By Tuan-Rishard F. Schneider
While in college in Madison, Wisconsin, I became more aware of racism. It wasnt
till I was shopping, socially drinking, or playing soccer, when I started to
hear the rudest racial comments. Coming from a bigger city, things like chink,
gook or whatever was never really heard. Only when I got to college
at a private catholic college playing soccer did I freak out hearing that. While
playing in a game in Green Bay, Wisconsin, against the state team, did I hear
from the stands Take that chink out! Hes going to hurt someone!
Yes my style was aggressive, to single me out wasnt that bad if they were
to mention my number on my jersey
but they didnt. They singled me
out due to my ethnicity and used a very derogative word to cut me down. Very
immature and red neck I thought. I didnt let it bother me
the first year playing soccer. But after the second year and third year, it
got to me, and I played even nastier. I even started to yell back at the fans,
and when the captains of my team told me to blow it off, I got even angrier.
As I even asked the coach to say something to the referees, who were not only
blind but also deaf. Being the only Asian in the conference I had no one to
talk to about this. No one could relate, help defend me or support me when I
needed it the most. Being away from home in another state, my parents couldnt
always be there, but by phone only. As the years passed, I noticed more diversity
within the conference, and could talk to the other players from other teams.
As we are still friends now and still shake our heads about the things we heard.
As the drive back from the games made me hate the state of Wisconsin even more, and a grudge against white people, I found myself getting into bar fights. It started one weekend, to another one, and then finally till I was so bad, that people wouldnt want to go out with me wondering if I was going to cause trouble. Alcohol and anger really dont mix I have learned. As my years in Madison became longer and an introduction to another Vietnamese guy, Vu, I started to feel a little more accepted. Talking with him, I noticed he had somewhat an identity situation too. His parents taught him Vietnamese as he spoke it only at home, but while growing up, he too wanted to just fit in. His English was perfect and his likeness between us helped me feel comfortable meeting his parents and hang out with him. I met another Vietnamese student who was like Vu, I connected the two, and the three of us were always together on the weekends. Minh Nguyen, Vu Nguyen, and me, Tuan Nguyen. Funny how that looks; we all had the same last name and hung out together. They were my support group in teaching me some of the culture I missed by taking me into their homes and eating with their families, taking me to the Tet celebration and basically making me feel comfortable with them. For once, I felt as if I was getting my roots back. It wasnt much, but a start. Even though I wasnt completely a part of their family I felt just as close to them as my parents for the time I spent in Madison, WI. I still felt a little uncomfortable when I couldnt completely understand the conversations, knowing they were about me, but it was a factor I had to learn. When I told my new buddies whom I considered cousins about my trip to Colorado, they asked me if it was going to be like the Baltimore reunion. I wasnt sure, but I did know that I was excited and looking forward to it.
While in Colorado, I noticed a few things: a division between adoptees, which lead to acceptance of others. Its expected that way when people are all thrown together for the first time under our circumstances that there will be some sort of division. The reunion started and finished with hugs and joyful smiles, and ended in questions. The first night as we were set up in dormitory rooms with 5 people per room, most of us being college graduates, my room decided to throw a party, inviting everyone including parents. The next few days were learning days about some of our missing pasts and how we were prepared and finally brought to America and other countries. The one conference I attended that moved me the most emotionally was that of the fathers of the adoptees. Many people recognize and feel for the mothers who released or placed their children up for adoption. Many of us Vietnamese adoptees are children of American or other foreign fathers who fought in the war, otherwise known as GI Babies. Many young men had fallen in love with the beautiful women of Viet Nam, and may have gone back into the jungles to fight and die or were injured and returned back to America, or whatever country that helped the South Vietnamese army. Returning home injured wasnt easy for the fathers who may have lost their friends in combat, but also leaving a loved one behind was even harder. A loved one whom may have had one of us.
The last day of our reunion we formed an organization, which is called VAN, the Vietnamese Adoptee Network. As the days came to an end, we again said our farewells and open new doors to new people, but we werent sure about is when we would have another great gathering as we just did the last two reunions. The people who organized them in past years now gave the future reunions and gatherings to us to organize.
By Tuan-Rishard F. Schneider
As VAN was being formed, a difficulty arose: how do we organize VAN when were all over the United States? As things died down a little bit, people started to take initiative and step forward as leaders, which eventually was a calling for a conference meeting in Chicago. We met with an astonishing woman from Australia who has formed her own organization called AVI, Adopted Vietnamese International. Through the technology of the Internet, we would chat with her on various instant messengers and exchanged numerous e-mails. Finally, as we set a date for our Chicago meeting, we eventually met the very active and dedicated Indigo Williams, founder of AVI. She introduced our organization to another resource and source of encouragement, Linh Lam of Mam Non. What AVI brought to us was the international aspect of connecting to the Vietnamese Adoptees. What Mam Non brought to the meeting was looking at the next generations of Vietnamese adoptees. Mam Non was formed to be supportive towards families with adoptees from Viet Nam, and for those families that are Vietnamese adopting from Viet Nam. With these two resources that are already established, it would be easier to incorporate our organization. AVI has reached out to the international adoptees, and we (VAN) want to reach out to the national ones. As we have the adoptees to help with speaking on panels, or forums, we now looked to share our experiences. But with who and how? Fortunately enough, we met another established organization called the Catalyst Foundation. As Public Relations & Media Liaisons for AVI and VAN, a speaker for Mam Non, and a board member of the Catalyst Foundation, I have incorporated myself to help each one connect with one another. Thus, a Vietnamese Adoptees Heritage Camp is being held in Minnesota. As our organization has reached out to other adoptees, we are able to help the Catalyst organization fill in the counselor positions for Vietnamese adoptees to be counselors, as Mam Non is willing to help draw both parents and adoptees to the camp. In just 6 months of the first reunion, many great opportunities and organizations have popped up to show support and leadership towards my generation and the future generations to come.
I now have a new job. A job I wake up in the morning and love going to: I work for the Childrens Home Society of Minnesota, the same agency that I was adopted through when I was younger. I dont get to work directly with adoption, but as one of the very active and verbally proud Vietnamese adoptees that work there, I do get all the concerns and questions working with Vietnamese adoptees. As the Executive Assistant to the Vice President, I do get to get better hands-on feeling of what its like to work for a very successful (NPO) non-profit organization. And from this experience I have been incorporating my knowledge and education to help VAN and the other organizations out. I finally found my ideal job that ties my full time work within my extra-circular activities and involvement within the Vietnamese and adopted Vietnamese community.