The Written Memoir Of Stealing Buddhas Dinner English Literature Essay

Bich Minh Nguyen’s “Stealing Buddha’s Dinner” is an extravagantly written memoir that revolves around herself as a Vietnamese immigrant in search for her identity. This autobiography starts off when her family is forced to leave Vietnam because the North Vietnamese is trying to turn their government into a communist one. In the memoir, she experiences a sudden change when she travels half way around the world on a boat and finally arriving in America; which is her newfound home. As a young girl, moving from country to country with countless cultures to be able to gain knowledge of is a dramatic transition. There is so much for her and her family to learn about; especially the new language. There is obviously a big adjustment for her family migrating all the way from Vietnam. With Nguyen as the young girl, she learns more about the different kinds of people, foods and cultures. She goes through these experiences while trying to find out about who she is. This young girl tries to find herself in this American experience by exploring the wonders of the food, people, cultures and religions. In addition, this memoir reveals that the American religious experience is quite different; there is a lot to learn going to a country that is diverse and different from your native residence.

In the beginning, Nguyen discovers the many different kinds of exotic foods that she falls in love with. From fruit to candy and junk food, she finds a passion for American food because she hungers for an American identity. Nguyen’s father would come home from work with a new kind of candy in his pocket each day. Nguyen says from the memoir, “We couldn’t get enough Luden’s wild-cherry flavored cough drops, or Pringles stacked in their shiny red canister, a mille-feuille of promises.” (Page 14) Nguyen claims that the Pringles mustache reminded her of Santa Claus because he has a big white beard. She continues on to explore many types of foods such as fruits. Noi; Nguyen’s grandmother would go out to the farmer’s market and bargain for fruits. Once her grandmother Noi let her and her sister try the fruit, Nguyen wrote, “We could never get enough. The fruit seemed dearer to us than candy, and I believed that the transformation from globe to glistening slices involved some kind of magic.” (Page 19) Nguyen’s infatuation with food is a step closer to finding her American identity. She’s slowly learning about what American people eat that she even forgets about Noi’s traditional specialties. Nguyen is slowly losing her Vietnamese identity, but she is gaining knowledge about an American one. The American religious experience requires exploration and discovery given that this is all new for Nguyen and her family.

Leaving to such a different environment involves more learning about the many social customs of the new country. Basically, with a country as diverse as America, there are many people you meet and socially bond with. When Nguyen and her family went to a Vietnamese party on New Year’s Eve, her father spotted whom Nguyen said were “two women pausing at the doorway. One had curly black hair, and it took him a moment to realize that she wasn’t Vietnamese. But she didn’t look white, either.” (Page 20) The father and Chu Anh seemed to be interested in the women. Nguyen explains in the memoir, “The two women were Rosa, a second-generation Mexican American, and Shirley, a daughter of German-Jewish Immigrants by way of the Dominican Republic.” (Page 20) The women were an ethnicity that Nguyen did not know in the beginning, she was too young to know what they were; all she knew was that they were definitely different. Her father later decided to marry the Mexican American, Rosa, so she becomes Nguyen’s Latino step-mother. This event in Nguyen’s life must have been a little confusing for her American identity because now she is learning about another culture. Not only does she find out that there are people of different ethnicities, she also finds out that they have dissimilar cultures. Nguyen starts to gain knowledge of Mexican culture from the food that Rosa cooks for her. Unfortunately, during all this, Nguyen’s family starts to lose part of their religion when the father puts aside the Buddha altar. However, as Nguyen gains knowledge about other cultures, she is also learning about diversity which is involved in the American identity.

One thing that is questionable of Nguyen’s identity is her religion. Nguyen is Buddhist, yet she feels too American to pray in the temple. She says in her memoir, “I felt so out of place – too American, not truly Buddhist – that I never did muster the nerve to enter the prayer room, let alone approach the imposing statue of Buddha.” (Page 186) Nguyen would practice Buddhism at home, but she also goes to Saint Joseph’s Catholic School. There, she would learn about God and Catholic faith. Her father would tell her the distinction between the two religions because she questioned plenty about both of them. It seems that Buddhism kept her away from her American identity. Nguyen says, “Whenever God was cited – in the Pledge of Allegiance or on coins – in my mind I substituted the word Buddha.” (Page 192) Since her father teaches her a lot about Buddha, she believes that Buddha is her God. It is very surprising that Nguyen did not decide to learn about Catholic religion since she thirsts for the American identity. She was more interested in her own religion rather than the American one. However, this shows that the American religious experience is very different because there is a lot to gain knowledge of. America has public Catholic schools for people to learn about religion and offering free education. This shows that they are trying to convert the Americans into their religion. Nevertheless, Nguyen makes the decision of choosing Buddha over God.

As Nguyen learns the many differences of the American culture from her own, she is definitely discovering the American religious experience. She desires the American identity, and that is what she gets. However, when she heads back to Vietnam, the people see her as American rather than Vietnamese. This made her rather uncomfortable because she sees herself as a tourist amongst people of her ethnicity. She could not even communicate with her family because they knew no English, and Nguyen did not know any Vietnamese. The American religious experience definitely changed who she was supposed to be. She learned a lot about her own religion, and the religion of the Americans. This memoir showed that there is a lot to be taught about religion and how it relates to food, people, and cultures.

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