Monday, May 27, 2013

Humility and Shame

Catfish and Mandala presents humility and submission as one of the defining traits of the Vietnamese community in the U.S. Andrew is evidently ashamed of this humility; he despises the fact that he has to be submissive to conform to his culture. Subsequently, he rebels and quits his job, takes on a journey, just so he won’t feel so “Asian.” Later in the memoir, he describes many behaviors that aren’t full of humility, but rather rowdy, embarrassing, and somewhat uncivilized. For instance, when Andrew was on the plane he mentioned that he wanted to sink in his seat, so he wouldn’t be associated with the people of his own culture.

 Andrew’s shame results from the Vietnamese tradition of submission and humility towards westerners but not among themselves. This eagerness to please and blind submission shame Andrew because they make him feel like a second class citizen and like he is inferior to Americans. Moreover, Andrew’s insistence on holding on to his American identity doesn’t only originate from his frustration from the ignorant terms that insensible people in the west use to identify his race such as “orientals”, but rather it originates from his own shame towards his own culture. He is imprisoned by his family expectations of him; their disappointment in Andrew is reflected on Andrew’s self-loathing, and lack of self-worth. Eventually, Andrew’s dissatisfaction with himself and his family transformed into a strong sense of refusal, and shame towards his heritage --(according to Andrew) a heritage that once took his sister’s life away, made his parents suffer, and forced his two gay brothers to live in secrecy. 

By Christina


  1. A large part of Andrew’s identity, and in particular his identity as a male, stems not only from his Vietnamese heritage but from American culture as well. The assumption of “groveling humility” chafes at Andrew’s conception of personal dignity (25). But does that conception of dignity find its inspiration in the pop-media driven icon of the American male, one whose image Andrew absorbed during his formative years? When in high school, he and his friends looked to Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky to pump [them] up for [a] fight. Perhaps that ideal (plus a host of others equally unrealistic and unattainable) remains lodged in his psyche obscuring the true identity he seeks.


  2. I agree with what you wrote and I think Andrew's refusal to accept humility comes from his rejection of the Vietnamese American culture itself. The majority of the book demonstrates his struggle with his separate Vietnamese or American identity, however he also resists the Vietnamese American identity. He describes them all as submissive and quits his job because he refuses to be an ideal oriental. He either wants to belong to one culture or the other. In Vietnam, he wants to be accepted by his people. And In America, he wants to be American. Part of his struggle is that he belongs to both worlds, but he does not want to.


  3. An seems to go through several stages of shame throughout his life and his journey back to Vietnam. He is ashamed at the role he played in the suicide of his sister Chi and his guilt stems from him telling on her when they were children. He constantly struggles to find anything in common with the Vietnamese and is ashamed of their ways. This includes the poverty and corruption that he sees throughout his journey. His initial rejection of his culture and homeland complicate his feelings toward his dual identity. He fails to completely relate to Vietnamese or American culture and places blame on both for the struggles that he and his family have been faced with.


  4. I agree that An has trouble accepting the 'submissive' nature of the eastern culture in regards to the west, but I also believe that this superiority complex is one of the few reasons his accomplishes his set task (or at the very least, doesn't get himself killed). I also agree that Pham does have a very strong sense of shame that originates within his familial environment and that extends into his Vietnamese 'sense of self'.