I reblogged something a while ago, which was a quote from a Vietnamese-American from her mother about the importance of learning Vietnamese as a language. Someone reblogged back with a response.
The gist of the quote is much to do with the attitude of the Vietnamese diaspora as a whole, which…
A part of me feels like this post is offensive to my family and a lot of the families I know on so many levels.
But the main point of my original post regarding language remains: Language is the identity of every country. One of the first things the North did after taking over was change the spellings of certain words. “bác sỹ” instead of “bác sĩ”. Things like that. They changed the way people spelled things out loud. (I can’t give an example because I don’t get how to do it.) But instead of teaching the alphabet like “b, d, đ, m, n” they started teaching “bờ, dờ, đờ, mờ, nờ.” It’s no big deal, but if language weren’t important, why would they bother to change that? What my mom wanted to teach the kids was the importance of language. Of our language, to be specific. That was it. You seem like a really intelligent guy, but not everything is an intellectual discussion. Big words and a college education isn’t the end all and be all to life. Not everything is political. At least, I didn’t intend my original post to be political.
Regardless, thank you for this discussion. Very eye-opening for me.
A small PS: I don’t have any issues with trying to go forward and trying to make amends. Always for the better. But what I have an issue with is the trivialization of the war and the experiences of our parents by a simple “it’s silly to dwell.”
Well, first of all, I’m sorry if you felt offended by my post. It was not my intention to do so.
And I’m also sorry that I failed to communicate my empathy for the casualties and costs of war. I really do. My grandfather fought in the war, my parents’ families both lost a lot. I’m sorry that I failed to communicate how that affected their lives.
But I do feel there are two points to make in general:
First is that I have had the opportunity to return to Vietnam, and have done so with my parents. They showed me my heritage, their old homes, their old schools. I would never have felt as connected to Vietnamese culture if I hadn’t.
Second is that my extended family refuses to go. I can understand my grandfather’s refusal to go, considering his experience, even if I disagree. My grandmother wanted to be buried in Vietnam but he prevented that. She didn’t care for politics, just to be buried at home.
But my aunts and uncles do what a lot of people seem to do: forward emails telling horror stories about how bad things are economically, socially, and politically, in Vietnam. This offends me not only because I’ve been to Vietnam and it’s not as bad as they say by far, but also simply because perpetuating stories which you find easy to believe are probably the most suspicious stories.
Anyway, actually that isn’t the most interesting aspect of your response, which had to do with the changing language. Which I was kind of aware of, but considering that I never learned Vietnamese formally it didn’t fully occur to me.
In fact the most glaring change is just renaming Saigon to HCM City. I think that’s ridiculous, and actually even with the Vietnamese people I meet from there, many of them still call it Saigon.
But that does remind me a lot of, say, the Russian experience. St. Petersburg was established by Peter the Great, who wanted a Western style capital to modernize Russia from. In WW1 they didn’t like having a city whose named sounded so German, so they renamed it Petrograd. After the Bolshevik Revolution they named it Leningrad after Lenin, and then after 1991 with the fall of the USSR… it’s St. Petersburg again.
Names change, but cultures kind of have a way of winning out in the end, because culture and tradition runs a lot deeper than contemporary politics. Africa is a compelling example of the power of ethnic and tribal loyalties and identities resonating far more deeply than any artificial lines that the colonies drew up.
Also, languages change a lot and don’t really stay the same. Original Vietnamese script used Chinese characters, and probably still would, if not for the French. You can see this all over the old temples from the pre-French period, if you visit Vietnam. We also have our own way of reading Mahjong tiles, which is based on how we used to use the characters.
A couple of years ago, I discovered the official YouTube channel of the North Korean government. That tickled me immensely, because it’s ridiculously ironic that half the country has no electricity, but the government has a YouTube channel to share their propaganda with the world.
Anyway, I showed it to a Korean friend, who was just lost on some of the words. There’s a certain kind of language that gets taught in authoritarian Communist countries that you never find outside, and it mirrors what I heard from a Vietnamese guy here in Switzerland once. It’s words like “lackeys” or “running dogs” and so on. We don’t use those kinds of words, ever. But they do.
Languages change, and most of the time that’s a natural process. My parents are kind of sad that Vietnam’s local regions are changing. Hue food is more common in Saigon, Hanoi food is laced with Southern styles, and so on. It’s not unique to any region anymore… but it’s kind of the price of progress.
Anyway, good discussion, thank you for your respectful and honest response. Again, I apologize if I gave offense.
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