For many immigrants moving to the United States, there is an internal struggle present as they try to maintain one’s culture while assimilating into the other. This is evident among the children of immigrant parents as they try to balance American society with the demands of tradition from the parents.
Bich Minh Nguyen’s book, “Stealing Buddha’s Dinner,” is one such tale involving a young Vietnamese girls escape from Saigon and entering white suburbia in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It is a memoir of the author’s events as she recalls growing up during the 1980s and the struggles she faced while being one of the few Vietnamese children in the neighborhood.
Food plays an integral role in the memoir as Nguyen tells of the foods her grandmother made. Spring rolls, pho (a type of beef noodle soup), and sticky rice cakes were the norm in the household, but Nguyen desired the foods American children ate. From her consumption of Pringles, Little Caesar’s pizza, ice cream, and other processed treats, she felt that she could become American and gain acceptance in her community. She also resolved to improve on her English skills in order to have the same level of fluency as the American girls.
Despite Nguyen’s wishes to become an American girl, she has faced setbacks within her family and the peers that she was surrounded with. The girls Nguyen tried to befriend during her childhood wouldn’t interact with her because of her background. In addition, several of the girls told Nguyen that she would burn in Hell if she didn’t convert to the Christian religion. This created a significant change in how Nguyen viewed herself as a person and whether she felt like if she’ll ever become truly American.
Another important aspect in the book is the absence of a maternal figure in Nguyen’s life. Due to her mother’s disappearance in Vietnam, Nguyen didn’t have a mother to rely on when it came to personal matters. However, Christie, a Mexican woman, arrived into her life as a young teenager and Nguyen finds herself trying to catch up in three cultures all at once. Not only does she have to maintain her Vietnamese upbringing, she also has to learn how to function in American society as well as the Mexican culture.
Through all of the events Nguyen had in her childhood, the book shows how she became the person that she is today. She eventually realizes that she cannot change her identity from the inside out and embraces her heritage.
The book is one that children with immigrant parents can relate to, from the food to the social scene. Nguyen’s writing is poignant, humorous, humble, yet wholly satisfying from the beginning to the end and I highly recommend it to those who love a good read. The retelling of her childhood memories is a direct hit to the heart as she weaves a tale of the American dream and the desires she had in order to obtain it.