hometown talent for the long haul
I come off full-time orders and out of the structure that has delayed my manic soul for most of ten months straight. What am I to be this time around? A recent and lengthiest ever tour of leaving then returning home feeling adrift, yet again, confined me into self-examination of that most neglected corner in my narrative. I left in December last year for military training. It was to be the onset of a career intended to establish long-term prospects after a lifetime of vagueness. Born into my dynamic Vietnamese-American enclave of Little Saigon, I grew up utterly bored by the cultural riches laid out before me. Adventure, greatness, a more compelling clique; they were promised in that all too distant “elsewhere.” Excursions to Northern California, to Wyoming, and finally to Texas and back proved a lackluster (but sometimes moving, depending on my headspace upon reflection) string of attempted re-settlements.
Now, nearly a decade removed from high-school, marginal gains in the What is he up to now? game are undermined in part by arriving at my foreseeable and original home. I come from an epicenter of multi-generational Vietnamese, packed across strip malls and suburban homes on either side of the 22 spanning Garden Grove and Westminster. Among stretches of white Lexus SUVs driving down the Bolsa Avenue is the aroma of beef broth in the distance. At dusk, signs in Vietnamese and Mandarin and English emerge underneath postcard streaks of pink and orange sky. Streetlights are marked with banners showcasing the universities (and a few military services) the graduated hometown youth have since earned their way into. There is plenty of something here, I concede. And it’s through a proactive and disciplined curiosity for the food, for the film, literature, and family that I grapple with my version of what it means to be American. This Monday I start the Vietnamese language class, on a Lunar New Year’s Eve. This Year of the Tiger will be the one in which I really reconcile those disparate parts of me while staying true to all that is contradictory. From there I will emerge, vibrant and convinced to further chart one of many paths forward.