First generation experience

March 5, 2021

So actually, my family is a first generation American family, and I'm part of that first generation being born in America, growing up in North Carolina, and just going through the school system. And so that was quite an experience, because I began in public schools, before transitioning to a Catholic school around eighth grade. And for me, that was a little bit of a culture shock, because in public school, you have a mix, and just a very diverse group of people, especially in magnet schools in North Carolina. But then once I transitioned to Catholic schools, that's where I entered a predominantly white school system.

I would say, based on the community that's surrounding me, I definitely code switch to feel more—to be perceived even as more so a person belonging to that community. So at Notre Dame, it's a little more proper, it's just English, but at home, you know, there's just a shift in the mannerisms, and what is perceived as whiteness. And I've definitely gotten a lot of comments after coming home from college, from my parents, and even my siblings and other people in the Vietnamese community, about like, "Oh, you're so white now." And I would say that's more, because those cultural cues that are typically associated with White America have kind of been a little more ingrained and rooted in how I carry myself day to day. And so when I go home and it's more colloquial, and it's just the way people perceive the different mannerisms, I've seen a little bit more, "oh, you're the educated kid, you're the one that went off to college." And I'm not seen as you know, the Vietnamese kid who immigrated in his teens to America. And so there's a very distinct difference. And I would say part of that struggle is, due to the fact that being born in America, and not really—even though I had that really nice community, all the kids spoke English. And so I didn't really end up having—I can understand Vietnamese fine, however, conversations, it's a little bit more of a struggle to me. I can get my ideas across, but the nuances in the language, there's a lot of things that I can't quite capture or understand.

That's part of my identity and I own up to it. So there's not much—I wouldn't say there's any sort of shame in being like, "oh, you're Whitewashed," or like, "Oh, you act so White now," or, you know, this and that, that doesn't really bother me. However, it does signal that like, you know, that difference of, "This is who we are, we're immigrants from Vietnam, we know our roots," and the distancing of that. So, "Oh, you're White, you don't really understand your own roots or what it's like in Vietnam." And so that's been a little bit of a challenge, especially coming back home, but I can only work with what I got, you know?

Devon Ngo

Devon Ngo is a senior majoring in chemical engineering.