Updated: Mar 2, 2019
I was a child refugee from Vietnam, lived in poverty and faced many challenging environments growing up.
I want to share with you what I learned.
As a child, people would tell me to either be American or Vietnamese, because it would be too difficult to include both cultures in my life. I accepted both cultures and it made me stronger. I could think and problem-solve in both Vietnamese and English. Also, being bi-cultural made me more sensitive to accepting other cultures around me just like when I learned how to play the piano, it was easy for me to learn to play the guitar, because I understood music notes and the patterns of chords.
You don’t have to go to another country to find a different culture; we all have personal cultures, family cultures, even organizational cultures. We are often grouped together for certain things. We work on certain teams and departments. We naturally want to be with people like us.
But to grow your multiculturalism, we must learn, accept, compromise, engage, share and celebrate other cultures. This gives you cultural intelligence and empathy to solve problems and build community.
The first step to building cross-cultural bridges is language.
One day, I was at the doctor’s office with my mom and an army veteran came up to me and asked us which country we were from. I told him, Vietnam. He told us that he was there during the war. Then he said, “You probably won’t understand me, but ‘Chao ban!’, which means hello friend in Vietnamese. My mom’s face lit up with a giant smile and she started speaking to him in Vietnamese. At that moment, we all laughed together, no matter who we were or where we came from.
I speak Vietnamese, English, French, some Japanese and Spanish. I write HTML and even speak 4 year old, because I have a son who was 4.
But I am not just talking about foreign languages and programming languages here; I am talking about our communication. Our words can break barriers or make walls. Learn and embrace the language of your neighbors, your friends, your co-workers, and the strangers you meet because language builds a bridge of communication between cultures.
In 7th grade, I was shyest, quietest tiny little girl still learning English. One of my teachers strongly encouraged me to join student council. She gave me the push and a chance. She gave me my yes, moment. She gave me the seed, so I could become a flower. It was really hard for me, but now I am writing and speaking in front of large audiences. Because my teacher mentored and believed in me, I was able to spend most of my previous life teaching English to the refugee and immigrant community. Now I train and coach organizations.
Look into your organization and community; use your voice and success to lift people up. Mentor, volunteer, and share any amount of time to do sincere outreach. This can be something personal to you, something you are passionate about. Make it a part of your life. Then dedicate your time and energy to build new bridges between communities.
Inclusion is a two way street. And it’s up a mountain, we can’t do it alone. We must climb it together.