“Uh… I can’t really put it in words.”
“I’m not really sure how to describe it.”
“It’s more of a feeling. A connotation.”
This is the general trend I’ve noticed after talking to a few of my closest Viet and Viet-Chinese friends.
Quirky in their own weird ways, it’s difficult to find one thing that they all have in common. V Tran is tan and athletic. She casually dabbles in Five Different Sports and probably ventures Outside more than the average squirrel. Vivian Uno is the artsy, creative friend, and thinks ten times louder than she talks. She changes her hair color more often than she changes her mind. Vivian Dos has the energy of a kid on two packs of Pixie Stix. BB Hoang is a walking juxtaposition of quiet and cool, sweet and sassy.
As an American-born Chinese woman surrounded by Viet culture, I was curious about how my friends felt about their own identities. How do you share a culture that’s such a core part of you with millions of other people?
This question led to other questions.
If you’re Viet-Chinese, how Viet do you feel? Are you Chinese? Are you both, or a mix? The overwhelming response was that because each girl saw Viet people as a minority among other Asian cultures and so commonly misunderstood, they connected much more strongly with their Viet side.
“Also, why do people use Vietnamese instead of Viet?” Vivian Dos plays around with the concept of slang. Her excuse is that she’s “too lazy to type out the full word.” So we talk some more. Turns out, when you think about the use of “Viet” instead of Vietnamese, it all goes back to how so much of a culture is feeling. Viet feels so much more personal. Kind of like your family’s pet name for you. It’s a term of endearment, something you look fondly upon.
It is not uncommon to hear the distinction: “Vietnamese” are residents of Vietnam, while “Viet” is a native id entity whether or not You are a citizen of the country or not. Speaking to many young Viets in America, there is a strong sense of native identity without much knowledge of Vietnam the country.
“In just one sentence, what makes you feel Viet?”
There’s an unspoken element that defines a culture, but the irony is that you lose this aspect once you try to give it a name. So much of Viet culture is a mindset. The way things are done. How people think. What they love. Take out the food, the history, the tradition, and there’s still so much more.