My Cultural Fusion

“Culture is what presents us with the kinds of valuable things that can fill a life. And insofar as we can recognize the value in those things and make them part of our lives, our lives are meaningful.” Gideon Rosen, Stuart Professor of Philosophy and director of the Behrman Undergraduate Society of Fellows, Princeton University.


I always dread the first day of school. Each year, seven unlucky teachers get the opportunity to butcher my last name horribly (Ne-guy-yun, Neg-ren, Nu-gwen and every other imaginable mispronunciation), while my classmates get their entertainment for the school year. Correcting my teachers’ pronunciations has become a futile feat.

Nguyen: My last name is fairly common, at least in California, Texas, or areas with high concentrations of Vietnamese people, but in Upstate New York, this last name is as common as a sixth finger. Aside from professors and students at Cornell University, I have never met an Ithacan who correctly pronounced my name at school, at church, or in the community. Just as the entire Ithaca community revels in the mysteries of my last name, I struggle to unravel the enigma of my cultural identity.

All eyes focus on me as I blush and turn away from the amused and penetrating stares. Clatter-Clatter-a softly muttered “Oops”: The cursed utensils known as chopsticks fly awkwardly from my hands and onto the table, landing next to my rice bowl. (Rice just happens to be my weak point with chopsticks. I swear.) At family gatherings, I feel my aunts and uncles judging me as I struggle to showcase my Vietnamese...

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