Culture ties Overseas Vietnamese people closer to their motherland

No matter how far away Vietnamese expats have lived from the homeland, culture remains the root that ties them close to their motherland, helping to identify and affirm the values of national Vietnamese identity.
At a class of Canh Dieu group.
At a class of Canh Dieu group.

1. At the end of September 2015, I went to France to attend the Francophonie Festival in Limoges City at the invitation of Marie-Agnès Sevestre – the Festival’s Director.

Prior to the festival, I stopped in Paris to attend a conference on contemporary Vietnamese literature, which was organised by the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilisations in collaboration with Riveneuve Publishing House. Tam, a Vietnamese PhD student who works at the institute, warmly invited me to her house.

Entering Tam’s apartment, I was enveloped by the sweet aroma of typical Vietnamese dishes: the bamboo shoots soup, ‘gac’ sticky rice, pickled vegetables, and fried spring rolls. Tam opened the refrigerator to show me hundreds of fried spring rolls, which are packed carefully and ready to serve a light party at the conference that I am about to attend!

She told me that she and her husband, with the help of several neighbours worked all day yesterday to prepare for the rolls. One of the neighbours was a young French couple. When she first moved here, the wife wanted Tam to teach her cook Vietnamese dishes, particularly the fried spring rolls.

The memory of the cosy atmosphere at Tam's family reminds me of Dr. Nguyen Thuy Phuong – a lecturer at a prestigious university in Paris. There is one thing in common between Phuong, Tam and many young Vietnamese who are living and studying abroad, that is, the aspiration to preserve traditional culture of their ancestors.

In her family's small house on the outskirts of Paris, Phuong sets up an authentic Vietnamese space with Dong Ho paintings, bamboo dragonflies, and an ancestral altar. Although she has lived and worked in France for nearly two decades, one can find the “Vietnamese aura” in her in a natural and charming way.

Phuong shared that since having children, who will become French citizens, she has become more aware of the need to teach them Vietnamese language and Vietnamese culture at a very young age.

Children will be kites which will fly high and fly away, but there is still a rope on the ground that holds them back, that is their Vietnamese origin, the Vietnamese language and culture.

Together with her close high school friend Nguyen Quynh Mai, they established the Canh Dieu (The Kite) group in January 2014, with a hope to establish a friendly space for Overseas Vietnamese children to practice Vietnamese language and learn Vietnamese culture.

They chose the name “Canh Dieu” (The Kite) because they hope that their children will be kites which will fly high and fly away, but there is still a rope on the ground that holds them back, that is their Vietnamese origin, the Vietnamese language and culture.

The group’s activities are organised in a variety of forms, allowing children to learn Vietnamese language and culture through drawing, folk dances, martial arts, ethnic musical instruments. They can also participate in traditional Vietnamese festivals such as Mid-Autumn Festival, and Tet Festival (Lunar New Year).

A highlight activity of Canh Dieu is cultural picnics. In April 2022, the group’s members visited the village of Noyant d'Allier, one of two French villages that have welcomed Indochinese people to reside since 1955.

During the trip, the children was introduced to the history and culture of a French village which is imbued with many Vietnamese characteristics. Dr. Nguyen Thuy Phuong expressed her hope that Canh Dieu’s members will promote and enjoy the dual culture.

2. Erin Steinhauer is always confident when introducing her Vietnamese origin. Erin is a descendant of Pham Phu Thu, a celebrated mandarin of the Nguyen Dynasty who made many contributions to establishing relations with the West in the 19th century.

Erin Steinhauer is the founder and current CEO of Vietnam Society, a non-profit organisation which works to promote Vietnamese art and culture to the world.

In 2022, Vietnam Society successfully organised the ‘Vietnam Week’ programme from October 29 to November 5 at Smithsonian's National Museum of Asian Art, and John F. Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts – two famous art venues in Washington, D.C. in the US.

The program featured many meaningful activities to introduce Vietnam's cinema, literature, cuisine, fine arts, and performing arts to international friends.

Appreciating the traditional values as well as the past and present culture of Vietnam, Erin Steinhauer has always worked to introduce the uniqueness and diversity of Vietnamese culture and art to international friends and particularly generations of Vietnamese, who were born in the US.

The ‘Vietnam Week’ programme can be considered one of the greatest efforts of the Vietnamese woman and her associates to bring the diverse, lively and friendly image of Vietnamese people and country to the world.

Culture ties Overseas Vietnamese people closer to their motherland ảnh 1

An exhibiting of Vietnamese traditional wedding clothes and textiles dated to the 18th century within the framework of the Vietnam Week.

One of the highlights of the programme was the display and demonstration of traditional Vietnamese wedding clothes and textiles in the 18th century, hosted by Dr. Dao Thanh Loc, a reputable researcher on traditional Vietnamese culture. Visitors to the event were provided with interesting information about the uniqueness of Vietnam's traditional costumes, and also tried on the Ao Dai – a traditional Vietnamese long dress.

According to Erin Steinhauer, the creation of a Vietnamese cultural space helped young people to directly approach to and “live” in Vietnamese culture. It is also shortest and most effective way to preserve and promote Vietnamese culture in the community.

She plans to hold ‘Vietnam Week’ annually as well as to organise more practical programmes to promote Vietnamese culture to the world.