AAPI Month Interview Series: Linh Tran
This is an interview of Linh Tran Tsang conducted by the leaders of Asian American Association (Kalia Lai, Julia Liu, Kayla Long, and Nato Yeung).
Kalia: Can you give a quick introduction of yourself and how you identify within the AAPI community?
Linh: Hi, I’m Linh! I work in the Main Office, and I identify as Chinese-Vietnamese.
Nato: How has your heritage shaped the person you are today?
Linh: I think it’s everything that I am today. So much of it comes from my mom and dad’s heritage, and it’s just [that] it’s kind of overwhelming to think the age that I am right now is the age that my parents were when we smuggled out of Vietnam in a cargo ship. And I see my kids, and they’re the age that I was when we were trying to leave, and to think that at this moment they were like trying to pack up their entire lives to move somewhere new, it just blows my mind.
Nato: Does your family have any traditions that are especially important to you?
Linh: You know, so many of the traditions that we’ve had have actually been about acclimating to the American culture. We’re Buddhists, but we celebrate Christmas. We’re also really big about Thanksgiving, so I think a lot of the traditions are about trying to acclimate to the American culture, but then I think there are a lot of traditions in my family that try to help us preserve our Chinese and Vietnamese culture. And, of course, not surprisingly, it’s all-around food. I kind of learned the seasons of the year around the type of food my mom would make. So like in the fall, it’s all about mooncakes, and there’s the whole dragon boat season in the summertime, and she also was really big on making these yule logs at Christmas time, and so I kind of know the seasons on the different things we would eat.
Kalia: Do you think you have any traditions that are unique to Chinese or Vietnamese Americans? Or do you think they’ve all become sort of a blend?
Linh: Definitely the stuff that happens around Lunar New Year, with the red envelopes, the opening year dinner, and some of the superstitious stuff that we do. On a more serious scale, for funerals and wedding traditions, we do a lot of stuff, and it kind of makes you think. When I do those things, I feel like time has frozen, and I’m doing something that I don’t question, but I’m doing it because my mom did it, and she did it because her mom did it.
So, a lot of the funeral processes and things like that when someone passes away and the traditions that we do, like I don’t question it. And a lot of the wedding stuff, like offerings to the gods, and things like that, I do those things, and I don’t know that I believe in them in the way my mom and my grandmother used to, but I still do them, because I think it’s part of our tradition to carry on.
Kayla: This past year, there’s been an exponential rise in hate-filled action towards members of the AAPI community. What does showing up to support the AAPI community both internally and externally look like to you?
Linh: There is this amazing organization that I’ve been following called the Cut Fruit Collective, and I think it’s based out of Oakland. The commonality that they found in a variety of Asian cultures [is] they find all parents like to cut fruit for their kids, peel fruit and have it ready, in the fridge and at the availability. And their thought is that our parents took care of us in a little way like that, and this is a time when we can do something little to take care of them, and so it’s a little overwhelming.
Thankfully, my mom is not in the Bay Area and is not really affected by the stuff that’s happening here, but I definitely look at my in-laws a little differently, and I offer to go to the grocery store for them and try and take care of them. I think we are definitely in a position where it’s kind of really scary for our older family members to live their daily lives, and it’s a struggle for me because I don’t know if it’s the same with your grandparents, but they’re really stubborn.
So, there’s the part of me that’s battling all the Asian hate stuff, and there’s a cultural thing of respect and listening to your elders—having to fight them to take care of them because they’re being really stubborn. They want to go to the grocery store, they want to do the thing that they want to do, and you’re trying to protect them, and they don’t want to be protected, so it’s kind of a funky dance between the two.
Julia: What does AAPI Heritage Month mean to you?
Linh: Okay, so I was thinking about this, and when I was growing up, this didn’t exist. And so, in my lifetime, to have a month that’s dedicated to celebrating is kind of amazing to me. Growing up in Bakersfield and I remember every time I went to a bookstore, and I would see a book that had Asian characters in it, I would jump at the chance to buy it. If it was a television show that had an Asian person in it, that wasn’t part of the Chinese dramas that we would import from Hong Kong; I was so excited.
To actually have an entire month dedicated to seeing the rise in Asian actors and actresses and performers, like every time I see Awkwafina performing in something, with all these amazing artists, I’m like, how is this in my lifetime? You know, it’s just amazing to me. So I think that it feels like such an honor to get the recognition and just the moment to share our culture, ‘cause I sometimes think, especially with Asians in general, they’re kind of pushed off to the side a little bit. They’re more of a supporting role; they’re kind of in a different realm, and to actually have some highlights is pretty awesome.
Nato: Is there anything else you want to add at the end of this interview?
Linh: The one thing that I would add is that when I started working here 18 years ago, there was no AAA. It started out as a group of friends that wanted to hang out together. There was one general POC club, and I think that maybe there was a Black Student Union that had just developed, and a small group of kids who were friends were like, let’s start AAA or let’s start an Asian American club. And to think that over time, what we’ve grown this club to be, and now that we’ve got all these other offshoots of clubs to represent different Asian cultures, is kind of stunning. To think that we’ve come up with traditions now, that if they don’t happen, people miss it—like we’ve got different annual markers that we do as a club, and that just makes my heart so happy.