Graphic by Sandra Tsang
I’m getting to the age where I can properly say something is nostalgic, whether it’s a game, toy, or random obscure memory that everyone in my cohort seems to share. For most people, these memories are encased in music. You can find most 2000s babies jamming out to “Dynamite” or “Grenade,” but this observation is pretty limited to Americans. As a child born to Vietnamese immigrants, I grew up with these American classics as well as Vietnamese pop. However, I’ve noticed that most of the Vietnamese music I’ve grown up with is from my parents’ generation. This would greatly separate me from a native-born Vietnamese person my age, as they would’ve grown up with 2000s V-pop. I’ve noticed that this observation is distinct to the first generation experience. Many others like me are either only familiar with their parents’ songs, out of touch with the current music their native-born generation enjoys, or become involved in their later years. Consequently, I’ve decided to explore how music has shaped the Asian American experience, through honoring our parents, acknowledging our Asian American identity, or pure nostalgia. Below, I’ve quoted some fellow Silk Club members on what their songs mean to them. I’ve also compiled a playlist of all the songs that members felt were significant to them in this sense. Feel free to listen while reading their quotes!
Spotify Playlist: The Songs We've Grown Up With
“Basically growing up it was the only Chinese song that my brothers and I were all able to sing because of how much my parents played it when we were in the states and how much the radio in Malaysia played it too. Basically the Love Story of Chinese music in my mind.” - Abby, (she/her)
“我是一只小小鸟 and 我很丑可是我很温柔 are songs my dad used to sing all the damn time. They’re also such ridiculous song titles, and I haven’t been able to shake them… the experience around those two is so quintessentially Chinese dad” - Melody, (she/her)
“This song [Black Happiness] is special because, while I was now embracing my Asian identity at the time, Black Happiness left me with self-awareness on how the Asian community contributes to anti-Blackness. Reading about Yoon Mi Rae, a Blasian artist, and her story, it was a bit of a reality check. It's still an uplifting song, but it was the song that introduced me to social justice issues and to really think about what it is like being Asian American.” - Asela, (she/her)
“My song was Killing Me Softly With His Song. When my mom was younger, she stayed in France with family friends who fled there during the Vietnam War. She always says this song reminds her of the endless karaoke nights that would play this song. My grandma and aunts karaoke this song still too.” - Audrey, (she/they)
“I added the song by George Lam :-) I chose it because when I was a little girl my dad used to sing his own acoustic version of it as my bedtime song every night so it’s something I grew up with and slowly began to learn the words to. It will always remind me of him.” - Sandra, (she/her)
“These are some of the Hindi love songs I grew up listening to. Bollywood songs made up the soundtrack for my daydreams growing up and played a huge role in turning me into a hopeless romantic. These particular songs are from my favorite Bollywood movies and are admittedly quite dramatic, but I love the dreamy feeling I get when I listen to them! (Fun fact: ‘khwaabon’ translates to dreams in Hindi).” - Brinda, (she/her)
“Growing up, I would always fall asleep to the sound of my parents and their friends singing karaoke. This song was almost always in their karaoke rotation, and now I hear my own friends sing this when we nhậu.” - Tiffany, (she/her)
Although we Asian Americans come from diverse backgrounds within America, it would appear that we still have a strong desire to connect with our roots, wherever they may be. The songs that we’ve grown up with help us make sense of our Asian American identity. Some of the songs may have come from our parents’ generation, from a later time period than our peers, or perhaps even self-discovery on the internet, but no matter what, they are ours.