Who’s your family? Sometimes it’s the people we choose, and sometimes it’s those we’re born to. In the case of two Colorado State University students, these relationships are works in progress. Myvy Ngo talks about the evolution of her relationship with her parents who immigrated from Vietnam, and another discusses the familial roles different family members and friends have played at various times in her life. Listen to their conversation above, or read on for a full transcript.
Anonymous: My family is, well, my parents, their parents, and so on, my cousins and siblings. I also have like non-blood related family, which is my friends and people who are basically like family, but they’re not. But I feel like that’s not a necessity. To be considered family I think it’s someone who is there for you and someone who supports you. And so that’s my family.
Myvy Ngo: Cool. What’s your relationship like with them?
Anonymous: Um…Depends on the family because my mom, we have a very strong relationship. I talk to her – not so often now – but when I was at home, our hour-long drive would just be full of conversation and like singing whatever song was on the radio. I sound horrible. She sounds way better.
Anonymous: That’s besides the point. My dad – it’s a little different because they divorced when I was young and so I always saw my dad as the person I would visit on the weekends and the individual who I played video games with, but wasn’t really strict. So my mom always resented that.
In my eyes, she was the mature parent and she was the parent I would come to (for) homework, whereas if I got into a fight or I just wanted to go bowling or something I would contact my dad. So it was a very different aspect of how I saw my parents. And in both aspects they were jealous of one another just because they were lacking the opposite.
And with my friends, we’re kind of like all equals in that sort of sense so we see each other as siblings. The relationship’s just different. It’s hard to explain. I mean – they’re just my friends.
Myvy: So how does relationships affect who you are today?
Anonymous: I feel like just being a youthful, angsty teenager I couldn’t go to my parents for some sort of things so I would rely on my family of friends for those issues. And although their advice may not have been sound all the time, it was useful to just let it out and talk to them.
And my parents, they shaped how I was as a child to a teenager to present day. It’s different because of course your parents do have an expectation of what they want you to be.
So there’s a sense of, “I know I am me because of you, but then you also have to realize that I won’t be like the person you want me to be because I am my own individual.”
It’s a developmental relati onship as you grow older, that you’re your parents.
Just like going to college is a new experience and I kinda had a thought in my head that I was just going to go for my four years. You know, like, not talk to anyone, not go out and be part of communities and everything. But that changed. And I found out I’m a more social individual than I thought I was.
And I see a lot of myself in my young study. (Looks to friend at back of room).
Anonymous: And so I’m trying to just try to introduce the challenge of opportunity by choice, and just stepping outside or expanding your boundaries because I think relationships help you discover stuff about yourself that you don’t know or leave under a rug or something. I think that relationships have shaped me in that way since I got to college.
Myvy: Is there. Like, something specific that has occurred since coming to college or just through your relationships that has changed the way you look at things?
Anonymous: Just the diversity — I mean it’s not really diverse but like it’s diverse enough just based on the high school I went to. And not in race or ethnicity, but more in just, like, thoughts – and how people view different areas.
I’ve been in California my whole life so when you go to college people from all over the state are just thrown into one area. So I think the attraction’s just having someone who maybe wasn’t allowed to hang around guys because that wasn’t socially accepted, or knowing someone who has a vegan lifestyle because that’s how they were raised, or someone who comes from a more religious background.
That’s all shaped how I perceive the world and my experience and how I think now.
Myvy: Thanks for sharing.
Anonymous: Who’s your family?
Myvy: Um, my family consists of my mom and dad and two brothers and a dog named Milo who my mom calls her baby and so Milo gets to eat before any of us do because Milo’s–
Anonymous: I know that feeling.
Also grew up in California. But my parents immigrated from Vietnam. It came into play in how I grew up and how my brothers and I just see things very differently.
They didn’t meet in Vietnam or anything. They came here then somehow ended up meeting.
My brothers and I grew up at a fish store – like at an aquarium, so we’d catch fish like Nemo and, like, sell ‘em to people.
Myvy: So that was pretty cool growing up.
And then just grew up speaking Vietnamese and going to Vietnamese school and going to Vietnamese scouts and everything like that.
Anonymous: You kind of touched on your relationship with them but is there anything else you wanted to add?
Myvy: (Laughs.) Sure! My relationship with my mom is great. We’ve been working on it, and that’s been really cool. We had a huge argument maybe sometime in undergrad. I just talked to her and was like, “Hey, there’s all these gaps between us,” — whether that’s just a generational gap, language, education, like all these different things. It makes it really hard to be able to communicate well and it’s really affected our relationship growing up and how I view her and everything like that.
I think by being able to name it, we’ve been able to work through it a lot more, and that’s been really cool, like right before coming here I talked to her on the phone and it’s great.
With my dad though – my parents are going through a divorce at the moment and so I don’t really talk to my dad at all ‘cos he’s a very traditional Vietnamese guy.
Most of the time his thing is, “Oh, you think you’re in college or in grad school so you’re so smart, and you don’t have to listen to me any more,” while also wanting me to respect him and see things his way in regards to gender roles and identity and all those different pieces – without knowing that he’s trying to push that on to me. And so it’s a work in progress.
And then with my brothers it’s great. I think what you were saying of how relationships develop as you grow older – my brothers and I, we get to text and we hang out.
It’s cool to see how I try not to force them into talking about the same things that I like talking about. Llike I could talk about social justice or identity for days and be okay, and like, kinda just nudge them and be like, “Hey, maybe you wanna try out this workshop at your undergrad,” and seeing that they actually go and do those things on their own without me having to say I think has been really cool too and so we have some really cool conversations about that. Trying to convince them to go watch “Zootopia” at the moment so we can go break it down! Everything ties back to “Zootopia.”
Myvy: My little brother, he’s not that little. He’s a junior in college. Mostly recently I just talked to him and he just told me, “Myvy, I’m going through an existential crisis.”
I was like, “Dude! Are you, like, high right now?”
And he was like, “No! I was thinking about the week before this and realizing I couldn’t remember anything that had just happened. Don’t really remember what I did or how was it significant and realized I couldn’t go back and change it. So now I was just like sitting here –” he’s an RA – “with my RAs and we were having a staff dinner. I took a step back and just thought, ‘Wow. I wanna soak in this moment. Just gonna, like, snapshot in my head.’ And then just thought, ‘How do I keep doing that?’
And he’s talking to me. And this is some guy, who my freshman year of college, I called him and just said, “Hey, how’s it going, Calvin?”
“What are you up to?”
“How’s school going?”
Anonymous: That’s me right now.
Myvy: And then he just, like, hangs up and that’s it. And to him, being able to tell me what he’s working through at the moment, I think that was just really helpful because I saw my brother not just as this little boy any more but as this guy who’s really trying to figure out life. And he reminded me to think about how I’m soaking in moments as well.
He’s crazy awesome, but also a little bit crazy in that he just said, “With our grandparents I want to hang out with them more because they’re going to die one day and I should probably talk to them.”
And I was like, “Dude, holy cow.”
Or like, “I need to practice my Vietnamese more because I’m losing it. And even though I don’t agree with anything our dad says I need to call him every week because there’s going to be a time when he’s not in my life.”
I’m like, “I’m not at that level right now, but you are incredible, so you go, dude.”
Produced and facilitated by Sara Hayden
Recorded in Fort Collins, Colo.
Date of recording March 31, 2016
Special thanks to Colorado State University’s Asian Pacific American Cultural Center, GLBTQQA Resource Center, and Asian Pacific American Student Association
Music: “Figure It Out (F# Major)” by Hobbes
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
Let’s Talk Story is a program about identity where you’re invited to share an anecdote from your lived experiences in the form of a live conversation, short oral history, or written essay. The goal is to keep a record that connects the past to the present, and bring our stories to life. Participate here.