As long as I can remember, I wore Nguyen like a shirt my mother forced me to put on. I was bombarded by my peers with, “Hey, my cousin said his best friend has the same last name as you. His name is Tommy—are you related?”

During roll-call, my teachers would see a line-up of two Nguyen surnames and sigh like it was a chore to sift through and memorize us. She never did that for the three Smith surnames at the bottom of the list.

My friends would hear any Asian language and ask, “What are they saying?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know that language.”

“Oh, I thought you would. They all sound the same.”

My father would call me and I would respond in English. He would growl, “Answer me in Vietnamese, please.”

My surname always felt like a bag to carry. I was always being compared…

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