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.
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.
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.
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.
In this special series, four young adults share stories about their experiences as first-generation Americans, from the challenges they encountered growing up in the United States to the rewards they reaped blending their heritage with American culture. Go to www.myajc.com to read more and to see all four video stories.
AJC’s RE: Race seeks to foster a constructive, respectful conversation about race and ethnicity in Georgia. It may not be comfortable and you may not always agree. But the conversation is what’s important. Go to www.myajc.com/race to read more.