LANGUAGE ANOTHER DIVIDE FOR RETURNING VIETNAMESE

Paolo Gambi, Rinascimento poetico

LANGUAGE ANOTHER DIVIDE
FOR RETURNING VIETNAMESE

HANOI, VIETNAM (AP) _ CUPPING A HAND AROUND HER MOUTH TO AMPLIFY HER WORDS OVER THE POUNDING BEAT OF DANCE MUSIC, HOANG MAI PUNCTUATES HER THOUGHT BY PUNCHING AT THE AIR.
“YOU’RE GIVING UP YOUR ROOTS,” SHE SHOUTS TO A FRIEND.
THE TOPIC OF DEBATE AMID THE LIGHT SHOW AND MUSIC AT HANOI’S POPULAR ROXY CLUB ISN’T ROCK ‘N’ ROLL FROM THE WEST VS. TRADITIONAL ASIAN MUSIC. IT IS LANGUAGE.
HER FRIEND, QUYEN LE, RETURNED TO VIETNAM FROM THE UNITED STATES FOR LANGUAGE LESSONS. TO MAI’S FRUSTRATION, LE IS STUDYING THE DIALECT OF NORTHERN VIETNAM, NOT THAT OF THE SOUTHERN VIETNAM THEY FLED AS CHILDREN.
THE DISTINCTION MAY BE LOST ON THE UNINITIATED, BUT AMONG THE OVERSEAS VIETNAMESE VISITING THEIR HOMELAND, IT’S ABOUT THEIR HERITAGE AND CULTURAL IDENTITY.
“I FEEL LIKE THERE IS SOME KIND OF RESENTMENT IN PEOPLE TOWARDS ME WHEN THEY KNOW I CAN’T SPEAK THE LANGUAGE,” SAID KEVIN MINH GRIPENBERG, MANAGER OF THE AMERICAN CLUB IN HANOI.
BORN IN SAIGON, BUT RAISED IN STAMFORD, CONNECITICUT, BY ADOPTIVE PARENTS, GRIPENBERG FIRST CAME TO VIETNAM TO RELEARN HIS MOTHER TONGUE.
“I WENT TO SAIGON TO SEE THE PLACE I WAS FROM, BUT I COULDN’T UNDERSTAND A WORD PEOPLE SAID. THE ACCENT IS SO DIFFERENT,” HE SAID.
MAI, WHOSE FAMILY FLED SOUTH VIETNAM IN 1975, GREW UP SPEAKING ENGLISH AND VIETNAMESE IN OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA. RETURNING TO WORK AS AN EDITOR AT A LOCAL MAGAZINE, SHE FOUND THE LANGUAGE ISN’T WHAT IT USED TO BE.
“FOR THOSE WHO NEVER LIVED UNDER COMMUNIST VIETNAM, THE LANGUAGE IS VERY DIFFERENT FROM WHAT WE REMEMBER,” MAI SAID. “IT’S SO STRANGE, IF YOU DON’T KNOW THE TERMS FROM THE NORTH YOU CAN GET REALLY LOST.”
080207 JAN GMT

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