City College Times

I am: an American Girl

Redefining myself in a new country

After three years in the United States, Chin Chiu has overcome her initial  culture shock.

Tammy Do

After three years in the United States, Chin Chiu has overcome her initial culture shock.

Chin Chiu, Contributor

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In my mind, to be American is to have a long blonde hair, a tall body and wear fancy clothes. That is the symbol of the American girl that I want to become. But in reality, I know I don’t have those things, not, like in the movies.

America is a dreamland for a Vietnamese girl like me. Back in Vietnam, my teacher used to tell me, “Nhập gia phải tùy tục” It means I should understand the tradition of a house, before I enter that house. I was not prepared for the American experience.

I still remember the embarrassment that happened to me on my first day of school. In Vietnam, I had to wear a uniform every day; it was only black and white. So, I didn’t know what to wear to my new American school. . I showed up with a big white skirt, a black jean and a ponytail. I had never hated myself more than when everyone looked at me and gave a big laugh.

My English was still limited so I wasn’t able to understand fully what they told me. Now I know what the word “nerd” means. It was the first word that stabbed me like a knife. I learned three lessons on that first day of school: 1) a costume does matter to people; 2) black jeans and a white skirt do not look nice on me; 3) to join with the school community, I would have to act like them.

Sometimes I wished I could dress up like my friends in high school, talk like them, and eat the way they eat. I wanted to act like an American. But my mom, in the way of the Vietnamese parent, wanted me to dress up as an Asian girl, both classic and pure. She disliked when I spent too much time and money on fashionable clothes and makeup products.

For my mom, true beauty comes from our natural beauty, because we can’t change who we are. But I disagreed with her. A fancy costume could tell people about our family circumstances.

Looking back over the past three years, I cannot even recognize myself. I have changed myself to become a new person in the hope people would respect me as American. But now I am tired of waiting for somebody to tell me who am I. Maybe my mom was right — if I could see inside myself, carefully, I’d see I am beautiful.

My story has just begun. I cannot waste more time to figure out “who am I.” I should be the one who judge myself, and I don’t need have blonde hair or blue eyes to become an American. Now when I wake up, I’m no longer ashamed of my hair, my black eyes. When I look in the mirror, it’s never been so beautiful like this before. I proud to say, “I am American girl.” I’m beautiful in the way that I choose to be.


“I am…” is a special series in which we asked students to bring new insight into social issues through the lens of identity and their life experiences, and to answer the ultimate question: Who are you?

To read all other articles in this series, click here.

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I am: an American Girl