By Phoenix Ban | Sigma Beta Rho
In 1993, my family immigrated from Vietnam to Syracuse, NY. Born and raised here in this quiet city, everyone occasionally asks, “What is there to do in Syracuse?” Honestly, I don’t know what there is to do despite living at the core of the city. Growing up as the only child with only a single parental figure, it was difficult doing anything outside of the household without worrying my mom. I remember in my free time, I would play with a multiplication table that my mom bought for me for doing well in middle school. Ever since then, I have been extremely competitive in the game, “Around the World.” For those who don’t know, it’s a math game where two people respond with the proper number when a card is revealed. If a person makes it all around the classroom, he won a free homework pass. However, it wasn’t the free pass that enticed me, but rather this Vietnamese girl whose intelligence automatically attracted me to her.
I remember multiple occasions where I would bring home an Asian girl to meet my parents, and they would always manage to kid around asking, “Do co phai ban gai khong?” Sadly, my keyboard doesn’t enable accents, but translated, it means “Is that your girlfriend?” However, whenever I introduce a girl outside of my culture, the dialog between my family and them seem to diminish. Because my mom is so protective of me, she told me that I can only date a girl, preferably Vietnamese, if and when I graduate from college. Truth be told, I somewhat kind of broken that promise. Due to a rebellious nature during high school where over 95% of the population did not come from a similar cultural background, my first official girlfriend was a quiet, shy, but nice, Caucasian girl. But inevitably, my mom figured out about the relationship and forbade it to continue any further.
Thanks to the guidance of my mother, I often date outside of my culture now very discretely. She taught me the value of family, to not trust anyone, to strive to be a doctor, and to excel in academics. It was my auntie though, who pushed me beyond my limits with reading and writing. It is probably her fault that I abhor the thought of writing essays for class. Even now, I still vividly remember the times I had to write one-page essays, single-spaced, with a pen for each chapter I read. The amount of times I had to write the alphabet on paper also contributed to the callus on my middle finger due to the constant pressure I placed on it. My grandma on the other hand was learning how to be very hip in clothing trends despite her limited ability to understand or communicate in English. She was very affectionate with her gifts, and always made pho for me when I come back from breaks in school. Her kindred spirit taught my mom how to cook, and in turn that skill was passed down to me.
As a first-generation college-bound Asian American, I feel somewhat exiled from other Asian Americans that comes from California or New York City. It may have to do with the large amount of K-pop, gai luong, and Hong Kong phim bo that I immersed myself in as a kid. Although my mom is always busy working, I feel that she intentionally pushed me to watch and listen to a lot of bootlegged shows to unconsciously teach me familial values. I feel like a lot of people in my age cohort never learned how to cook or do laundry until coming into college which is really mind blowing. The level of promiscuity evident on campus is also apparently a norm, but because I am so mentally traditional, I’m always on the lookout for a normal relationship.