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Letter to My Younger Self

Dear T,

You are precious. You are worthy. You are made of the same magic as the stars. The world tells you otherwise in countless ways, and it's easy to believe its lies, but inevitably you will find your inner light.

You are not inferior to white people. You are not lesser by the circumstances of your birth. Your race is not a crime or a shame. You are not less capable because English isn't your first language. You are not abnormal because you're pulled out of regular class for ESL lessons. On the contrary, you are phenomenal for learning English on the fly within months of resettlement. You are adaptable, empathetic, and capable of holding multiple perspectives as you glide between cultures.

Don't be ashamed of your heritage. It holds incredible strength, resilience, courage, faith—the grandest of accomplishments. It's the stuff that makes history worth learning, even if it's omitted in your school curriculum.

Kids judge and ridicule your food, "What is that shit? Eww!" You feel pressure to mimic their disgust and turn your back on your parents' home-cooked lunch, savoring your favorite comfort foods in secret while denying them in public. I don't blame you for this betrayal. It's necessary to survive in a narrow and dominant narrative that marginalizes you. It's hard to believe, but in a couple of short decades the same kids who ostracize you will flaunt online photos of themselves eating pho, fish sauce, and banh mi.

Vietnamese is your mother tongue, the path back to your ancestors and their incredible stories. Even if you toss them aside, these stories will always be there when you need strength and inspiration. They wait for the day when you will no longer reject your language in order to assimilate. Your embarrassment of having parents who don't speak English will morph into gratitude for their enormous struggle, on which you stand and reach for the stars.

Clothes don't define a person's worth. Neither does their house, their car, their profession, nor their income. Your church-donated 80s clothes reflect resourcefulness. Your Mount Airy public housing neighborhood is rich with diverse cultures. Your family's $1000 1987 Dodge Omni is a triumphant survivor carrying you through harsh Minnesota winters. Your dad's janitorial job is a beacon of love, a story of hope and hard work.

Your light will shine bright and outlast stubborn obstacles much older than you, like the notion that white is superior. You will go on to achieve all that you set your heart on. When you have the straight As and the advanced degrees and the six-figure salary and the leadership roles and savings account you once dreamed of, you will see that no accomplishment is more empowering than rediscovering the truth that has always been there: You are enough. You have always been enough. As a Vietnamese in Minnesota. As an Asian woman in a world built for white men. As a refugee child in Saint Paul when the city was still learning how to receive newcomers from Southeast Asia.

Your feelings matter. Your needs are important. Take up space. Project your voice. Love yourself enough to break free from the world’s expectations and opinion of you. You are enough, just as you are.

ANGELINA TRÂM NGUYN grew up in Saint Paul after her family left Vietnam as refugees in the early 1990s. She writes about mental health, historical trauma, and healing for Vietnamese millennials. She shares short essays on and even shorter paragraphs on Instagram @angelinatramnguyen.

1 comentário

28 de out. de 2023

Powerful, moving, important message!

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