Life experience ·6.3·

The uncertainty of finding your own path and following your passions

Equality is wishful thinking. Only in death we will become equal.

The typical path for anyone who wants to get into a higher paying position is usually going to university, graduate and apply for a job in that specific field or in another one. Regardless of which position they want to work in, most people with a degree would probably like to avoid working in the service industry for example, working as a waiter or a dishwasher. Not because it is not a respectable job or anything like that (even though there is a fair amount of lack of respect for workers in different kinds of industries), but because the service industry is not really known for great working conditions or high salaries, except if you are a manager of some sort, or a business owner maybe. There are desirable jobs and there are less desirable ones and often there is correlation between desirability, respect and admiration. The less desirable a job is, the less respect or admiration you will receive doing it. Often times, people wait tables, because there is no other choice. It is a typical part-time job for students, for the time when they don’t have a degree yet. However, as soon as they get their degrees they aim for more, they aim higher. They don’t want to be stuck in a low-paying job, where they aren’t even treated as equal human beings, where their income depends on the kindness of some strangers. I mean, who would want to spend several years and a huge amount of money on their education to end up in a position, where they can’t even afford rent and basic necessities?

Everyone yearns for a better life. Everyone yearns for happiness.
I too, want to have a fulfilling life. However, what is a fulfilling life? For each person, a good life might mean something different. For one person, it means earning a lot of money, to be able to afford everything they want to. That is their passion. For another person, having a good life means following a passion, even if financial stability is not guaranteed on that path.

My whole life that I have been on this earth, I have struggled between pursuing a high paying job or chasing after what I truly want to do.
My upbringing taught me to choose a path that ensures financial stability, something that ensures a high standing in society. That is the only thing that matters and my parents made sure to not let me forget that. We are immigrants. Foreigners. Outsiders. We might live in Germany and I might be German on paper, but we will never be seen as equals.
You might think now that I am exaggerating, but let me tell you something about a former politician in Germany named Philipp Rösler. Reading the name, you probably don’t think much of it. Though looking at him without knowing him, I can promise you that you would have never thought of him as a German politician. His roots are Vietnamese and nothing about his looks scream German. He was adopted by a German couple during the Vietnam war when he was still very young and was then brought up in Germany. This won’t be a discussion about his politics, but about how he was treated by the public during his political career. What I observed was the way people who didn’t agree with him spoke about him. Whether it was the general public, the media or political opponents. The media focused on his Vietnamese roots repeatedly even though he insisted that he basically doesn’t have any connection to the country. The public and other politicians threw racial slurs at him. There were politicians who said he should get murdered by a far-right German neo-Nazi terrorist group. He was told to go back to his country. Regardless of what his politics and beliefs consisted of, even though he has a German name, was brought up in Germany by German parents and served in German politics and therefore has a high standing in society, the way he was treated shows that he was never considered a German citizen. To many, he was an outsider and therefore has no business in German politics.

The fear of my parents is not uncalled for and I understand where they are coming from. They are afraid that the hurdles are even greater for us, because our looks and names are not German. I read about some experiences of other Vietnamese people my age. There were some who were looking for apartments and all the applications that has been sent out under their Vietnamese names were rejected or they were told that the apartment are already gone. When their German partners sent an inquiry for the same apartments, they immediately got a date for an inspection. I spoke to a German colleague  who used to live in the same dormitory as me. Before you move out of the apartment, they always inspect it for dirt or damages. My colleague told me how the manager just went into the apartment and looked around leisurely for a few seconds, before they signed the papers to finish the apartment handover. When I told my colleague that in my case, they looked around in every corner and notch to see whether it was clean enough, my colleague was astonished. At that time I was told that the toilet was not clean enough and that they would deduct the money from the deposit to clean it again. Then my colleague remembered a talk they had with a domitory manager once and how the person said that Asian residents are always so dirty. When I moved back in another apartment in the same dormitory after my year abroad, the ground of the toilet I found in the bathroom was covered in blackness. It took me several toilet cleaning tablets and a lot of toilet cleaner in order to reveal the white of the toilet again. So I asked myself why the toilet was left the way it was, when they say that they deduct the money from the deposit in order to clean a toilet they deem dirty after the resident moved out. Doesn’t that mean that the next person moving in should have a clean toilet? Another German colleague told me about a situation they observed during moving-in day. They stood in line behind a Japanese student in front of the office of the dorm manager. My colleague caught on that the student had some problems with their toilet not functioning properly and they remembered how annoyed the manager reacted while not making any effort to try and help the student with their problem. When it was my colleague’s turn the manager then proceeded to say to them „Thank god, you’re my saviour. Can you believe I have to deal with something like this right after my vacation?“

Nowadays, everyone is fast to say that we are all equal, that nobody tolerates discrimination. Isn’t that way of thinking too naive? Discrimination and racism won’t always show themselves in broad daylight like the right-wing groups demonstrating against foreigners on the streets. It can be subtle. That is why the term „microaggression“ exists. There are subtle actions that might be considered harmless to people who belong to the dominant culture. However, what those tell us is that we will never be one of them, that we will never belong. We will always be the ones who are inferior to them and we shouldn’t dare to surpass them in their territory. My parents are always preaching that I should work hard, even harder than they are, in order for them to not look down on us. If you are not able to exceed their expectations and be better than the very best of them, you will be nothing in their society. They will see you as freeloaders, parasites of their society. I should study something that is highly demanded on the job market and therefore paid accordingly. Otherwise they will find ways to ridicule you and step on you, a mere foreigner. Growing up, this mindset has of course put me under a lot of pressure. Even now, when I’m close to finishing my degree, I can’t help but think about what I should do in order to reach a high standing in society. My parents tell me that I should leave the country, because even with hard work, they won’t let me advance here. If they see that you work harder than they are, they will hate you and they will even put more hurdles your way. I was thinking that they are exaggerating. Ever since I have come to this university, I feel supported by my professors and teachers. However, that might just be the case in this university bubble. The vacation to America last year made me think. When I arrived there, for the first time in my life I saw Vietnamese people on advertisements. I saw Vietnamese people’s faces plastered on posters running for office. I got to know Vietnamese managers of American companies. I met so many who are owning a house. I saw Vietnamese police officers. I saw doctor’s offices with Vietnamese names attached to it. I saw Vietnamese lawyers advertising their services. I saw Vietnamese people working in other professions besides being restaurant owners.

It was then, that I realized that I have never seen these things in Germany. I discovered how surprised I was seeing that something like that is even possible and normal in a Western country. I never even thought about it. The Vietnamese people I have met in Germany are either simple employees or restaurant owners. It is like being a restaurant owner is the only way for them to be independent and be their own boss in Germany They also stay within their own group. Most of the employees of these stores are other Vietnamese people. Is it because there isn’t anyone else willing to work under the leadership of a Vietnamese person? Being a manager or working in a position of great responsibility seems to be unthinkable. I have never encountered a Vietnamese person in Germany working in such a position. As if an Asian person has the capability to lead a group of white people and wouldn’t it be disgraceful for a white person to work under someone who society deems inferior?

It can’t be. Everyone has the same opportunities. Everyone is equal. Or not? When I spoke to my father once, he was telling me to search for opportunities outside of Germany. He told me that in all the years he was working at the same company, he was never given an opportunity to get promoted. I asked him whether he wanted to get promoted. He said „Yes, of course“. Somehow that never crossed my mind. I always thought that he was content with his position at the company, since he was working in the same position for such a long time. How can that be? Isn’t he putting enough effort into his work, enough to deserve a promotion? My parents are two of the most hard-working people I know. When they came to Germany, they had no one, they had nothing, except the clothes they were wearing on their body. They found work, lived in apartments without heaters and warm water. My mother worked so that my father could continue his studies that he had to quit during the war. He tried to study Chemistry. However, the German language was too high of a hurdle. Then he found work at the company he is working at now. Ever since then, working as simple employees, both of them managed to build a stable life for themselves and their children. They did everything in their power in order to give us a proper education. I remember how my father stayed up late at night and filled notebook after notebook with the letters of the alphabet. Those were A4 notebooks filled with one letter repeatedly for me to trace and learn. He wrote down German words with the Vietnamese translation for me to copy and remember. They did everything so that the German language will never become a hindrance for my life and they also made sure that I won’t neglect my mother tongue. My parents hope that their children will achieve more than they have. They don’t want to see their children being bossed around by people who think we are not worth acknowledging and listening to. For them, the only way to accomplish that is having money and power, because without those, you will have no voice in this society.

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