I am not a Vietnamese American, but a Vietnamese who has lived here for 2 and a half years. I’ll tell you my experience.
As a Vietnamese living in America, I think it’s interesting. Almost everyday, I am faced with something that would not be acceptable in Vietnam. Wearing super short shorts to class? NO. Putting your feet on the class room table, NO. Carrying a gun in public? BIG NO. The list can go on and on and on.
Growing up in a one party, predominantly Buddhist-believer, strongly confucian based culture, I was told what was right and wrong. I do not have as much of freedom as American people have. I do not call my parents by name and name only. I enjoy freedom, but many in Vietnam believe in freedom in moderation. I learn to conform to authority, because it’s simpler than fighting it. So being here in the US, it’s like a clash of ideologies occurring in my mind everyday. I walk a fine line in between determining what I am comfortable with, and what is appropriate.
In Vietnam, we have no racial diversity. So here, it’s amazing. I really enjoy just observing different hair styles, different fashion statements by people from different races in the US. It’s so beautiful how African Americans do their hair, and so many styles. I am amazed at the cosmetics section, and at make-up brand store, how many types, colors America has. It’s exciting to see diversity of beauty in the simplest things, not in, say political debates.
In Vietnam, there is a certain support system almost everyone enjoys. Family and friends and connections. Here, the emphasis on independence is both liberating and burdening. You are expected to move out when you are 18, you are expected to be on your own, in charge of your tuition and everything. In Vietnam, you are expected to be your parents’ child forever. There is nothing good or bad. It’s just a little bit of adjustment.
I don’t like American food, too salty and too sweet for my taste. Strangely, food is a big part of my life. Americans eat quickly, many eat in their car, on their way to something. Drive-throughs are everywhere. And they also eat alone. In Vietnam, we eat daily meal together as family. So for me, it is hard. Many here are also not adventurous in tasting different types of food. On that note, it’s interesting to learn that many Americans do not travel. Even to another state, or regions within their own country.
I personally do not assimilate with other Vietnamese/Vietnamese Americans. I want to see who I am apart from a Vietnamese. I find the Vietnamese community very helpful, but also very binding. You are expected to be very Vietnamese in the community, hanging out together all the time, being together through dramas. There is a certain expectation that if you are single, you should find a partner within the community, and so you either become a target, or you are under pressure to pursue a target. Especially, if you are a girl and you do not conform to such norm, you’ll be rumored to be one wanting to lure a Western boy for citizenship. I personally do not support interference with private life. And if you ever live in Vietnam or within a Vietnamese community, expect that people love your private life (sometimes because they care for you) more than their own.
I am also surprised to see the similarity between Vietnamese here and Vietnamese in Vietnam. Many have inferiority complex compared to White people/ American culture. I’ve never seen a group of Vietnamese people talking loud in an American restaurants, but I’ve been to many Vietnamese restaurants in which people were just awfully and disrespectfully loud, as if they were allowed to be themselves only in a Vietnamese context. I know this is such a big generalization, and this is my personal observation.
The 2nd and 3rd generation Vietnamese Americans can barely speak Vietnamese, Vietnamese parents pride themselves in having kids speaking perfect English. I do not like that, since our language is beautiful, and our culture is one to be preserved. But I also understand they are more Americans than they are Vietnamese. It’s ironic because their parents and grandparents might want to come back to Vietnam, and fight for a different Vietnam, but the children are just so indifferent.
At my school, there were 2 Vietnamese student associations. One for Vietnamese Americans, and one for Vietnamese Vietnamese like I am. It’s interesting because 40 years have passed since the war, we are still vastly divided. We can’t even agree on working together to become better, we can only fight. When China wrongfully claimed our islands, both groups went to protest at China Embassy in the States. But we avoided each other, we couldn’t stand in the picture with two different flags of Vietnam. On one specific occasion, one friend of mine, whose father works for the Vietnamese Government, whose career is gonna be a government one, refused to go to protest due to fear that an accidental picture with the other Vietnam’s flag would affect his political career. I can’t help but sigh.
Apart from all that, America is just another country to me, it’s not good or bad, it just is. It’s funny how Americans criticize the one party system of Vietnam (don’t get me wrong, criticism well deserved), but I feel like here you actually have a similar thing, just under a different label. Two parties hate each other more than they hate their enemies, two parties publicly trash each other, using all kinds of offensive words as if the other were not humans, people from two parties fight fiercely on facebook as if it was gonna change things, but they all fail to realize they both are very american as apple pie. And how is that different from the one party but multiple alliances in Vietnam? I don’t know (well of course I know the difference between the legistrations), but ultimately, it’s all a power play and the people are just being manipulated.
I’m not sure if this is the kind of experience you are asking for, but if you have any other question, feel free to add.