Thai (28) is born and raised in Vietnam. His parents are Kinh Vietnamese, he identifies himself also as Kinh Vietnamese. Thai came to The Netherlands in 2015 to study at Groningen.
What kind of upbringing did you have? There is also a term: “Tiger parents or Tiger mom”. Did you have a similar upbringing?
Yes, but not very strictly so. I was to expected to reach high academic achievements, but have never had to go through serious emotional or physical abuse in cases of less-than-desired achievements.
Are there any taboos or things that you can’t discuss with your parents?
Plenty, sexual orientation, and relatedly, relationship, how I express myself through clothes and makeup and such. I just split my life in two, one when my parents are around, and one when they are not. It is fine for now though, not asking for anyone’s pity. It’s funny how “western” parenting tended to be viewed as the model one.
Do you feel close with your Asian roots?
Certainly. I grew up in Vietnam, so I guess I don’t have any issue identify with my “root”. I’m a Kinh Vietnamese, which is the dominant ethnic group in Vietnam, where discrimination against ethnic minorities is a censored topic. I did start to research more on issues of ethnicity and history in Vietnam, in relation to the world, particularly through the lens of the Vietnam War. A lot of modern ethnic and ethno-religious conflicts in Vietnam can be traced back to the French colony, and is still, in my opinion, an issue nowadays. Learning about these issues give me perspectives of my own privilege, and why racism is a “global” issue, as in it happens everywhere in the world with different local manifestations. It makes sense to fight against racism in Vietnam, the US or the Netherlands even when you’re a Vietnamese.
Did you ever feel ashamed of you being Asian?
Never. Upon encountering racist remarks or behaviors, I’m enraged, not ashamed. There’s no reason to be ashamed of being a Vietnamese if I don’t do anything shameful.
Did you ever have a role model when you grew up?
No, I don’t. Still, I do have guiding principles, which are common sense and critical thinking. I don’t think role models are as important as thinking critically about what I can learn specifically from these so-called “role models”. I can learn one thing from A, and another from B; such learning ability is more important to me.
What do you think of the Asian representation in The Netherlands?
Dutch cinema is not popular, so I can’t comment on that. Hollywood’s representation of “Asian” has been forever problematic, and has been covered a lot already. I think there is similar issue in Vietnam in 2 senses, although more media research is needed for further discussion. Firstly, there is also a preference for Caucasian models/actors whenever a “Western” looking character is needed. Secondly, Vietnamese ethnic minorities suffer from misrepresentation as well. Recently, there has been a lot of initiatives to change this, either in Vietnam or the US. I’m not sure about the Netherlands though, since racism is not widely acknowledged as a social issue here.
Do you know any Vietnamese stereotypes and do you identify yourself with that?
Maybe Vietnamese eating dogs and Vietnamese immigrants being nail salon owners? I don’t resonate with any of these.
What do you think of the ‘The Asian Model Minority Myth’?
I am familiar with such a myth. Of course, like all other myths that are based on racial generalization, it simply ignores the historical perspective to why Asian Americans have come to be perceived as such, as opposed to, for example, African Americans. For example, Asian Americans were not exposed to the same level of slavery, and consequently, institutional discrimination, suffered by African Americans. It’s always easier to conform to social norms if the normative exclusion is placed on other groups. I don’t think I resonate with this Asian Model Minority shit, since I want to be a good person in general, as opposed to a well-behaved minority trying to adopt White norms.
What made you who you are now?
Socialization process involves a lot of actors so I guess all of them made me who I am.
Have people also made comments about you being Chinese?
They [Dutch white guys] said “Ni hao” and I said “I’m not Chinese, bitch”. I feel annoyed, but jokes on them since I was not the one wearing sweatpants in public.
What are stereotype Asians in your opinion?
Too many to discuss here. In my experiences, the assumption is that I am not as fluent in English as some Dutch English speakers. I’m not sure which stereotypes being enjoyed by Asian, but I do observe certain Vietnamese girls who, I assume, associate a white boyfriend with higher social status.
What stereotypes and comments have you heard about your appearance?
Not really. I mainly work in academia, where appearance is not really a focus. Even if it is, I can easily fire back, because, again, when it comes to appearance, those in the academia glass house should not throw stones.
What racist remarks and discrimination have you experienced?
I interviewed a PhD position at Delft, and after my 2nd round of interview, I was rejected for not being Dutch enough for the topic, which, in the recruiters’ explanation, my Dutch fluency and familiarity with the Dutch society, at that time, were not sufficient to take on the position. Even though it kind of makes sense, there have also been plenty cases of Dutch researchers conducting research in countries where they couldn’t speak the language, e.g. Vietnam, and hired translators. So, what qualify them working in Vietnam? Being white Dutch and having money?
In addition, “Ni hao”. In different cities in the Netherlands. I think I’ve experienced more homophobic than racism discrimination.
Regarding Corona virus, I had Dutch PhDs acting dismissive of my opinions when it first started, as in “It’s just like another flu”. They also made fun of tactics like wearing masks and such. Jokes on them since we all know how things have progressed. I feel annoyed for sure, but then the university shut down and I haven’t seen them until now, so *shrug*.
What is a funny trait or tell something that not everyone knows about you?
Hard to answer. People know me know everything about me. People who think they know me don’t know anything about me, and I don’t want them to. So, there’s that.
In Asian culture, it is normal as a woman to get married as soon as possible, have children, and become a housewife. Because when you have a husband, you have children, you have “made” it in life. How do you see it?
It depends, although I do think such pattern has been less popular in “Asian” societies. I know women who actually enjoy marriage and motherhood, even housewife-ship. In these cases, I am happy for them and do think they’ve made the right choices. I’ve also seen women who get married to satisfy social expectations or family’s pressure, or women who have no personality so they get married and have children to validate their existence. In these cases, whether they choose to become or housewives or not, I don’t think I can relate.
Where do you stand now and what are your plans for the future?
Close to 30s, so half of my desired lifespan. I will finish my PhD and find a job.
What do you want to give to the readers? What do you hope to achieve?
Just have some common sense and leave others alone. The world would be a better place if everyone thinks a bit less of their own opinion, especially when no one’s asked for it.
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