- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 26, 2000

Ethan Cooper, an adult child of a cross-cultural marriage, was born in Germany when his father was serving in the U.S. Army. Though he has no recollection of his first year in Germany, he does remember living in Hawaii with his Japanese mother and grandparents when he was young.

"To this day, my grandmother can sing a Japanese song, and I will be able to respond," he says. He also has memories of being strapped to his grandmother's back and not being able to move when he was a baby.

After two stints in Vietnam, his father rejoined the family, and the rest of his youth was spent bouncing around U.S. Army bases.

"It made it interesting for us in the military," he says. "Your parents and extended family become very close."

The youngest of three boys, Mr. Cooper went back to Hawaii to attend high school. He then went to Boston College, and in 1992, he joined the Army. While in the military, he spent two years in Korea and two years in Washington.

"Growing up was difficult because you were made fun of," he says. Then he adds, "We were never allowed to run away from who we were."

He was in Montana recently, working on voter registration, and was mistaken as being half-Indian. He was told he should go back to the reservation. He laughs and says he keeps it all in perspective.

"I don't think you appreciate the wonderful richness of a culture, much less having two or three," he says. "In my case, I have Hawaiian, Japanese and Irish."

His Japanese grandfather was interned during World War II, and his grandparents are Buddhists.

He says the Japanese and Hawaiian cultures are very different."Hawaiians are very affectionate, and the Japanese are more reserved," he explains. He says growing up with different cultures never caused confusion for him.

"I just learned to float between the two cultures," he says. He is closer to the Japanese culture, he adds, because his grandmother raised him when he was young and there is a strong connection. He knows a lot of Japanese and Hawaiian words but does not speak either language fluently.

Nga "Amy" Trang says she was 4 months old when her parents fled Vietnam in a small boat 21 years ago. The family wound up in a Malaysian refugee camp for a year until sponsorship by her father's uncle brought them to the United States.

Her father, Phi, lost his government position in 1975 when South Vietnam fell to the communist regime of North Vietnam. Her parents were afraid she and her older brother would be denied a good education if they stayed in Vietnam. The couple left Vietnam in 1979 with their two children and her father's six siblings in tow.

Though Ms. Trang grew up in the United States, she was raised within the traditional Vietnamese culture and language and learned to live in both worlds.

Every summer, her parents rented Chinese movies to help her and her brother learn the Vietnamese language. The movies were translated using formal Vietnamese and not everyday language, she says.

"For a while, we were talking in this formal language, and we would be laughed at," she recalls, though she has fond memories of that time.Another aspect of Vietnamese culture was not showing affection.

"My brother and I did not hug or kiss," Ms. Trang says. However, she adds, the children slept with their mother, as is common in Vietnamese culture, until reaching puberty at about age 12.

In keeping with traditional culture, Ms. Trang was not allowed to date until she left home and went to college. Such a high value is placed on education, she says, that it comes first before intimate relationships.

"In traditional Vietnamese culture, the parent has ultimate authority," she explains.

At 21, she is a doctoral student in public policy at George Mason University. She earned her bachelor's degree in international studies from GMU at 19 and her master's degree in the social foundations of education from the University of Virginia a year later.

She met her husband, Tan Nguyen, during the summer of her freshman year in high school. He was visiting his cousin, who happened to be her best friend. At 17, during her first year in college, she was helping out at a wedding, and "we started talking and got to know each other as friends," she says.

Her friend's family teased them both, and that summer, she says, she bluntly told him that she wanted to make it clear they would be friends and nothing more. Once that obstacle was removed, their friendship blossomed.

At 18, she participated in a study tour in Asia and had a lot of time to think about their relationship. A year later, they were engaged, and in keeping with Vietnamese tradition, his parents asked her parents' permission. The following summer, they were married.

Even with similar cultures, "We started off clashing a little because the expectations of being the traditional Vietnamese girl was not the same that I thought," she says. Her husband left Vietnam at age 8 and was raised in French Montreal, so he had had different cultural influences.

The family celebrates Christmas as an American cultural tradition with a Christmas tree and exchange of gifts. The major holiday in Vietnam is Tet, which is the New Year and is very celebrated. Next year, it falls on Jan. 24 and will last for seven days.

"There's a tradition that you give offerings to the kitchen God," Ms. Trang says. "You go to temple to greet the New Year." She says tradition also says your house must be clean before the new year; otherwise, you will sweep away good luck.

An important part of her Vietnamese culture is Buddhism, and though she went to Bible study and church when she was young, "Buddhism is more relevant to my lifestyle," she says. She has practiced meditation since age 8 and says it is very helpful to clear the mind and restore balance.

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