Vietnamese Altar

Relationship: Child of im/migrant
Vietnamese altar for ancestors
Vietnamese altar for ancestors

  “Come and say hello to Bà ngoại and Ông ngoại,” my mom called, guiding my five-year-old self to the wooden altar where I was met with framed photos of my grandparents. As my mom knelt beside me on the cold tiles, I silently followed her in burning incense sticks. There was a satisfactory warmth knowing that I fulfilled my obligations to my ancestors; I hoped that my grandparents were proud of my efforts. Twelve years later, the presence of the now worn-down altar leads me to that bittersweet memory once again. The origins of the altar trace back to Vietnam, where my mom was born. Struggling in poverty, she moved to America to provide a better life for her family. My mom integrated Vietnamese culture into my life to ensure that my origins were engrained into my soul. Thus, the altar consciously reminded me of my heritage in my daily life—the scent of the amber fragrance and the soft, ritual songs instinctively led me to reflect on my Vietnamese history. Not once have I hesitated to help in maintaining the altar. The responsibility of handling my family’s time-worn shrine evoked a sensation of prideful productivity, similar to the satisfactory warmth I felt when I was five. Over time, my experience with the altar progresses towards my mom's level, as these practices are second nature to her. One day, it will be only me who takes care of that same altar, and it will be my responsibility to carry out these traditions for my parents, as they have done for their ancestors.


Place(s): Vietnam

– Evelyn Wu

Relationship:  Child of im/migrant Child of im/migrant