Some of you know me or know of me. Some of you do not. My name is Carolyn Dawn Tran. I am the second child of Thanh and Lan Tran and the only daughter. I am also the first child of both sides of my family to be born in Canada.
While my mother spoke about her struggles adapting as an adult, my older brother Kien spoke about the struggles he faced as a young man; my experience was unique from both of theirs. As an adult, my mother solidified what it meant to be Vietnamese, having a harder time incorporating Canadian culture. My brother knew what it meant to be Vietnamese; he was born and raised there. He had to learn what it meant to be Canadian but he was young enough to adapt. I, on the other hand, needed to learn what it meant to be both Vietnamese and Canadian, living in two worlds from a very young age.
Raising a child in your non-native homeland culminates fears and worries. Do we give her an English name so she fits in or do we give her a Vietnamese one? What about her English – maybe we should put her in English lessons? She seems to be starting to write with her left hand. Is that acceptable here? Maybe let’s change it so she’s right handed. Her future… she needs to know education is her freedom to more, to not live like we do now. We will teach her the alphabet, numbers, and math all before she will learn them in school. Most of all, protect her in every way so that she can have a life we dreamed of. These were the thoughts going through my parents’ minds for years and years until I was on my own.
Those that know me never knew that I always felt different. I was not truly “Canadian” but I was not truly “Vietnamese” either. In many ways, I became a teacher to my parents about a culture that they still had a hard time adjusting to while simultaneously trying to figure out my own. I really did live in two worlds and they would clash often. You could say I was the child that rebelled. I was not the typical obedient Vietnamese girl. I talked back. I played sports. I snuck out so I could do “normal” teenage things. And despite the inclusiveness and the acceptance that I received growing up, every once in awhile I’d be reminded that I was different. One time I was told, “You’re actually normal like everyone else.” What the heck does that mean!? Why wouldn’t I be? And you’d be surprised to know that I’ve heard “Chink” come in my direction and it was said without a thought or batting an eye.
One foot in this world and one in the other and all the struggles with it, these experiences were what would lead me to my education and career in social work. I would come to help others in similar ways the community of Wynyard helped my family. My primary area of interest in my field would become international and multicultural social work, and in particular, issues faced by immigrants and refugees. My masters research would take me back to my roots and to Vietnam; I would find the missing pieces of what it meant to be Vietnamese. Today I have a home to call my own, an education surpassing my parents’ expectations, jobs that allows me to foster my interests and skills with mentors who constantly remind me of the potential I have, and the freedom to play and explore.
You see, my parents sacrificed absolutely everything to come here and then upon arriving, they sacrificed even more to give me every small thing that has led to where I am now. I cannot credit them entirely though. This would not have happened if a community had not given a family a chance and opportunities to build a life that could not be built in their homeland.