So last week while at the Malmö Festival I spotted the Mrs. Saigon booth! I made a mental note that this was somewhere I needed to try. My parents are Vietnamese immigrants living in California. Their story is rather crazy and interesting. My father was a pilot in the Vietnam War fighting against communism, he flew the huge chinook helicopter.
In 1975, when the war ended my parents were refugees. They along with a few relatives were sponsored by an wonderful American family in Tennessee, which is where they first landed. My sister was born in Tennessee and was named after the woman that had sponsored our family, her name was Daisy. Arriving with nothing and not knowing the language or culture, my father earned his engineering degree at the University of Tennessee and quickly found a job as an engineer for IBM. They moved the family to California and that is where I was born in the Silicon Valley.
Growing up as an American in an immigrant household was challenging. I had known nothing of the war or the struggles my parents had faced. I was an American and didn’t want to associate myself with my Vietnamese heritage. My father forced me to take Vietnamese language lessons every Sunday which eventually ended. I didn’t think it was useful. What kid wants to spend 6 days a week in school? So I didn’t learn as much as I could have and I regret it. So when it came to food, I always wanted American food. All day every day. I didn’t like eating rice and would leave my plate full if I had to. I was a stubborn kid and I didn’t realize that I would one day grow to miss it.
As I grew older and matured, I began craving Vietnamese food. I would eat it at least once a week and more if I could. I couldn’t understand why I started to need this, but then I realized that it’s the only thing that I truly know about my culture. My father is very tight-lipped about the war, so I don’t ask him about. He’s a pilot that is now afraid of heights, I imagine he has seen some terrible things.
When making the decision to move to Sweden, that was one thing I worried about… would I completely lose the little bit of my culture I had left? I’m a Vietnamese American living in Sweden… my future children will be Swedish and will have more of the Macedonian influences. My Vietnamese roots will be completely wiped out except for the fact that they may look a little Asian. I was so beyond ecstatic to see this Mrs. Saigon booth at the festival and felt that if I ever needed a reminder of who I am… I could always come here. Food does have that power, to take you back to childhood or a time and place you remember. There is a certain comfort in eating food that is familiar even if I’m a world away. I’m not a foodie just because I love to eat, but it’s because I connect with food on a different level.