Tell us about yourself.

My name is Erin Bardoner and I was born in Tay Ninh, Vietnam. Originally, my birth name was Ngyuen Kim Chi. I was adopted from Vietnam when I was 15 months old and raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee, making me an Asian American. I have nine other siblings with four of them being adopted from Vietnam or China. I was accepted to Belhaven University for dance and psychology, and I ended up majoring in psychology and philosophy. Fun fact, I met my husband in college and we initially had a dream of becoming clinical psychologists! However, I ended up continuing my education at Reformed Theological Seminary to become a licensed professional counselor. It has always been my passion and aspiration to help others by listening to them and being a consistent support to them. I love cats, coffee and being outdoors.

What was it like growing up and learning about your culture/heritage?

During my childhood, I did not understand much other than the concrete fact that I was Asian and half of my family was not. My parents and their biological children are Caucasian and for much of my life, I adapted to living how they all did. It was not until high school that I was able to meet other individuals that looked like me and became my friends. My best friend is half Chinese and half Japanese. Through her and her family, I was able to learn what it meant to be immersed in a different culture. Her family took their shoes off before entering the house, they celebrated the Chinese New Year, and I was able to experience a tea ceremony with them. Prior to meeting them, the most I really was able to learn about my culture was through social media or from occasional encounters with other Vietnamese people who would ask me if I spoke the language or if I remembered what it was like to be in Vietnam.

During my teenage years, I learned that being Vietnamese meant a lot more than I knew even with being raised in America. I feel that being Asian American is unique position to be in because I was not all the way accepted as an American nor was I all the way accepted as being Vietnamese. I appear physically to be one way; however, I carry myself in another by speaking English and assimilating into a western culture. I learned that an important part of my Vietnamese heritage is that there is a large understanding of the importance of collectivism. In short, collectivism means that you are a part of a community and act as a unified team rather than an individual. There is a huge emphasis on family and caring for others, as we are all a part of something bigger than us. I learned that being Vietnamese is something to be proud of and that there are countless testimonies and historical accounts of the resilience that my ancestors were a part of. While I was not raised in Vietnam, I will always appreciate where I came from.

What are some of the traditions; foods, dances/music, you and your family observe and celebrate?

My husband and I believe that the best way to learn about one’s culture is through cuisine! I will never turn down Pho, which is a traditional Vietnamese soup. I highly recommend that everyone go to Saigon on Lakeland to enjoy this as a meal. For something sweeter, I enjoy banh xeo or cao lau! Vietnamese families believe that the highest standard of happiness is affection, gratitude, attachment and mutual support. In my own family, this is something that is practiced daily as we all strive to keep in touch with one another even when afar. Additionally, there are two traditional festivals that are celebrated in Vietnam: Tet and the Mid-Autumn festival. Tet is the Vietnamese New Year, combining Thanksgiving and Christmas.

How has your heritage shaped you as a person?

While I was not raised in Vietnam with a traditional household, I am able to have a greater appreciation for my heritage from learning about it in history as well as meeting others who are similar to me that experience the blend of being Vietnamese/Asian American. It can be challenging at times and I do not always feel like I fit in. I struggle to completely be considered American/Western as many see my skin color and facial features; and immediately assume I speak “Asian” or “Chinese.” On the other hand, when I am with other Asians – they will ask me “what am I?” and “what language do I speak?” When I awkwardly respond that I speak English or that a Caucasian family adopted me, both sides do not appear to know how to respond back to me. It sometimes feels like being an outsider.

What I have learned that has stuck with me the most is that no matter where you come from, you deserve to be accepted and understood for who you are. And who we are may not be the stereotypical grouping. It is always best to be curious, not judgmental. Beauty is within all cultures, all races, all heritages and all people. I am grateful that I am able to represent being Vietnamese and I am hopeful that I will be able to educate others with care and respect as I believe we are all learning about one another.

What is one thing you would like for others to know about you and your heritage?

I would love for others to know that there are so many Asian cultures and subgroups other than Chinese and Japanese. I believe that while these are the biggest populations and ones we hear most about in the media; that there needs to be more representation for other people groups. I, myself, am still learning about all the different types of language and culture that are out there. Everyone can grow in learning by being open and accepting to different people. Be curious, be kind, and be respectful to others.