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My Easter experience from a Vietnamese American perspective.
I always disliked my name. It looks so foreign. C, H, A U; I murmured these letters, hoping that the more I broke down my name, grinded it to its core, it’d somehow make sense. It’s only four letters. But the more I stared at it, the more alien it seemed.
What kind of name was “Chau” when there were two Chris’s in my school? Or all of the Kevins? Even if their last name was Phan, Pham, Nguyen, or Vu, at least their names were normal. You can’t make fun of a Kevin like you can make fun of a Chau.
Even though they were Vietnamese, my friends’ American names made me acutely aware that even among my own social circle, I was still marked as different. Even though I grew up in a large Vietnamese and Hispanic community, even though I ate at Lee’s Sandwich and munched on pandan waffles at Grand Century Mall, I desperately wanted to assimilate into American culture. Assimilation didn’t mean, however, bringing my own Vietnamese traditions and backgrounds to the “melting pot” – it meant disavowing it.
The first moment I thought of assimilation was after I bit the head off a chocolate bunny. Eating marshmallow Peeps and unwrapping Cadbury milk chocolate eggs wasn’t “Easter” enough – I had to hunt for dyed Easter eggs like the rest of the American families I saw on TV.
I dreaded the small concrete lot in front of my house because where could you hide the eggs? All of the shared rooms we lived in, constantly moving and calling these cramped places “homes,” always cautious of being good tenets – how could I find a patch of grass to find eggs? Where could I get a basket to put eggs into?
Easter remained a constant reminder that I wasn’t only privileged enough to be able to participate in activities I thought everybody else did – it also made me acutely aware that my family was different. Quail eggs and White Rabbit candy weren’t “Easter” enough for my longing to be American because it meant I still had to go to 99 Ranch.
I looked at them skeptically, ashamed that I couldn’t have the same bunnies and “normal” eggs I thought everyone else had.
The only thing remotely close my family did for Easter was attending the annual Sunday mass and eating together afterwards. But, we weren’t particularly religious. The meal itself symbolized kinship and shared affection more so than genuine reverence for Easter’s religious connotations.
The food we ate on Easter didn’t fit a certain tradition, but instead, had to represent anything that was celebratory. One year we ate Popeye’s Chicken, with hordes of buttermilk biscuits slathered with strawberry jam and flan, while the next year we guzzled on Canadian Dry sodas as we ate banh trung, a sticky rice sandwich filled with mung beans and pork. The clash of traditional Vietnamese and American foods reflected our method of assimilation by connecting to seemingly disparate cultures and cuisines into one, and accepting it.
I will always remember grilling seafood and veggies on our small discounted griddle on the floor. We cleared out all the tables, trashcans, and moved them to the small hallway because we didn’t have any space. While we grilled scallops and green onions, my mom chopped the green onions into perfectly sized rectangles. The rocking motion of the Chinese cleaver against the turmeric-stained cutting board sung as she caramelized onions, shrimp and then beef, building mountains of flavors right before she poured in the banh xeo mix.
Banh xeo is a traditional Vietnamese food I originally thought was an American omelette. I thought bean sprouts, parboiled beef, and coconut cream were essential components of omelettes until I realized its name comes from the “xeo,” the Vietnamese word for “sizzle” sound, as you pour the batter into the skillet.
The coconut cream’s sweetness meshes nicely with the turmeric, lending it a soft yellow tint that browns beautifully, but retains a creamy crepe-like texture on the inside. With the crunchy bean sprouts, soft and translucent onions, and the chewy pork and shrimp, it serves as a reminder of how food is used during Easter to celebrate love and family.
The Pho King 4 Staff Writer.