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Zooming into the Best of Both Worlds

BY ALENA NGUYEN


Sometimes I feel like the Vietnamese Hannah Montana— living the best of two

worlds.


Growing up as a Vietnamese American in Western culture, it’s like I have

experienced two cultures at once. On one hand, I have grown up eating phở and bún riêu

almost every week and have taken family photos in a multitude of silky áo dài. Yet on the

other hand, I am assimilated into Western culture every day at school and online, where

I speak English and eat In-N-Out. In recent years, however, I have tried to learn as

much as I can about my culture and have spent my free time reaching out to relative in

Vietnam and getting to know them.


My Saturday evenings have recently been shared with the Sunday mornings of

teenagers in Vietnam on Zoom. Our conversations have ranged from how they get two

weeks off from school to celebrate tết (Lunar New Year) to Taylor Swift’s discography, a

topic I am happy to indulge in with anyone from across the world. I have had to clarify

which football a Vietnamese teenager liked to play by asking, “do you play ‘throw the

ball’ or ‘kick the ball’ football?” Most often it was the latter, but there was the occasional

“throw the ball” Vietnamese player. Through these weekly Zoom calls, I have formed

many friendships with fellow teenagers in rural northern Vietnam.


One week, the topic of the week was gender inequality and intergenerational

disparities. I was so prepared for that topic; my mind was overflowing with my opinions

about the current state of American feminism. In our breakout room, one Vietnamese

boy said, “women are weaker than men so women have to stay home and take care of

the children.”


It felt like my stomach twisted into itself. My eyebrows knitted in confusion as if

to say, “you know you’re wrong, right?” My lips pressed into a thin line, preventing my

anger-driven words from being released. I wanted to unmute myself and yell at that kid.

But I didn’t.


I reflected on not only what he said, but why he said it. Because he had

mentioned that his dad only works and his mom stays at home, I had to take into

consideration that this teen has not experienced two working parents and hearing daily

stories about sexism in his mom’s workplace. I had to take into consideration that

Vietnamese familial culture is more patriarchal than American familial culture, so it is

likely that the children have grown up learning that there is a “man of the house” that

provides for them instead of equal authority.


After processing what the boy said, I told him that in American culture, women

can do just about everything men can do. Through that Zoom meeting with Vietnamese

teenagers, I was able to learn that while feminism may be a global struggle, people’s

reactions to progressive women’s roles in society are different across the world. I took a

time of cultural conflict to not only educate myself but educate the Vietnamese

teenagers about American culture. When learning about modern feminist issues in

American culture, I often think to myself, “what would a Vietnamese teenager think

about this?” I might never know; they’re probably somewhere playing the “kick the ball”

version of football.

Sharing culturally diverse stories to educate, inspire, and empower others

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