LE: Honoring Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

May 23, 2023

A group of young Vietnamese Catholics participate in a Marian Days Youth Festival at Our Lady of Lavang Parish in Houston in May. (Photo by James Ramos/Herald)

As an Asian American Catholic, I am part of a long and rich history of resilience, cleverness and pure grit.

Our community has overcome incredible obstacles, from the first wave of Asian immigration in the 1850s to the Vietnam War. Despite the challenges, we have always maintained a strong sense of sacrifice and silent determination, which has become the foundation of my life and the lives of other Asian Americans.

Reconciling my Asian American identity has been a journey of understanding the distinct generational differences.

Growing up in the U.S., I had a level of independence and ownership that was different from the traditional Vietnamese family structure. In Vietnam, everything in the household belongs to the family, and guests are always given priority, even if it means sacrificing your own comfort. But here, we learn agency and ownership from a young age, and it grows as we gain more things.

However, despite this sense of independence, I still struggled with feeling like an outsider, especially at school. My lunches and snacks were different, and it took a long time to come to terms with my own otherness. But I found solace in my faith. As a child of God, I am beloved and unique, and that is all that truly matters.

The Catholic faith has also helped me marry my culture and my faith. One example of this is lion dancing, a beautiful display of ferocious-looking lions that ward off evil spirits. It is a celebration of life and new beginnings, and it is often performed at important events like weddings and New Year’s celebrations. These traditions honor our ancestors while also reminding us of who we are and where we come from. Now, our faith teaches that God is the one that has true control over evil spirits. In this acknowledgment, we concede that these traditions don’t have power over anything. The power that they have is so much greater.

All these things that we do, like lion dancing and ancestor veneration, remind us of who we are and where we come from. They allow us to heal from the invisible wounds of our history. For me, these traditions bring back memories of spending time with my parents at these celebrations. Yearly, I am reminded of their sacrifice and love for me. As a child, I didn’t fully understand the significance of these traditions, but as I grew older, I began to appreciate the importance of honoring our ancestors and preserving our culture.

I feel a deep sense of connection to my heritage and my faith through these traditions. And as an Asian American Catholic, I find peace in knowing that Jesus Christ brings healing to my home and my community. I find peace in knowing that I have a home and a place to belong.

This peace I gained through years of understanding where I came from. As advice from someone who still works through my identities, I think the biggest one is to understand the one that God gave us first. One of them is this: we are His sons and daughters. Understanding that love and grace flows from Jesus will lead us to start piecing together the good from our Asian American and Catholic upbringing.

Another piece of advice that helped me was to learn how to authentically love and meet my family with where they are in their lives and beliefs. Even in disagreements or difficult gaps in knowledge, it is still quite important to learn to walk with our families.

In the end, being an Asian American Catholic means embracing the richness of our culture and the beauty of our faith. We can celebrate our traditions while also recognizing the power that Jesus has over them.

Our communities have overcome so much, and through our faith, we find peace and a sense of belonging. 

Louis Le is a youth minister at Ascension Chinese Mission.