I love my culture, but it doesn’t mean I have to agree with it.

When I observe the way my favorite professor teaches her children, I feel so proud and happy, and I wish I could raise my sisters and children like that. Her six-year-old daughter has short hair, is not afraid to speak up her mind about “how people mistook her for a boy just because of her hair and clothes,” recognizes that the way Trump sees women is not okay, and told me to feel confident about my body no matter what people said. I started feeling concerned about my sisters, especially the five-year-old one, since I don’t want her to have the prejudices and ways of thinking that people back home have. I want her to become a compassionate, open-minded, and powerful woman. The other day I called her, and she told me that she didn’t want Lego because it was for boys. She wanted cooking toys instead. It’s funny how I think it’s funny that people still categorize things based on gender, especially toys or clothes for children; a lot of people back home, here, and around the world, would have never thought about this, just as many things they don’t take into consideration. It’s the tragedy of the commons; whatever happens is not going to happen to us, and we don’t have to take care of things that are not in our own backyard. We have other matters to worry about rather than gender-neutral toys. I get it, but it doesn’t mean we should not try. I don’t want my sisters, or any other girls, to cover themselves because people tell them to, to have a haircut that their parents deem beautiful yet they themselves don’t like, or to say things just to please others. Everyone has the right to express themselves in the way they want, as long as it doesn’t harm others. “Don’t be afraid of challenging conventions, even within the family,” that’s what I want to say to my sisters. The love for the family has nothing to do with the collision of thought and belief within the family culture—the conversation/discussion should continue, always.

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