natalie & jaylie
Natalie and Jaylie from Frederick, Maryland met our editors while visiting a local Korean grocery store in New Jersey. They shared with us how difficult it was to fit in as Vietnamese-Americans in Frederick and their frustration with racism from all sides.
Samantha: So if you’d like to start with your cultural identity, what it means to you, how it connects to you today—whatever you feel comfortable sharing, really.
Natalie: Well, I’m-we’re both Vietnamese. We both talk it, and we’re traveling to Vietnam this summer-next summer? I think it’s next summer, I don’t really remember. Yeah, because Covid is right now, but we’re traveling there to see my grandparents. I don’t know about hers.
And we both talk Vietnamese. We usually talk it in the house and everything so everyone understands it.
Serena: Is there a school you go to learn the language?
Natalie: No, no we don’t. We’re not from here, actually. I’m from Frederick, yeah, we’re both from Maryland.
Serena: Oh, see, Sam and I actually went to a Chinese school for like six years?
Samantha: Not a fun time at all (laughs). But we were lucky since, like, at least there were enough Chinese-Americans in New Jersey for that community to even be possible.
Jaylie: Yeah, we live in Maryland. But there’s like no Vietnamese community there, it’s just us, so we just learned and spoke Vietnamese with our family.
Samantha: Cool, okay, so why don’t you tell us what it’s like growing up in Maryland? For me, I’m Chinese and I’m from New Jersey, and even though that very obviously makes me a “minority,” there’s still such a large Asian—and Chinese—community around here, as you’ve probably figured out (laughs). So what was it like for you? Was there ever a sense of outsiderism or did you live in a more accepting place?
Natalie: It was pretty accepting for me, I think, I—(Jaylie shaking head)
Serena: (to Jaylie) Not for you?
Jaylie: Well, where I was from, there was a lot of Hispanic and African-American kids. They didn’t really accept me, and I used to get bullied a lot, actually. But now, I just accept it.
Natalie: For me, it wasn’t my ethnicity that I’d get bullied for? There were a lot of other things I’d get bullied about, but it was never that. I mean, we were all friends so it was just, like, little jokes, but sometimes we went a little too far. But for the most part it was really accepting.
Samantha: Yeah, and side note, I think that’s what really bothers me about racism toward Asian-Americans. It’s done so casually that it’s kind of just joking with friends, if someone shouts something out, it feels uncomfortable to stop the conversation, but it does happen a lot. So, yeah, I definitely understand you on that one.
Serena: How has the recent violence against Asian-Americans made you feel? Or how has your family reacted to it?
Natalie: My family personally has felt really strongly. They’ve been really upset by it. I’ve been really upset about it too, because I’m like, why did they have to do it to us? And more why did they have to do it to old Asian people? That’s so messed up.
Jaylie: For me, I haven’t really experienced it yet. But I have seen videos on it where people are just very racist to Asians. And it’s just that they just do this thing where they stand very far away from them, acting like they have the coronavirus or whatever.
Serena: Yeah, I remember this time where I was walking my dog and this woman was like veering away from me.
Samantha: Or I guess we heard this story from this person who was just standing in Costco, coughed, and then the entire store turned around to glare at them.
Natalie: Yeah, insane.
Serena: Last question now, what does equality to look like to you?
Natalie: I feel like, like, treating everyone the same. Like no difference. Because there’s different people who go through, I guess—like in Maryland, people treat their own people better. Like Hispanic people treat Hispanic people better, and black people treat black people better, white people treat white people better.
Jaylie: Or we have these ideas like, oh, Asians do this. And Hispanic people do this, and black people do this, and white people do this.
Natalie: Just like treat us all the same.
Jaylie: ‘Cause we are all the same.
Natalie: There’s nothing really that's different.