Coming of Age as a Vietnamese American

karen-nguyen_201x201I am from Carol Stream, Illinois — a town actually named after the founder’s daughter, Carol Stream. After Carol fell into a coma due to a severe car accident, her father thought she would never wake up and decided to name the town after her. Miraculously, she did wake up, but found it weird that a town was named after her, so she moved to Phoenix, Arizona. I tell you this not just because I think it’s funny that even the namesake of the town refuses to live in said town, but also because I think it embodies the humble and strange spirit of the place where I grew up.

My town is small, but diverse, with people of many cultures speaking a variety of languages. I grew up speaking Vietnamese at home. I even attended school on Saturdays to learn how to read and write in Vietnamese. It was nightmarish at the time, but now, I’m beyond grateful I did it, since it’s become such a huge part of myself.

I’ve never felt trapped by my small Midwestern town, though my experiences may sound a bit lackluster to many. A big night on the town was eating a soft-serve ice cream cone while sitting on the curb of a Dairy Queen parking lot. It was either that or loitering around the local shopping mall. I often chose ice cream. But still, even to this day, whenever I pass by a Dairy Queen, I can’t help but feel a jolt of nostalgia. Memories of summers without responsibilities come surging back. Tiny adventures are the best, and though slice of life stories may seem boring to others, I find them absolutely beautiful.

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