Being a Banana Child

Huyen Vi Tranová in kindergarten, photo: archive of Huyen Vi Tranová

Walking through the streets of Prague, you might run into a young man with Asian features. Out of curiosity, you might ask him where he comes from, and to your surprise, he answers: “I’m Czech.” The term ‘Banana kids’ refers to the second generation of Vietnamese immigrants, who are ‘yellow on the outside and white on the inside’. With its author Huyen Vi Tranová amongst the collage of voices, the following programme reflects not only on being a foreigner in one’s home country, but also on the inter-generational clash of values.

Huyen Vi Tranová in kindergarten,  photo: archive of Huyen Vi Tranová
Huyen Vi Tranová: I am Czech. And I would love to get to know people to whom I would be able to say, “Hey, I’m Czech,” and they wouldn’t answer with: “But what are you really? You say you’re Czech and I understand that you live in the Czech Republic, but where are your roots?” And they give me a judgmental look. “You should really think about your roots because you’re obviously and clearly NOT Czech.”

[Huyen Nga Phan singing a part of the Vietnamese anthem]

Nhung Dang: [Czech Oath of Citizenship] I swear that I will be faithful to the Czech Republic. I swear that I will faithfully observe the laws of the Czech Republic. I swear that I will fulfil my duties as a Czech citizen.

Huyen Vi Tranová: What happens when I come back to Vietnam is that I feel as if I belong. I fit in a lot better as an aesthetic version of myself. But I have a very strong Czech accent in my Vietnamese, and there have been people who have told me: “Your Vietnamese is really bad. Maybe we can talk in English instead?”

Duc Viet Duong: I always say I’m Dužan because my actual name Duc, my Vietnamese name, is a name I am not used to. I’m more Dužan than Duc. But at home, when I’m with my parents, I’m still Duc. And I will always be Duc at home.

Nhung Dang: “You can call me Nhung or Zuzka.” And everyone said, “It’s so cool! We like Nhung.”

Thi Nga Le: I always say Iveta, and they say, “And what’s your real name?” And I say Nga. They try to repeat it but they can’t pronounce it. “Okay, Iveta it is.”

Nhung Dang: “You are Vietnamese, and we don’t know that much about Vietnamese people, so show it. It’s your topic! Let’s talk about this.”

Huyen Vi Tranová: If a friend of mine of a different race makes a racist joke, I get to decide whether it is racist or not, by either laughing or saying: “You crossed the line.”

Nhung Dang: People ask too much about your culture, which you’re not connected to. Sometimes you just want to be normal, but some people are too curious about this ‘Vietnamese side’.

Huyen Vi Tranová: My parents, for instance, came to Czechoslovakia around the year 1980. They were chosen as the wisest and the most intelligent children from Vietnam to study at a university here. With their later plans to go back to Vietnam, it all went a little different… They had me.

Illustrative photo: Vendula Kosíková
Nhung Dang: My dad doesn’t need much in his life. We have a house, we have a car, we can go on a vacation, and that’s enough for him. But when it comes to my mom, she feels that maybe she could have taken different chances.

Thi Nga Le: I think we like each other, and we know about it, but we don’t talk much. We just spend time together by doing nothing.

Duc Viet Duong: I cannot imagine being in love with a Vietnamese girl, who cannot speak my language. Vietnamese girls will cook for you; they will clean the house etc. But they don’t push me.

Nhung Dang: In the Vietnamese culture, I feel the pressure of being a girl: you should always be this polite girl, who doesn’t smoke, who doesn’t drink alcohol, who doesn’t sleep with a man before the wedding. There are too many rules.

[Huyen Nga Phan singing a part of the Vietnamese anthem]

Nhung Dang: I want to step out of this Asian traditional lifestyle. And who knows, maybe I will find my way back to it later, but right now I have to experience this freedom, this curiosity.

Duc Viet Duong: Sometimes, I love to be a director. Sometimes, I love to be a cinematographer. Sometimes, I love to be a scriptwriter. I just get drunk all the time and, sometimes, I shoot something.

Nhung Dang: “Okay, if you can manage this, do it. But you should maybe have a plan B.”

Duc Viet Duong: I don’t want to prove anything to the Vietnamese community anymore; I think I have proven myself to them already. I want to show the other filmmakers that I am as good as them, or better. It’s always a race for me, which is maybe bad, but makes me go forward.

Nhung Dang: I want to travel, and I was even thinking about moving abroad, but then I realized that I could only do it until a certain age, and then I would need to come back to take care of my parents because it’s my responsibility.

Thi Nga Le: I’d like them to have everything they want when they get older.

Duc Viet Duong: The responsibility for the parents is ‘the Asian thing’. You take care of your family anytime.

Nhung Dang: There is this language barrier, that’s why I don’t invite them to my performances. I think it’s so difficult to understand alternative theater, they wouldn’t understand that either. That’s why I don’t show them this ‘world’.

Hanoi,  Vietnam,  photo: Iostream01,  CC 3.0
Huyen Vi Tranová: Sometimes, I am in school and I learn about Czech history, Czech literature, and I don’t feel any connection to it. I find myself wondering whether it would have been different if I was studying Vietnamese literature.

Mai Lam Tran: I’m such a banana child: I can’t eat spicy, I can’t eat coriander, and I can’t speak Vietnamese. I’m not a good Vietnamese.

Duc Viet Duong: Maybe I’m Czech just because I know Czech. Maybe I’m no one’s citizen. I don’t belong anywhere. I am just a person and I can speak Czech, therefore, I get along with Czech people.

[Nhung Dang singing part of the Czech anthem]