Kelsey Erica Tran :: The True Meaning of Culture ::

Creative Non-Fiction

Southern Legitimacy Statement: Growing up in Maryland, I got to experience summer bbqs and grilling burgers during the Fourth of July. Urban barbecue was a local chain that reminds me of my childhood. After taking swimming lessons during the summer, my family would take me there to have a hearty dinner.

The True Meaning of Culture

Culture to the untrained could just be ethnic foods, traditional wear, and language. Understanding what culture is, comes with a lot of complexity in the ancestors, history, and struggles that made culture what it is today. As a Chinese-Vietnamese American, I can view my culture from the perspective of my ancestors, but also as an American. The stark difference is Americans will see my culture as soup, dumplings, red envelopes, and lanterns. I see my culture as the building blocks of my family, and how historical struggles have shaped each and every one of us into the person we are today.

Growing up when I would explain my culture to people who weren’t Chinese, or Vietnamese was like showcasing the acceptable characteristics of my people. This meant showing phở and eggrolls because that was the thing they had been most exposed to from our culture. Never once would I even think about explaining that being off for the eye of a fish was a representation of love and appreciation. They loved to see our qipaos but were always disgusted when they found out traditional beauty meant small feet, which encouraged the binding of young women’s feet. 

Of course, it’s attractive to see lanterns, beautifully lit during the Lunar New Year. People love it for its aesthetic, excitement, and uniqueness. But those same people don’t know the story behind the Lunar New Year and how we caught the twelve animals to represent each year. How the emperor rounded up twelve animals and sent them off on a race to determine their placement on the calendar. I know they love the beauty because it’s only skin deep but they couldn’t care less about what unconventional things have to happen before we got to the beauty. 

One thing about being Chinese-Vietnamese American is that family comes first. Don’t get me wrong, badgering, and belittlement is incredibly common in households of the same descent. In this type of environment, growing up learning the ways of your parents was part of the parenting culture. The parenting culture came from years, back of ancestry and history from our mother lands. Both Vietnamese and Chinese people prioritize family, even with what people might say is quite an unusual dynamic in the home. You might see generations of Chinese and Vietnamese families coming together and having a hot pot dinner, but under that just know that there is lots of trauma hiding underneath. 

Appreciate culture and we will appreciate you. But appreciating culture doesn’t mean saying food tastes good or calling a qipao pretty. Appreciating culture means knowing the history behind its beauty. Knowing that even under what seems to be glory, there have been extremely rough times that led to how the culture is in the modern day. Learn about more than just the surface. Beyond the eye, catching red envelopes and lunar new year displays, there is a story of our ancestors hiding behind. Take time to know how your favorite parts of my culture were created. Spread to the world through the knowledge you gained, and we will always be happy to share our culture.