A dog tag is the informal name for the identification tags worn by military personnel, because of their resemblance to actual dog tags.
Identity Replacement Conditioning.
It begins with the changing of a name.
Lê Thị Bửu Trân was preserved only as text on a page – the right to replace it with a Western name purchased for a few thousand dollars. Mismatched but easy for Americans to remember and pronounce, my new name served as a testament to the alien-ness of the environment that was to be my home.
“Bonding” was essential to successfully imprinting upon me the graph of my new family’s identity. This psychological process, so vital to human beings, served as a kind of primer-coat. It covered my undeveloped consciousness, smoothed it over for easy transferral and later sealed in any objections or doubts as to its validity.
Identity restructuring often occurs under the guise of acceptance and belonging. When my parents changed my name, they intended it to be a sign of acceptance and a means through which I might “fit in.” In actuality, it was a kind of branding. Neither my adoptive parents nor my environment could accept me as I had been.
Like a mark of ownership, my new name helped us all to believe I belonged to and with them. The cutting and pasting of my identity was cast as being a good thing and I was none the wiser. Belonging was a necessity and that reduced the value of my original heritage even more.
Give me adoption or give me death. “Forget the past,” society says, “but if you must remember, do so in light of the fact that all you have lost is nothing compared to what you have gained. Be grateful to be alive. Be grateful for your opportunities. Be grateful you weren’t left in Viet Nam. See the orphanage. Look at the poverty.
Understand from where you came. Be witness to what could have been. Aren’t you glad you didn’t grow up like that? Take what we have given you without questioning, without complaint. God bless your adoptive parents. God bless America. Pity the country that couldn’t take care of you.”
It was rarely said aloud. The suggestions were subtle, subliminal, almost automatic.
Ethnic Subversion Immersion.
Movies, television, school and church all worked together to convey the message that Lê Thị Bửu Trân brought with her little, if anything of importance.
“Life is here and now. She was then and so far away. Let’s bow our heads and pray, be thankful for our blessings. You cannot fight destiny. Respect authority. Respect your parents. God. Country. Family.”
The struggle to fade into the landscape of racial ambiguity, pop culture, fashion and teenage trends trumped everything. To truly become something, you have to know it, study it, lose yourself in it. You’re told how to speak, what to eat, what to wear, what to like, what to believe until you forget to wonder if there was ever anything else.
Face and race were the first of many clues that something of was out place. Beyond nothing “matching,” the isolation and feelings of dislocation, there was the secret knowledge that I could never go back. Even if face and race matched, culture did not. The way “others” saw me would rarely be the way I, the other, saw myself. Face(x) + Race(x) + Culture(y) ≠ Ethnicity(y) or (x).
Society seemed to offer me only three directions in which to go. I could stick with what I knew and continue in the direction that my parents had laid out for me. I could break from my comfort zone and try to become “fully” Vietnamese. Or I could try to cut straight down the middle and carve out some existence in-between. All would later prove problematic. The first two would send me down paths that I could never fully explore. The third down a path that could never be tangibly defined.
To refer to it as a kind of “third space” proves inaccurate. That suggests a place in which I inhabit when in fact, there is no tangible place with which to identify my hybrid ethnicity. It seems more appropriate to say I carry it within myself. It is who I am and up to me to define. I write the equation, determine whether the answer is correct or not while reserving the right to revise.