There was never an “or” option for me. It was very much my family telling me you are small and annoying, you are cute and the youngest, you are Alex and Tu.
I learned quick that I could have it all. I grew up thinking I was special or whatever.
My mom told me that she gave my brothers and I Western names so we could blend in with y'all pale folk. My dad is simply known as Dang at work and my mom has adopted Rose or Jade or Knock for her co-workers to say.
Their mouths have a hard time twisting out names like Hiep, Ngoc, Tuan, Nghia, Huy, Tu, so we gave them Dang, Knock, Richard, Eric, John, Alex.
I never thought of it as hiding though. We are very proud to be Dangs. We gave them a name to pronounce out of politeness.
Snow covered mouths cannot handle the heat of Vietnamese syllables.
And I was special.
I could control both the clean, crisp winter found in English and switch easily to the fire of Vietnamese.
So much so I just combined the two to make it easier on myself, while leaving the rest of the world scratching their heads and notepads trying to crack this impossible code I call dinner conversation.
My parents always thought long-term: their hustle boundless.
From the get go, it was important for the kids to learn English at school, to speak Vietnamese at home.
My mom and dad understand sacrifice on a boss/employee level, they know how to work with it.
But us learning another language was never sacrifice.
We never replaced banh sao for hamburgers: we had both. We never switched out nuoc mam for ketchup, we used both.
We never understood the saying about the grass being greener on the other side because we lived on either side and we learned fast that it’s about how much work you put in that reflects the emerald shining back at you.
We weren’t Asians that lived in America: we became Asian Americans. We never were shy about our culture but we never backed down from the stripes and stars either: we tailored a flag that looked a lot like staring in the mirror.
This dichotomy that lives inside my words never hindered me or shamed me. I use it to my advantage.
Every racist prick learned that I could cuss them out in three different languages.
Every well meaning question that was tinged ignorant became an opportunity to proudly boast about how fucking cool this all was.
My mom told me that a name is not something chosen, it’s something that’s given. It’s a gift, a shield, a tool, a label.
I’ve been given so many names growing up that I can’t help but think There are so many different things I am called.
They can’t figure out what singular label to put on all of this.
How could you give something this special just one name?