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Goodnight Blog: Hanh Tran

From misunderstandings to milestones, Hanh Tran (T'25) writes about how she has embraced her journey and found strength in diversity.

When I was 8 years-old, I got into an argument with my best friend, Amanda, on the bus. 

Amanda (A): “I’m black.”

Me (H): “No you’re not.”

A: “Yes I am!”

H: “No you’re not! You’re brown, and I’m brown!”

It was shortly after this that I found out I was Asian. Apparently, I also knew two languages. 

Growing up in California, it did not occur to me that I spoke two languages or that I was different. I thought some words were just “big grownup” words and I did not understand because I was little. It wasn’t long until I moved to North Carolina; that I found out that I was Asian; and that some people can be mean. We used to move around a lot; the longest I’ve ever lived in the same place was 4 years. The process of opening up, trusting and making new friends was daunting to me. I would just move away and would have to start all over again. I was heartbroken. 

With each move, I became more and more timid and shy, and started questioning everything. My views, beliefs, and self were constantly challenged by local cultures. I was bullied a lot because I had “ching-chong” eyes, because of the scar on my lip, and because my family was poor. “Why do I look like this? Why are people mean? Why are we poor? Why do we talk like this? Why can’t we live at the same place for another year?” I hated my family; I was embarrassed that they owned a nail salon; and I was scared to say I was Vietnamese because we “eat cats and dogs, and kill elephants.” I never felt like I belonged, and that I was just an “in-betweener.” I was not Vietnamese enough, I was not American enough, I was not smart enough, I was just simply, not enough. This is something that a child should not have to think about, but I did. I felt like a grain of sand.

With each move, I felt smaller and smaller but my curiosity with the world and humanity grew. You may see an old Vietnamese person working at a nail salon that doesn’t speak English and doesn’t know how to do certain designs; I see a person who gave up everything to start over with a new job in a new country to provide a better life for their family. In October 2019, 39 Vietnamese people were killed in the back of a truck when they immigrated to the UK. This is just a fraction of the plights people are willing to go through with hopes of securing a better future for their families. It dawned on me that this could have been my family. 

My narrow-mindedness was expanding; my heart was weighing heavy; and I went from being embarrassed of my upbringing to seeing the great lengths my family took, so that I may be where I am today. I transpired from feeling like an “in-betweener” to one who reads in-between the lines. I became more humbled when I saw that these experiences were not unique to myself, and these conflicting emotions I felt were not felt by me alone. My family and many immigrant families are willing to put so much on the line for a better future. If not for them, then for their families or future generations. I learned how to deal with uncomfortable situations, how to be resourceful and find creative solutions, and how to accept my identity. I am humbled by my roots, and proud of my family for everything they are doing so I can live a better life. It is only recently that I am starting to find my footing in this world and a sense of belonging.  

These earnest beliefs have been ingrained in me and my goal to go back to school and become a biomedical engineer. I was fortunate enough to find other grains of sand in the Goodnight Scholars Program and realized how important it is to be part of a community. A grain of sand is just that: a grain of sand. But I get to experience other facets of being sand. When we have social events and gatherings, I am beach sand. When we have community services, I am masonry sand. When we have leadership opportunities, I am molding sand.  

Regardless of cultural/social/racial background, we are all but grains of sand. But together, we have the potential to become so much more.