In honor of Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, IZEAns Jackie Wool and Helene Huynh sat down to interview each other about their cultural heritage.

Vietnam & Helene

VietnamWhat city in Vietnam does your family mainly originate from?

My dad’s family is from Phụng Hiệp and my mom’s family is from Mỹ Tho, both cities are located south of Ho Chi Minh City.

Where were you born?

Miami, FL *please don’t cue Pitbull*

Favorite Vietnamese dish?

I’m having a hard time answering this question because there’s a dish for every craving. I love almost every popular Vietnamese dish there is and there are more that are becoming prevalent to our cuisine because of the booming food culture in Vietnam. We eat ALL the time…about every 3-4 hours…and we drink refreshing beverages during AND in between. Highly recommend anyone to try these out because there’s more to Viet food than just Phở, spring rolls, and bánh mì.

My fave breakfast:
Omelet with chinese sausage (Trứng Chiên Lạp Xưởng)
Congee/rice porridge (Cháo) – also for when you’re sick…Viet version of Chicken Noodle soup
Sticky rice on the side (Xoi)

Lunch & dinner are typically in a feast style where we have about 10+ different dishes, but amongst my favorites:
Spiced beef wrapped in pepper leaves (Bò lá lốt)
Beef stew, eaten with either french bread or noodles (Bò kho)
Sour & sweet soup (Canh chua)
Pan-fried tumeric “crepe” or “pancake” (Bánh xèo)
Rice rolls (Bánh cuốn)
Grilled meatballs (Nem nướng)
Papaya salad (Gỏi)

Weirdest Vietnamese dish?

Balut and Durian. Both of these things have actually been on Fear Factor. I actually don’t know if the above are origins of Vietnam, so I’ll put another one on here. Snake Wine is a thing and is believed to have medicinal benefits. I’d rather drink rosé.Snake Wine

Favorite Vietnamese tradition?

Eating. It is considered rude to decline food if you were offered in a household. For Lunar New Year, children would receive a red envelope with cash from every single elder they give prayers to.

What is one cultural value that you cherish the most from your upbringing?

Vietnamese-Americans have different a upbringing due to Western influences, but my parents at least wanted my brother and I to respect certain traditions. I would have to say respect and dedication to family is one I cherish the most. I still bow when greeting certain family members to show my respect, although most American-born Vietnamese don’t anymore. I still try my best to speak to my relatives in Vietnamese even if I have the vocab of a 5 year old, most Viet-Americans are used to speaking English at home. In our culture, the oldest child has the heaviest responsibility to the family and although I’m 4 hours away from mine, I still try to make a couple of trips a month to Miami to help out around the house…plus I get food in return 🙂

Philippines & Jackie

PhilippinesWhat city in the Philippines does your family mainly originate from?

Manila, the country’s capital

Where were you born?

3-0-5 Miami, FL *cue Pitbull*

Favorite Filipino dish?

This definitely depends on who’s making it, but it’s a three-way tie between pancit (my mom’s), sinigang and kare-kare (my lola’s, which means “grandmother” in Tagalog).

Pancit is probably the most widely recognized Filipino dish in the States besides lumpia (eggrolls); it consists of thin rice noodles and a variation of vegetables and sliced meat. My family likes using shrimp, carrots, green onions, and cabbage.

Sinigang is a Filipino stew made with pork or beef and eggplant, tomatoes, and tamarinds. Kare-kare was a childhood favorite and is basically another stew but made with oxtail and a thick peanut sauce.

Weirdest Filipino dish?

Balut. *cringes*

Favorite Filipino tradition?

Tinikling is pretty cool, although I’ve never personally done it – it’s a traditional folk dance involving at least two people tapping and sliding bamboo poles on the ground and against each other in coordination with one or more dancers stepping in between the poles to rondalla music (a stringed instrument ensemble). If I ever tried, I’d probably hurt myself.

In terms of what I’ve actually experienced growing up, I’ve always appreciated the Mano Po tradition. When a child or young person says goodbye to their elders, it’s expected of them to take the elder’s right hand with their own and place the back of the elder’s hand lightly to the younger person’s forehead. This is seen as a way of paying your respects and “receiving blessings” from those older than you. Although it’s not commonly practiced with American-born Filipinos, it’s definitely a respectful gesture to keep in mind if you have older island-born elders in your company.

What is one cultural value that you cherish the most from your upbringing?

Filipino hospitality, hands down. I’ve always been used to seeing dozens of people in and out of my family’s houses, and although I’m quite the introvert, I feel very at-home in large gatherings of close friends or family members and often feel inclined to make sure they’re comfortable and properly fed.

The concept of “mabuhay” is also important to me. It’s a Filipino greeting that can be most similarly compared to “cheers,” and is translated into a form of “live” or “may you live.” I’ve had the privilege of watching my family, particularly my mom, make do with what we had to create a better future for us; no matter the challenge or where you come from, “mabuhay” reminds me to keep living, keep fighting and never take for granted what surrounds you.