I am Vietnamese. My name is Tony Tan Cong Nguyen. I was born in Saigon, capital of Vietnam ( southern part ) and was raised there through age twelve. My family lived in a middle class neighborhood in the city. Though I was born a Buddhist by faith, I went to a Catholic School about five miles away. My parents got married when they were around twenty years of age. The union bore twelve children: five boys and seven girls. I am the ninth child. My father worked for a top roofing company and headed the entire security department. My mother was always a housewife.
Vietnam boasts an age-long and special culture that is closely attached to the history of the formation and development of the nation. The earliest cultural community was formed around the first half of the millennium before Christ and flourished in the middle of this milllenium. In Vietnamese, Vietnam is written in two words: Viet and Nam. Viet is the name of an ethnic group and Nam means “ south “. Vietnam, then refers to the country of the southern Viet people. South often evokes what pertains to Vietnam while North evokes China. The ethnic groups that today make up the Vietnamese people belong to a group born of a cross between the Mongoloids who came down from the North and the original Austronegroid inhabitants. In this multiethnic mélange, the Viet people lived with other groups in a territory extending from South of the Yangtze River in present-day China to the Northern part of present-day Vietnam.
This empire absorbed all of the ethnic groups of the above-mentioned territory, including many groups of Viets. Only the Southern Viets resolutely preserved their national identity, resisting assimilation despite a thousand years of Chinese domination followed by numerous later conquests. There were three layers of culture overlapping each other during the history of Vietnam: the local culture, the culture that mixed with those of China and other countries in the region, and the culture that interacted with Western culture. The most prominent feature of the Vietnamese culture is that it was not assimilated by foreign cultures, thanks to the strong local cultural foundations. The Vietnamese nation was formed early in the history and often had to carry out wars of resistance against foreign invaders, which created a prominent cultural feature: a patriotism that infiltrated and encompassed every aspect of life.
My father fought the Communist regime and in pursuit of freedom, we left Vietnam four days before the war broke out. We traveled through the Philippines, then Guam, before finally reaching Arkansas. My life began in San Antonio, Texas, where we were sponsored by a Presbyterian church. I spoke very little English then but managed to learn the language to keep up with school. In 1979, we moved to Houston and I graduated from Spring Branch in 1980.
Though I had lived the past twenty-eight years of my life in the United States and had adapted to their way of life, my early years in Vietnam have strong cultural impact one me. I am married to a Vietnamese as well and we value emotional ties and attachment to relatives and the community. I believe in behaving toward conciliatory, equilibrium and relations-based settlement of conflicts and disputes. I believe that benevolence combined with righteousness, opposes violence. Happiness is also a top social value. I will often make compliments on the happiness of a family rather than wealth and social position.
I own an organization that is run by predominantly Filipinos and I have learned through the years of working together that their culture resembles mine in more ways than one. My relationship with them has been remarkably harmonious. We have similar social values. Perhaps it has a lot to do with both coming from Asian cultures. We value family structure and the happiness that come from it and we adhere to deep cultural roots. We may be elements of the present-day American society, but our cultural orientations remain strong in our foundations and this marks our true identities.