I’m considering getting an ao dai, a traditional Vietnamese dress, made for our welcome dinner before our wedding next year. I’ve always imagined myself having a traditional western white dress and a Chinese qi pao, but I realized that would be slighting my mother, who is Vietnamese, which obviously makes me half Vietnamese. My mom’s always felt like her race was lesser since moving to the U.S. Her mother-in-law, my grandmother, thought that Vietnamese people were like the dirt of the earth and was so disappointed that my dad decided not to marry a Chinese girl and instead chose the filth that was my mother. My mother quickly learned English and Toisan, as useless of a language as it is, in order to communicate with her mother-in-law. She never taught Ed or me Vietnamese because my grandmother forbade it. And I think at some point, my mother actually believed after all my grandmother’s brainwashing that it was a useless language to learn, that Vietnamese culture didn’t matter as much as Chinese culture, and that we would grow up not knowing much about Vietnam other than the food.
I don’t want to contribute to the view that Vietnamese culture is less, though. I want my mom to know I’m proud to have her as my mother (as crazy as she drives me), that I’m happy that she has passed down this incredible culture to me. So I’d like to show it in the form of dress for the wedding period. I talked to her about it today, and she was so surprised. She said, “You want to wear an ao dai? But that is so old looking. It’s not stylish today.” I reminded her that I’m half Vietnamese, remember? She laughed and said, “Okay, if you want to, you can as long as it makes you happy. Just don’t spend too much money on it! You can get it for cheap in San Jose!” Always the practical one, my mom.