My name is Minah Le, and I am Vietnamese American. I was born and raised in Idaho, lived there for about half my life, moved around a bit, and then came to California, where I still reside. I moved here when I transferred to the Developing Virtue Girls School at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Ukiah, California for junior high and high school. I currently attend a junior college in Northern California, and I’m an aspiring environmentalist.
Both my parents are Vietnamese people who were born in Laos. Interestingly, they didn’t actually meet in Laos but rather in Idaho. My mom was sponsored over by her siblings (who were sponsored as refugees) when she was in her early 20s.
My mom didn’t talk much about her experience, except when she makes some vague reference, like about how she had to go to night school to learn English, which was difficult for her since she didn’t learn English in Laos.
When I was little, I heard about the Vietnam War but I didn’t learn too much about it. I took U.S. history my sophomore year and we learned about the Vietnam War then, but more from the U.S. perspective and what they did. From what I remember, there was not much detail about what happened to the Vietnamese and other Southeast Asians affected by the war, or about their roles in shaping society in their new (foreign) homes. These stories need to be heard because they tell us, the first or second generation, how our parents or grandparents overcame immense difficulties in order for us to live the way we do now. I hope that immigrants’ stories will be considered significant enough to be included more in U.S. history books.
At my college, they offer a variety of U.S. history classes from different eras but only one world history class and a class about Race and Ethnic Culture in the U.S. If I had the time, I would be interested in taking the Race and Ethnic Culture in the U.S. class because it would be interesting to learn about how different ethnicities came to the U.S. and built their fortune. Millennials have the tendency to take things for granted because we grew up privileged in comparison to our parents/grandparents, so I believe that we should honor their hardship by learning about their stories, truly appreciating what we have now, such as education, and not wasting our blessings with food or clothes.
I wish that my college offered a larger variety of language classes, like Vietnamese. I can read and write a little bit of Vietnamese but not fluently. I wish that I was more fluent in it because especially with the newer generations than mine, the kids can barely speak or understand Vietnamese; they know a few words here and there, but they can’t carry a conversation. It seems like with every succeeding generation, our native language is lost. It’s very sad to see because if we went to Vietnam we cannot speak our own language. And what if our language becomes lost in the U.S. in the future?
I did get the “Ching Chong” comment before, like when other students would ask me what language I spoke, saying it sounded like “Ching Chong Ching Chong.” I was really young at the time, around 6 years old, and so I wasn’t really offended, but looking back, I’m like, “Wow, that was rude.” If those people said that to me now, I would have a different reaction.
Growing up in Idaho, I was often the only Asian in my class and it was something that I couldn't help but notice. However, I don’t recall ever being ashamed that I was Asian or ever wishing I wasn’t Asian. I remember in sixth grade, when I was playing The Sims video game, I created a Sims family called the Millers. I had a friend with the last name and I just really liked it, and so even though I made my characters with Asian features, they had a White last name.
Now that I’m older and more aware of the social and political context, I’m extremely proud to be Vietnamese, to be Southeast Asian. I embrace my culture and do not want to lose it.
I think that sexuality is a topic that most people are scared to talk about, and this needs to be addressed. Especially in the Asian community, they go on the assumption that you are hetereosexual, and I’ve heard that in a lot of families, if you come out as anything but heterosexual, it can be pretty bad. I think we as a community need to create more safe spaces to have honest and open conversations where both sides can be heard, and to encourage understanding.
Also, I noticed that in many Asian families, kids aren’t given “the talk.” Asian parents seem to try to avoid the conversation, but I believe that they should address their opinions on premarital sex and sexuality in general.
In the 50s, the way they portrayed Asians was too extreme, like the White actors in Yellowface in those Audrey Hepburn movies. The depictions were so exaggerated and based on stereotypes, and it makes you wonder, “Do I actually look like that? Do I sound like that?” Even now in this generation, Hollywood still lacks representation when it comes to Asians. For example, movies that are supposed to have Asian characters are played by White characters, like in Avatar the Last Airbender, Ghost in the Shell, Aloha, Doctor Strange and The Great Wall, to name a few.
Hollywood doesn’t give me too many Asian actors to choose a favorite from, but the ones I do know tend to be Korean, like Korean-Americans Jamie Chung and Arden Cho. The first few Asian actors I remember seeing on TV or in the movies are Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li.
I haven’t been to Vietnam, but I did go to Malaysia and Singapore. It was an interesting and super fun experience for me, and I can say without a doubt that the best part about my trip was trying all the different kinds of food. I noticed that while I was there, a lot of the areas are not as developed or as clean as in the U.S., and while their populations are somewhat diverse, I did not see a lot of Vietnamese people.
My mom is actually trying to plan a family trip to Laos and Vietnam with me and my two older brothers. She hasn’t been back to Southeast Asia since she left, but because of the lack of time and because the tickets can be expensive, we just haven’t gotten around to it yet.
A lot of people have this misconception that vegans can’t eat anything and that they are missing out on “good food” and so @veganviets was started by me and later joined by two of my friends, Lisa and Denise, as a fun way to show people that that’s not true at all. The reason why I chose the name veganviets was because I originally planned for it to be a channel featuring Vietnamese food since a lot of Vietnamese dishes are already vegan or can be easily veganized. For example, a lot of Vietnamese desserts use coconut milk instead of cow’s milk, and tapioca is made of starch. And any kind of meat in dishes can easily be replaced with tofu or mock meat. However, now @veganviets has grown to include all kinds of food! Our main goals are to show that vegans eat a lot of really good food, to showcase places where you can find delicious vegan food (even at non-vegan places!) and to share our recipes (the secret is all in the seasonings and sauce).
Also, many people assume that Vietnamese food revolves around phở, but there are countless other equally delicious foods. My mom is the one who really instilled in me this love of food and cooking. I grew up eating all kinds of homemade Vietnamese-Laotian fusion dishes made especially by my mother. She is actually known as the best cook in my family, so I am quite lucky! Since I was little, I enjoyed watching my mom work her magic in the kitchen, which is how I learned to cook: by observing and experimenting. Eating delicious and authentic meals encouraged me to recreate those dishes so that I can share them, and it also heightened my love and appreciation for food. I haven’t been to that many Vietnamese restaurants in the Bay Area, but I would suggest Green Lotus in San Jose.
If I had to choose my top three Vietnamese dishes, I would have to say:
I was inspired to become a vegan out of compassion for the animals, for the earth (the environmental aspect), and my health. I was a vegetarian for roughly 10 years because I had found out about animal cruelty at animal farms and slaughterhouses, and I later decided to become a vegan because I learned that the conditions were just as tortuous at dairy farms, that the animals were still suffering. I’ve been vegan for roughly 3 years and am still an avid foodie. Veganism is not only a diet, but it's a lifestyle!
To see more droolworthy photos, be sure to follow @veganviets on Instagram!