Stealing Buddha’s Dinner

“I read to be alone. I read so as not to be so alone.”

 

I just finished reading Stealing Buddha’s Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen that my friend and fellow English major gave me months ago. It’s about the cultural-conflicts a Vietnamese-born American girl faces growing up in Michigan. Basically. So much of it resonated with the same feelings I felt growing up. I’ll admit, that her’s seemed intensified by also having a Mexican stepmother and a fixation on food, but my own story is intensified in different ways.

I wrote to my friend, Harry, thanking him for the book and confessing that it made me want to write about my own family again. When I was little, I wanted to be a writer. I was convinced that I was going to be the next great American writer :). I would begin many cliched stories that I never finished. Then, in my junior year of high school, I was accepted into this special program through a local college to take a university course over the summer. Of course what else would I choose but the English course: Autobiographical Reading and Writing. I had never considered writing about myself, but I realized after taking that class that it was something that was much more do-able for me because I knew how the character felt and how the story ended. My professor was really encouraging  and I loved the class. By the end, we had to combine our three, five-page assignments into what was supposed to be a flowing 15-page vignette of moments in our lives.

I love reading memoirs: Jenneatte Walls, Frank McCourt, Betty Smith, Amy Tan, Dave Eggers…. I always admire how brave they are to write about their own crazy families and share with the world their intimate feelings. I always think I could never do that. What would my family think? My mom would scoff and make her clicking Vietnamese disapproval noise, most likely.

But what do you think? Who would want to read it? Even a book like Nguyen’s, I wonder who would want to read it besides other Asian-American or “outsiders” or people who are forced to read it in class.

It reminded me of my strong desire to Americanize when I was little, my harsh denial of my Vietnamese culture. I longed for American food and snacks, like Bich. I remember our unkempt yard, wanting more than anything for our house to be like all my American friends (I still do). Having my blond, blue-eyed friends all throughout elementary school and wanting to be more like them. Visiting their house, trying to absorb all the normalness their homes exuded. At the same time, feeling out of place in my own Vietnamese family. None of us had an ao dais which was a constant embarrassment during family holidays, my dad didn’t (doesn’t) work and is the abrasive black sheep of the family, and my parent never taught as Vietnamese because they thought it would hold is back in school so we always had to face the disappointment of our relatives when they tried to communicate with us…

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