Christie Pham is a first generation Vietnamese American and senior at GSU. Growing up as a first generation American in rural Georgia was challenging because she was raised in American setting, but at home firmly rooted in traditional Vietnamese culture. (Video by Erica A. Hernandez)

Christie Thuy Pham, a Vietnamese-American, aims to blend two cultures

We started our New Americans series Sunday with a Personal Journey about Ryan Koirala, a Bhutanese refugee who recently became a Clarkston police officer. We continue the series this week with stories about Sunidhi Ramesh, who was born in India but moved here when she was a toddler, and German Botello, who was born at Grady Memorial Hospital to two Mexican immigrants. Here, we feature Christie Thuy Pham, a Vietnamese-American and college student. 

Christie Thuy Pham is a first-generation Vietnamese-American and senior at Georgia State University.

She grew up as a first-generation American in rural Morrow, and Georgia was challenging because she was raised in an American setting, but her family life was firmly rooted in traditional Vietnamese culture. 

Christie Thuy Pham is a first-generation Vietnamese-American and senior at GSU. Here she listens during a class at GSU’s downtown Atlanta campus. Growing up as a first-generation American in rural Georgia was challenging because she was raised in an American setting, but at home firmly rooted in traditional Vietnamese culture. ERICA A. HERNANDEZ / EHERNANDEZ@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

She has struggled seeing her American friends be raised in a looser environment while she had much stricter parents who even pressured her to study a particular field. It felt restricting, but now she sees it was in her best interest.

The AJC recently interviewed her as part of a video story project.

The following is an excerpt:

Q: You said your grandfather really wanted to make sure you kept Vietnamese culture. Can you talk about how your family made sure you kept the Vietnamese culture?

A: We have family gatherings that we are mandatory to participate (in). … The one I remember we have at least four times a year is like a Day of the Dead toward the great-grandparents. We get together and we make food. We have a room designated for our ancestors, and no one is allowed to sit on seats, you are not allowed to take the food until the ceremony ends. It typically takes about four hours to just set up, and then the ceremony takes about an hour. We serve food, we sit around the house, we put incenses around the house to summon our ancestors so they can come and give us good fortune.

Christie (lower left) is pictured with her parents and sisters at 4 or 5 years old. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Q: Do you feel there is a burden of culture — growing up in a very strict Vietnamese household versus being surrounded by a more laid-back, American, Southern people around you being brought up differently?

A: I feel there was a barrier, but what I did was I had to bring both together just to make the best of both worlds rather than being stuck between and conflicted between the two.

Here, 5 or 6-year-old Christie poses for a fun “photo shoot” she and her sister put on. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Q: Do you feel like there was pressure to study really hard and be super successful because your family sacrificed to bring you up in America versus Vietnam?

A: Being an Asian-American, my parents are very hard on their kids, they always wanted us to do better, and they always had these set goals for us. We had to follow the layout. … But being who I am, I followed the layout, but I tweak here and there. But studying and doing schoolwork has always been a No. 1 top priority. My grandparents always tell me, say please get a job before you get married or even date.