In college, I could just tell when teachers got to my name: they couldn’t pronounce it. To save time, I just said “here”.
This was Penn State, late 70’s, when a name like Carter from Georgia could barely register in Washington Belt Way.
Now a random walk on the web tells me the Nguyen have finally gained some noteriety (not as popular as the Smith or Cosby but familiarity bred comfort).
If you were to google “Nguyen”, you would get Dat Nguyen (used to play the NFL for the Cowboys), Tila (Nguyen) Tequila (every other pictures) and Betty Nguyen (weekend anchor of CNN). But you will also get Scotty Nguyen (poker face) and one-eye Nguyen (Agent Orange piece disguised under Nguyen),
Lee Nguyen (guitar player) and Colonel Loan’s war-cruelty photo.
The Nguyen dynasty has scattered to the four corners of the earth, evolving and adapting to opportunities and obstacles, not unlike Venture Capitalists, whose few bets made it while many didn’t.
Being in communication, I try to ” see ourselves as others see us” . And the best place to start is to Google for this sort of thing. Let’s take Tila to start our “beer summit”.
She was getting into fights while in school. Got put in “Buddhist shut-in” and from there (Texas) went to Hollywood (hopefully not on a Greyhound bus) to realize her American dream. MTV gave her a contract, and the rest was history. She was quoted at one point saying she would want to be the US ambassador to Vietnam.
Vietnam watch out! Tila is coming (if history repeats itself, this is not the first time a well-known Hollywood actress wanted to grace Hanoi playground. Jane Fonda beat her to the punch). Or in Second Life, Tila will actually become the virtual ambassador if e-citizens elected her using their tokens.
VP Nguyen Cao Ky once said that he wanted to keep his last name so he could come back to Vietnam without sounding like a foreigner. Well, he did.
His daughter took that to the next level: keeping her father’s name in its entirety, while adding and ending it with her first name (Nguyen Cao Ky + Duyen). She made it as a co-host of Paris By Night video series (celeb life style: got to change who you hang out with, and while at it, reinvent yourself). If history repeats itself, Brad and Angelina beat her to the punch as well (they rode in a scooter before the helmet law came into effect a while back).
So back to our Google search for the Nguyen. Back then, our ancestors weren’t originally Nguyen. The sad truth was, we adapted to the King’s demand and command (conformity and allegiance). Nguyen has morphed into a generic code,
with mixed connotations: part Chinese, part French, part US, and now the Seven Seas.
The Nguyen are now inter-marrying (as in my families), and the third generation of Nguyen might still bear the name, but the gene mutation has morphed beyond recognition (unless kids wear “ao dai” during Tet). My nephew and niece inter-married
and produced offerings of mixed heritage. Our Thanksgiving at times, looks like a UN Security Council, deciding on the fate
of Syrian Chemical Weapon Disposal.
Maybe someday, they will put a Nguyen in the White House. One term would be fine. Let’s see if he/she can do better than his/her predecessors.
Or the system (which according to the latest CNN poll, 86% said the government is broken) itself not only helps this future Nguyen look Presidential, but also renders him/her ineffectual. I broke my arm on my first month learning Kung-Fu. It hurt like hell. Took a long time to heal. Perhaps something broken can be healed. First: recognition of the pain. Second: be patient. Third: put on a cast to speed up recovery. In my case, it was a long summer staying indoors.
We won’t hear much about US might or Exceptionalism in near term.
Friedman (of the Flat World) beat me to it in his op-ed “fat years, lean years”. Or like Chairman of HSBC is coming out with “Good values”, a call for reflections. It would be interesting to see the turn-out in Las Vegas Caesars (Coliseum built for Celine Dion, whose Roman original motif was blood sports) to hear Former President Bill Clinton (who charged for a talk about “global interdependence” themes).
That broken arm the summer of my Junior High (while “tous les garcons et les filles de mon age, …se promene dans la rue) set me on a different course ever since: pause to think and be reflective . The US and the Nguyen got something in common: we both had been very ambitious to the point of having an illusion of grandeur until the crash. I and many other Nguyen knew it well: even in and through a worst-case scenario, we have managed to get PhD’s, started companies, invented products and run for office.
I still know when that slight pause came during roll call. But these days, it just my first name that they had trouble pronouncing. If only they knew that it meant “win”, as in win-win solution. At least, we got pass the Nguyen part. Just Google them, and find out for yourselves. It’s the same story you would find in NYT today about a Hasidic matriarch who came and had 2000 descendants. It’s the story that repeats itself time and time again here in America. It’s your story. It’s our story.