A tree on a country road.

My Southern and Vietnamese Accent Tells Part Of My Story

As a little girl living in Vietnam, I remember playing around and packing a small backpack. My mom would ask where I was going, and I would always respond, “I am moving to the United States.” We always joked that one day we would get the opportunity to live here. 

Little did we know in October of 2005, I packed my bags for a big move that changed my life. I did not know what to expect walking out of the airport in Jackson, Mississippi. The people and atmosphere were so different than what I was used to.

In my 7-year-old head, I imagined a crowded city with people walking around and socializing. Instead, I found empty sidewalks, many restaurants, and strange buildings. I had always assumed the United States was just one big country. At the time, I did not realize we would be living in the South.

Although the transition was difficult, my stepdad and his family have had a big impact on my experience living here. The main obstacle I faced was learning how to speak a new language. In the United States, only about 8 percent of Vietnamese speak English at home compared to 16 percent of overall foreign born, which means Vietnamese immigrants are not as efficient in English.

Fortunately, I quickly picked up English within a year of living here with the help of my family. I developed a Southern/Asian accent because my family has a very Southern dialect, so everyone always comments about how strange it is to hear me speak at first. Additionally, having an American and Vietnamese family distinguishes me from my other friends whose parents are both immigrants. 

While some friends were still rooted in their Vietnamese culture, I expanded mine and adopted a new one. This allowed me to learn and experience so much more of Southern culture.

When I think about the South and Southern culture, the first thing that comes to mind is close families. During the holidays, my family has a potluck. Sports were a big deal in my family, and I loved watching the NFL and college football with my dad. 

On school breaks, I spent most of my time with my aunt and uncle in Arkansas. While staying there, we went fishing or hunting, rode four-wheelers, and hiked through the mountains. 

Yellow fields and white clouds on a sunny day.

We always do everything as a group, and I really enjoy that about living here. However, I have faced problems as an immigrant. The South is a conservative state, which means I have experienced racist comments and stereotyping, such as “Are you legal,” “You must be smart because you are Asian” and “Have you ever eaten a dog?” Sometimes, I have gotten weird looks while eating at a predominately white restaurant with my family. 

I understand that the South still has problems with racism. I also recognize that this can happen anywhere, so I take the good with the bad. I don’t let what people say bother me, and I appreciate my time living here regardless.

One of my favorite things about living in the South is the food. No matter where you are from, everyone has one thing in common, enjoying good food. The landscape is also beautiful. I can drive for miles, and the side of the roads is covered in vibrant green oak and pine trees. 

I love spending the time in the Ozark mountains in Arkansas, and I have found some areas around Oxford beautiful. The simplest places like the parks have so much beauty and character. 

Sometimes, I forget I was born in another country because I have blended in so well in this new environment. Mississippi is my home, and I have enjoyed many moments living here.


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