Introspection

This is my paper that is due today for my Theories of Second Language Acquisition course and it's an analysis of my personal social and cultural linguistic location. It's about 7 pages long double-spaced, so brace yourself if you decide to go further. It gives a perspective of how my background influenced my road to literacy and how it would contribute to me being a teacher one day. I thought it would be a good post for my future grandkids when I start to catch a breath for every sentence =). Enjoy!

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It was spring of 1980 when my parents received news of possibly being sponsored towards a new life in America. In hope for a better future, my parents decided to take this leap of faith and took my older brother, Minh and cousin, Hieu along the journey. On their way to Thailand by boat, they experienced some turbulence and were only half a mile way from the shore. In an effort to keep the children safe, all of the parents decided to move their children into the smaller boat and send them to land first. However, it was unsuccessful due to the strong current of the thunderstorm. In a blink of an eye and one enormous wave, the parents gasped as they witness the loss of their children into the sea. It was a sad and gloomy beginning for everyone. Upon arrival, my parents were discomforted and heartbroken as they think about the loss of their first son and nephew.

My mother was 7 months pregnant when she arrived in Thailand. Luckily, she was pregnant and all the guards in Thailand left her alone. For those women who were not due for delivery, they were raped and abused. The guards also took the men away and had them imprison for a month, along with those men was my father. My mother had to take care of herself for a whole month in a foreign country while waiting for the release of my father. Once they discharged my father, my parents felt a sense of relief they were no longer alone and waited for my arrival. I was born on June 5th, 1980 in Songkla, Thailand. They named me, Tam Minh Thi Vu. Tam stood for compassion, Minh was my deceased brother’s first name and Thi is a common middle name, which represented female.

After two months of immersing themselves into the culture of Thailand, my parents received news of sponsorship to America and sent a family photo of us to our sponsors. We set foot in Northville, Michigan in the middle of December and were greeted by our sponsors, Mr. John, Ms. Peggy and a group of students. They collectively as a group raised enough money to sponsor my family to America and were able to embrace us into their culture. Northville, Michigan is a very nice and quaint town. The people are friendly and the crime rate was low.

Mr. John and Mrs. Peggy housed my parents for a year before my parents moved out to their own place. Within those two years, my parents learned how to speak, drive, cook and assimilate themselves into the culture. They were placed in a language development program to learn the grammar and pronunciation of the English language. As for me, Mr. John and Mrs. Peggy thought it would be best for me to be placed in a daycare program. Although Vietnamese was my first primary language, I was able to emulate and learn from the other kids at the daycare I attended, which included small phrases and habits enabling me to become bilingual. Furthermore, I was able to spend a lot of time with Mr. John and Mrs. Peggy’s family. They always made time to take care and embrace me into their home and culture. As an infant, I learned the meaning of biculturalism, a life consisting of Vietnamese and American values.

My family’s encounter with them was one to never forget because it was a stepping-stone to their future. As much as they loved the relationships they have strengthened throughout the two years, my parents were not accustomed to the winter in Michigan since they came from a tropical climate. They then decided to move to a warmer climate and heard California would be best from a friend at the refugee camp in Thailand.

When we first moved to California, we started out living in Chinatown. Even though we were of Asian descent, my family was not able to communicate with many civilians since it was predominantly Chinese. One of the benefits in living in California was the food because it was similar to our culture and my parents were able to cook and prepare the meals they enjoy. It was an entirely different scene compared to Northville, Michigan. Northville was more suburbia and next to a lake. Moving to Chinatown, it was busy and congested with tall buildings. I followed my parents everywhere they went and absorbed myself into this new way of living and did not attend school because my parents were still getting acquainted with the city. Spending a lot of time with my parents, my Vietnamese language improved and I was able to comprehend when my parents would speak to me. My parents never allowed me to speak English at home. They would always look at me and say, “Remember to speak in Vietnamese,” and I would transition accordingly. It was important for them that I did not have a dominant bilingualism in English, but to be able to understand both fluently.

We stayed in Chinatown for a year until my mom met a new friend at the grocery store and her name was Le Nguyen. They bonded by sharing their experiences to America and Le mentioned to my mom about a housing development in Culver City, where they supplement housing for low-income families. This is known as “The Projects.” She thought it would be best for us to move closer to her since there would be more space than our box apartment with no windows. My parents filled out the paperwork and we were accepted to live there the next year.

When we moved to Culver City, I was four years old. In the projects, a majority of our neighbors were Latinos, African Americans and Asians. My family and I lived there for the next 18 years. It was difficult for my parents to save up money to buy a house since they were supporting both immediate families in Vietnam. My mother has 10 brothers and sisters and my dad has 5 brothers. With our family being the only ones in America, it was expected for my parents to save up and give allowance each month to our families in Vietnam with the hard-earned money they worked for on top of their own expenses. This was common amongst many first generation Vietnamese.

Due to my parents being occupied with work, they decided to send me to preschool at Mar Vista Gardens Headstart program. It was a great experience because I was able to meet new friends, improve on my English, and learn my alphabets, numbers and art. After preschool, I attended my elementary years at Braddock Elementary with all the kids from preschool. When I entered elementary school, I started out at the regular class for Kindergarten. However, I was placed in the ESL program for the first and second grade. At first, I did not pay any mind to it because I thought it was free time from class. But as time went by and I was looking at the material, I started understanding why I was being placed in the ESL program and it did not make sense to me. It disturbed me when I realized that my little brother and I were placed in the program because of our ethnicity without testing our comprehension. I mentioned it to my parents and they felt horrible for us being placed in a class where we did not feel challenged given our exposure to the English language. My parents spoke to both instructors about our situation, but they still insisted that it would be best for us to stay in the ESL program. My parents then decided to send us to a private school, St. Gerard Magella and see if there was a difference in teaching and us being placed out of ESL.

With me being placed in the ESL program for first and second grade, my parents and I discovered that I began lacking the ability to understand other subjects. It was difficult for me to comprehend math. The curriculum and methods were helpful because it challenged me to think and allowed me to catch up. After two years, my parents had to take my brother and I out of private school to go back to Braddock Elementary since tuition increased and my parents were no longer able to afford for us to continue.

When I returned to Braddock Elementary for fifth and sixth grade, I was able to attend school without being a part of the ESL program. My fifth and sixth grade instructors were the best teachers I have ever experienced throughout my elementary years. Mrs. Schillinger and Mrs. Blythe both challenged me in the field of history and literature. I enjoyed class and it helped me improve on my self-efficacy in literature. Another great influence towards literacy was my father. He brought us to the library every weekend to pick out books to read and it was our way of spending time together.

In the same year, my brother and I were enrolled into Saturday School. It was a total of 8 hours every Saturday to learn Vietnamese and our religion. My parents felt it was important for us to learn and have our culture embedded into us. We participated in festivals, dances, and events and between the hours of Vietnamese lesson and religion classes, we were involved in youth ministry. This was a change in environment for me since I rarely ran into people of the same background. In addition, the Vietnamese language course helped me become biliterate.

My teenage years were spent at Culver City Middle and High School and it was the first time where I was surrounded by such a diverse group of people. Once I came home though, it was a different atmosphere altogether. The peace and security I felt at school, sometimes made me feel weary when I was at home. I would witness graffiti on the walls and gang members stationed at every corner. The one benefit I acquired living in Mar Vista Gardens was to be able to understand different slang and how various groups talk amongst each other. My diglossia improved as I noticed how particular type of settings influenced the way I would speak in English. But in the household, we were restricted to only speaking in Vietnamese.

Throughout high school, one of my favorite courses was my English Literature class during my junior year. It helped me take interest in other types of readings that I would never pick out for myself. My favorite author of all times is John Steinbeck and this class helped me develop a liking for reading and writing. Another language I was able to acquire in high school was Spanish. It was a part of our curriculum to take a language course for a minimum of three years. It was helpful that many of my friends were bilingual in Spanish and English and were able to train and have me feel comfortable in speaking the language around them.

As I approached college, I had the opportunity to take on electives that further enhanced my knowledge and outside of my business program. One class I valued in particular was my Chicano Literature course taught by Dr. Limon. In the class, I ventured onto my creative side and focused on all types of short stories in Chicano Literature. Towards the end of the semester, we were assigned to write a short story for a novel we all put together and it was published in Encantos. From the class, I was able to appreciate literature and writing as an art.

After college, my passion for writing and reading followed me. It was more for my enjoyment and knowledge versus being assigned to in a class. Nowadays, I find myself reading all types of books consisting of fiction, self-help, motivational, history and autobiographies. In addition, I enjoy journaling or blogging on my free time to keep note of my life to pass on to my future generations and allow them to get know to me in a more personal level.

Throughout my life, it was helpful that I was immersed in a various cities and had the chance to learn different ways of communicating depending on my social setting. It motivated me to become well rounded and open to life and see what it has to offer and give back as a teacher. Experiencing numerous cities and community organizations that placed me in all types of neighborhoods, I never felt as if I did not belong, it only enabled me to transition and conform immediately to build my understanding.

Although my cultural heritage is Vietnamese, I believe that my linguistic heritage consist of both Vietnamese and English with a working knowledge of Spanish. Having this as a background is helpful with my interaction with others by creating a more welcoming aura to others. As a teacher, it would help me to communicate to the parents and student to work together and build a curriculum that would motivate and challenge the student. Furthermore, this helps me become a more understanding instructor for English Language learners by putting an emphasis on gauging the students’ abilities and help those students utilize their language skills to focus on content and material by creating proper assessments to see where I need to devote my time.

A collaborative environment is what I would like to achieve by working together with the parents as the primary teachers and community participation is encouraged as an integral part of the education of our children. I would like to promote intrinsic motivation on part of the students to use their L1 and L2 actively in order to generate their own knowledge and remind those students to see that it is a gift and strength to know another language and it would not inhibit them from learning, but only make them better.