Emily is a 37 year old Vietnamese psychiatrist who immigrated to the United States on October 31st 1979. She moved to California and currently lives there. I have personally known Emily for quite a while now as she is a close family friend but I had never known her full back story. Thanks to this interview, I became a lot closer with her and I learned a lot from this experience. In this interview we cover most of her back story as well as the challenges Emily faced as an immigrant from Vietnam and as a woman. We also covered some topics of racism and sexism that we have discussed in class. Disclaimer: Much information about Emily has been kept private as requested.
Emily’s interview covered many different topics about her life, her childhood, her immigration process, family dynamic, education, and career. In the interview, Emily did touch on a bit of racism and sexism, as well as how she handled it growing up. One question that I asked her regarding racism was if she had ever faced any micro-aggressions from a White person and how to handle these types of situations. She responded with:
EMILY: “Um, I think that it’s helpful in… when you see someone who is not White to maybe understand that they are likely doing one of two things: trying really hard to fit in or trying really hard to reject and push away. Um, and I think there’s somewhere in between… to live so that we can recognize people’s unique experiences, you know, just because I’m Asian or Vietnamese doesn’t really mean I’m… belong perhaps to a certain group and what is sort of, you know, that person’s unique experiences.”
Emily touched on how she thinks non-White people deal with avoiding racism. Either by trying really hard to change and fit in or rejecting it all together. In one article that we read for class about intersectionality, the author explains how badly she wants her daughter to fit in to this new culture that she is growing up in. In the text, “Hopes for My Daughter” by Bhoomi K. Thakore, she writes down every hope that she has for her daughter growing up as a non-White person in America. “I hope my daughter will have an easier time making friends than I did […] I hope my daughter will find love sooner than I did […] Above all, I hope my daughter does not have a life as hard as mine. In our society, everyone is judged by his or her physical appearance and ascribed an identity based on it” (Thakore, 74-75). Growing up feeling different from everyone else is so tough in today’s society. People judge and discriminate simply on appearance. Therefore, it is understandable so some to want to fit in really bad or reject it all together. Emily explains that she has spent most of her life trying really hard to fit in which caused her to feel separated from her roots. I think this is a way to protect oneself against the awful racism or judgment that people put on each other. Especially growing up around children that look different and have different family dynamics.
During the interview, I wanted to also see her perspective and her concern for her children since it was a topic that was discussed in multiple texts over the course of this semester. I asked her if she had any concerns or hopes for her children, which she responded with:
EMILY: “Mm, well, for our kids now, I don’t think the world is really easy, I think that it is more chaotic in many ways but there… there’s also a lot of better change, so sort of, you know, it’s polarized. Um, and then specifically for then, I actually think, one of the things that I am sensitive to is that they have grown up French American. Even though they are born here, they have a real sense of being not American, in a way. And I worry for them because I think that a sense of belonging is critical to… to thriving where you are. And so, you know, my hope is that they… they don’t feel that they are outside of the society and that they are actually a part of it.”
Emily also touches on her worries about her own children and fitting into this very restricted and judgmental culture and society. Emily also mentions that these children are not biologically hers but she has raised them with her husband who is the biological father of these children. Although her children were born in California, they are fully French, therefore they grew up around two different cultures which can be hard for them to understand their identity. In the article, “What Are You?” by Anne Mai Yee Jansen, she explains how she also grew up in California but her family was from Asia. Therefore, she always felt that she didn’t belong to a certain culture. “…I always had the sense that I wasn’t really Asian, but I hadn’t heard the term “Asian American” yet, so I just felt a little fraudulent all the time” (Jansen, 156). This feeling of not belonging ties to, much of what Emily explains in this interview. This desire to belong somewhere, especially as a child or a teenager when fitting into groups or making friends seems crucial. Fitting in is a big part of growing up, it can determine your friend groups and their influence on you. Children that have trouble fitting in can also be bullied which can deteriorate one’s mental health and confidence.
Another part of this interview that I found very interesting was when Emily explained the sexism and racism that she faced in the workplace. When I asked her about this topic, she responded with:
EMILY: “mhm, um, there are a couple that I remember, and it was at that first job, um, which probably was that one which I was you know, I was new, and I was floundering around, so I didn’t have, a…, a solid sense of myself. Um, but two things happened, um I was on one project where I was a previous member of the team, um, and it was a Brazilian telecommunications company, and um, when we were um, planning a big trip to go over to Brazil to work with them over there I was excluded because they didn’t want too many women on the assignment. So that was a first.”
At a young age Emily was already facing sexism, which can destroy one’s confidence in the workplace or to find a better job.
EMILY: “*laughs* Uh, and um, the second one was when, it was at the end of it, and it was one of the big reasons why I decided to quit, which is I, um, they hired a new person onto our team, a new strategist, and he was male, and for some reason… I don’t know how… he may have told me. I found out that he had was making twenty, thirty percent more than me, as a new person, and I had been there for like two and a half years. So, I went to my boss, tried to get a raise. You know a white male, older guy. And he told me no. And he told me that um, I would be lucky to find a job like this somewhere else at the same, uh, salary that I was making at the time. So, I quit! And I left. And I got a job that was about twenty-five percent more than I was making.”
Emily stood up for herself in this moment and did not let an old White man of power tell her how to live her life. She made the best out of this situation and proved to her boss that she was not going to let him destroy her confidence.
EMILY: “*laughs* But I learned a lot in that moment, you know, hah because I could have listened to him and just kowtow…you know, just, but I didn’t so I’m proud of my twenty-seven-year-old self. *laughs*”
Emily learned a lot through her experiences in the work force with sexism. White men are typically in power in large corporations or industries, which causes women to have a disadvantage in many work environments. In the Ted Talk “We Should All Be Feminists” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, she explains a time when she faced sexism. “Then one evening, in Lagos, Louis and I went out with friends […] I was impressed with the particular theatrics of a man who found us a parking spot that evening. And so, as we were leaving, I decided to leave him a tip. I opened my bag, put my hand inside my bag, brought out my money that I earned from doing my work, and I gave it to the man. And he […] took the money from me, looked across at Louis and said, ‘Thank you, sir!'” (Adichie). This is a great example of how women are not appreciated for the work that they do. Sexism is present everywhere. As Emily said later on her interview, “I think as women we need to really be aware of the fact that we live in a society that has been defined by males, and particularly white males, and so that means that there’s sort of this enormous world of possibilities of what life could be like if it were… if… if other, um, oppressed voices were allowed to contribute, and that it could be a richer and more interesting and hopefully more gentle society.” We must lean to stand up for ourselves and educate each other to grow stronger as a community.
Although I do not have much in common with Emily, I did grow up the same way her children have. Both of my parents are French but I was born in California and have lived there my whole life. Therefore, I relate to her children in the sense that I grew up with two different cultures and I never knew which one I truly belonged to. Unlike Emily though, I did not grow up having to face micro-aggressions or racism. I have faced a bit of sexism as most women have and I will definitely continue to face more sexism in the future which is unfortunate. Therefore, I will continue to educate myself and others on the issues minorities are facing and work towards solving these issues. I also hope to build my confidence and fully embrace both cultures that I have grown up with.
Overall learning about someone’s oral history was very inspiring and interesting! I loved learning more about Emily and building a strong connection with her by learning about her past experiences. She has given me great advice and taught me to stand up for myself when I know that I am being taken advantage of. Thanks to Emily I hope to grow my confidence and educate other woman and men about the challenges minorities face in today’s world.
Khanna, Nikki. Whiter: Asian American Women on Skin Color and Colorism. New York University Press, 2020.
Specific Chapters used from Whiter by Nikki Khanna:
- “What Are You?” by Anne Mai Yee Jansen
2. “Hopes for My Daughter” by Bhoomi K. Thakore
“INDOCHINA Travel Company.” | Indochina Travel, www.indochinatravel.com/country/vietnam/vietnam-arts-tours.html.
Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. “We Should All Be Feminists.” TED, www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_ngozi_adichie_we_should_all_be_feminists?language=en.