Cultural Narrative: Jade

“How dare they ask that? Don’t they understand what it means to my culture? What it means to me?”



Why do I wear a Fruit Loop around my neck?

My mother gave it to me.

“Don’t lose it,” she warned, “It used to be grandma’s.”

After struggling to clasp the necklace around my neck, I held the amulet. I felt honored to be given a heirloom; it made me feel special. The pearly ring-shaped stone, covered with flecks of pale green, glowed as the sun hit it. The gold chain that held it in place sparkled, as if it were brand new. Well, that’s how it looked when I first received it.

Now, the gold clasp has frosted over as I continually struggle to put it on, and the flecks of pale green have turned into deeper emerald as it protects my heart.

In Chinese and Vietnamese culture, jade is a powerful stone. It is a living being which protects one from harm. The more it is worn, the more green and clear it becomes.

I never saw my grandmother wear the necklace my mother gave to me. In fact, I didn’t know it existed until my grandmother died. My mother found a box in my grandmother’s room that was filled with an abundance of jade jewelry: jade rings, jade earrings, and jade necklaces. So my necklace wasn’t as special as I originally thought it was. But despite her collection, I only ever saw my grandmother wear a jade bracelet. As a child, I was awed at how smooth and bright it was. There were barely any milky spots, showing how she lived a long and happy life. She was buried with it, so it couldn’t be passed down.

Why do you wear a Fruit Loop around your neck?

Fruit Loop? Is he talking about my necklace?

“It’s a jade necklace,” I calmly reply, “It used to be my grandmother’s.”

The  stranger shrugs it off and walks away. This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked that question, but each time, I can’t help but feel annoyed and angry. How dare they ask that? Don’t they understand what it means to my culture? What it means to me?

They don’t. Jade means nothing in American culture. And if it doesn’t exist in America, it doesn’t exist at all.

The question wasn’t phrased like, “Where did you get your necklace?” or “What does your necklace mean?” It was a question that was never meant to be answered, a question that was asked to mock me.

I answered the question coolly in order to not trigger the response I had received in the past: “It was just a joke!” However, that is not the only moment where the questioner is on defense. The original question itself is a defense mechanism; it is a defense against his own ignorance. A man struggles to admit he is ignorant, so he uses humor to hide it. And he succeeds, because he is not expected to hold knowledge about other worlds and everything he says is supposed to be taken lightheartedly.

In America, there is free speech. However, one cannot go around saying whatever they want without offending someone. Yet, Americans fetishize their free speech so much that they forget about human decency. The phrase “think before you speak” is oftentimes forgotten in our fast paced culture; in fact, one can argue that it is discouraged by the idea of free speech. So in order to make their comments less harmful, Americans claim that their remarks are actually jokes, but only when their morals and ignorance are questioned. By calling their remark a joke, they try to subdue the effect of their words, without taking what they said back. They don’t apologize for what they said because they don’t believe they said anything wrong. Free speech allows them to say whatever they want, so they won’t take back their words just because someone was hurt by them. And apologizing for their microaggression would be admitting ignorance.

Why do you wear a Fruit Loop around your neck?

America isn’t a melting pot. It is a salad filled with different cultures. However, there is still an American culture. Everyone in the United States must adhere to it. It is the superior culture, the pinnacle of mankind. Who cares about the other cultures?

Well, other cultures can exist in American culture, but only if they serve Eurocentric tastes. Chinese food can exist in America, but only if every restaurant serves the same Americanized dishes so that people won’t have to try something new at every restaurant. Yoga from India can exist in America, but only if it becomes known as the silly exercise that women do. Dreadlocks can exist in America, but only if young, white trendsetters wear them. Vietnamese food exists in America, but just because phở can be pronounced “ph-OH”. And it’s not “Vietnamese food”, it’s “Asian food”.

Jade doesn’t exist. My necklace is a Fruit Loop, a product of American consumerism. When people see it, there is no image of generations of women passing down the amulet. They see a blue toucan holding a bowl of rings. The green rings are mixed with rings that are other colors of the rainbow. The other colors hold no significance, just like the green pieces.

Why do I wear a Fruit Loop around my neck?

When I was learning how to speak, my parents spoke to me in both Vietnamese and English. The time for me to enroll in preschool was approaching, and I still couldn’t speak. So my parents decided to resolve the problem by speaking to me only in English so that I would be able to catch up with my classmates.

My grandmother was also instructed to speak to me only in English. However, from her, I learned the little Vietnamese I know. She represented my Vietnamese background, with her language and beautiful jade bracelet.

Nationally, I am American; I was born and raised in the United States. But ethnically, I am Vietnamese. Despite living in America for most of their lives, my parents don’t call themselves American. They only identify as Vietnamese, because they were born and raised in Vietnam. But to me, the country Vietnam has never felt like home. Even when I visited my uncles and paternal grandparents in Vietnam, I felt like a stranger to the country and the culture.

My jade necklace reminds me of all I have lost and all that I must retain. I can never have a connection to Vietnam like my parents’, but it is still a part of me. Vietnam affected how I was raised, what I ate, and how I currently perceive the world. My necklace forces people to engage with my culture. Whether they point it out or not, they see it and have to ask themselves what is it. When people are genuinely curious, I’m excited to tell them about the meaning and the origin of it. It’s a gentle reminder to me that I haven’t been completely sucked into American culture. My necklace is a relic of my unique Vietnamese-American upbringing.

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