Incense and Candles

Dan Le, Honorable Mention
Grade 8
San Jose

I winced and wrench my face to the side of my body. My hands flew up to my face. The whole episode goes unnoticed by my grandma, who definitely was not regretting her decision to go to the temple, unlike a certain pair of grandchildren she dragged along with her. What do I do? I gaze uncertainly at the very foggy high ceiling, which was filled with smoke that came from a multitude of candles; the candles were spread around a room that contributed layers upon layers of altars, incense jars, and numerous ceramic statues of Buddha. As I glumly took what was going to be my future for the next two hours, my grandma sharply poked me in the back and told me to stand up straight. Then, she instructed me in Vietnamese to go around to every single altar, take an incense stick, bow thrice, and place the candle in the ash pot. That was my whole summer after fifth grade .

Six, maybe five times a week, I would go to this and many other temples, where I would do the same thing over and over, for two straight months. My mom and dad worked, so my entire day was taken up with my grandma and my brother. There never seemed to be an upside . Or so I thought in the beginning. “ If this is going to be every five days out of every week for the whole summer, I had better not make myself miserable every time I went.” So I began to look on the bright side. The easiest part was the food, which was really good. They had real eggrolls, not the thin American eggrolls they served at school. These had crunch and flavor in them. The eggroll was a mixture of tofu, carrot bits, noodles, and cabbage with a thick, flaky crust wrapped all around to create a smorgasbord of crispiness. I even got to enjoy the incense. Most of all, I remembered my grandma and her philosophy. Among which are to do things right away, do not wait until you were told to do so, take care of homework first, peel off the whole yogurt cover before you eat it. In addition to this, I also learned a great deal about my grandmother. She came to the U.S from Vietnam with my dad and my grandpa on a plane. “Running from cover to cover, I had to carry your dad and aunt along as the bombs came down,’’ she would say. Sometimes I didn’t believe her. But I did get what she was trying to say; my whole family risked and sacrificed so many things for a better chance, a better life, in America. For me, for my cousins, and my whole family, future, past and present.

When I sit and ponder how much weight falls upon my shoulders, to do well in school, to go to college, to get a job and support a family, I can feel the bags under my eyes deepening. But my grandma has taught me two important things in life; “To never forget who you are, and to tackle life one thing at a time.” That is also what I think being an Asian American is about. For me, to be an Asian living in America is to embrace both sides of the package. It is to go to temple, to pray, to eat the food, but also to watch fireworks on the fourth of July, to vote, and to enjoy my rights like the freedom of speech and protest. My grandma and the rest of her family have all risked something for me. By doing that, they set an example. An example to put the needs of those I love before myself. If I cannot do the same, then I would not be worthy to carry their name. To be an Asian American is to support my family, through the good times and the bad. To be there for each other as a family. This is vital.