My mom is Vietnamese and my dad is Pakistani, but he passed away when I was 18 right before I came to college. I was sad that I would never get the chance to grow with him the way others can with their fathers, but more than that I was also bothered by the fact that I will never have the experience of showing people my mom and dad together to explain why I look the way I do. I'm jealous of people who can take family photos where they look like halves of their parents, because I will never have that.
I never felt pretty growing up in Vietnam. There, “pretty” was pale skin with long, straight black hair— I had darker skin, and thick, curly hair. My relatives always told me to stay out of the sun, and as a result I was always conscious of how much time I spent playing outside. Growing up, I thought I was ugly. My classmates at school bullied me because I looked different, so much that my mom moved me to an international school. There, it was more diverse; my best friend there was half white and half Vietnamese, and through him I finally felt understood. It was great. But a year later we moved to Texas: the American South.
I was shocked when I arrived at the airport. I saw so many different kinds of people— in Vietnam, I never saw blacks or hispanics. I was the only person in my class who wasn’t white, I was the different one yet again. I remember people not sitting next to me at lunch, how I didn't have anyone to invite to my birthday parties, and how frustrating it was that the teachers couldn't pronounce my name, Thien Tam. The funny thing is, I never told people to call me “Tammy”. A girl named Caitlin in my 5th grade class decided she couldn’t pronounce my name so she told everyone just to call me Tammy; I had no say in the matter, and the name stuck.
It wasn’t until later in high school when I realized that I don’t have to apologize for who I am or try to change myself to be palatable for anyone else. I realized that I am not the one at fault for being different or "hard to understand." I finally understood that I am beautiful, not because I am the same, but because I am different. People still assume things about me because of the way I look, for example, saying “of course” when I tell them I’m going into medicine because I'm Asian. But I know I am so much more than that and I refuse to let those stereotypes change who I am or define what I do.