And so many years passed.
In her suburban home with a pool shimmering in the back yard at the edge of Silicon Valley, my mother prays. Every morning she climbs a chair and piously lights a few joss sticks for the ancestral altar on top of the living room's bookcase and mumbles her solemn prayers. On the shelves below, however, stand my father's MBA diploma, his real estate broker's license, my older siblings' engineering and business degrees, my own degree in biochemistry, our combined sports trophies, and, last but not least, the latest installments of my own unending quest for self-reinvention plaques and obelisk-shaped crystals and framed certificates my journalism awards.
What mother's altar and the shelves carrying their various knick-knacks underneath seek to tell is the typical Vietnamese-American tragicomedy, one where Old World Fatalism meets the American Dream. Almost half of Vietnamese living abroad ended up living in North America, and the largest of this population resettled in California.
It is no mistake that the second largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam is centered around Silicon Valley. Nor is it mere luck that Vietnamese, drawing from our Confucian traditions which strongly emphasize discipline, respect and education, chose the sciences as a way to enter the American middle class. Here, within two decades or so, we have moved from living at the receiving end of the industrial revolution, have gone from being citizens of a poor agrarian based society, to becoming important players in the Information Age.