Week Twenty.

“WHAT YOU GONNA DO

WITHOUT THEM

YOU FALSIFIED BEING

WHO IS TOLD…

DRESS THIS WAY

DANCE THIS WAY

TALK THIS WAY

MOVE THIS WAY

LOOK THIS WAY

WALK THIS WAY

LOVE THIS WAY

GIVE THIS WAY

LIVE THIS WAY

AND THEN PERHAPS

YOU’LL BE BELIEVABLE

IF YOUR FALSIES

DON’T SHOW.”

The book: ‘Compendium’ The Poetry of Pazcual Villaronga

The memory:

We immigrated to America June of 1991, and I had started school immediately that fall. I switched elementary schools so much that my memory of any of them is hazy. I must have attended at least four in total. Even then, I was so aware of how I didn’t quite fit in. My parents hadn’t yet become accustomed to the culture, and so as kids, we were always a little different. We had rice in our lunch bags instead of sandwiches. I wore colored coordinated outfits that my mom sewed instead of a bright pink new blouse.

During first grade – it must have been my 2nd elementary school that I had attended, everyone was supposed to come to school dressed up for Halloween. Remember those days in elementary school when themed days: holidays, field days, or just Fridays were so spectacular? The principal and teachers made such a big deal – and it made going to school so much fun. You’d suspend your normal activities in exchange for themed activities and candy.

At that point, I had become really well acquainted with Disney and its princesses. At the time, I really, really wanted to be Snow White for Halloween. I had just watched Snow White for the first time, and I.wanted.to.be.her. I told my mom that we were supposed to dress up for school – and I wanted to be this character.

We had just been here a couple of years, so parents didn’t really understand the school system – nor did they realize how “big of a deal” it was to come to school in costume.

Everyone in school was going to dress up, I pouted, and I HAD to come in costume.

1940s fashion lady 2She refused to spend money renting a Snow White dress, and so when that Friday before Halloween came, she picked out a white dress for me to wear. It was to be my costume. The dress was nice enough, white cotton with eyelet lace around the bottom and the sleeves – except on one of the sleeves, the elastic band had broken, so my sleeves were two different sizes.

I cried, ranted, and almost refused to go to school. I showed up to school with my eyes red and puffy, and was met with inquisitive looks from my teacher as to what my costume was. Other kids were dressed up in elaborate princess costumes or other familiar cartoon characters. My best friend at the time had on a really great Aladdin costume – his head was even adorned with a fez.

I, on the other hand, had to walk around all day with a botched sleeve looking, and feeling normal. Not special like Snow White or Cinderella or Belle. The most embarrassing moment of all was when we had an assembly to take class photos of our costumes. I sat in the front row, eyes still red and puffy, more embarrassed because my lack of Americanness was as apparent as a white stain on a multi-colored canvas.

I think I held that against my mom for a long time. Why didn’t she understand what a big deal it was for me to have a costume? Why didn’t she spend the money to rent me one? Why didn’t she just understand the culture?

My childhood – and I’m sure yours – were littered with those little moments of attempts to assimilate, but not quite doing so. Even now, my parents and I still have those tense moments where we both exist between two worlds, but we both maneuver it so much better. Every older Vietnamese person I’ve talked to who lives in America always tells me how great it is that we can glean from each culture. We pick and choose the best from each, and we make it our own.

I wish I could take back all of those times I was such a brat and held it against my parents for “not understanding” the culture. I wish I could take back those silly screams and pouts and thanked my mom for picking out a beautiful dress so I could be a princess in white.

End, Memory Twenty.

Next week: The Empanada Brotherhood by John Nichols

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