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What makes you proud of your country?

December 12, 2021 | 06:53 pm PT
Le Nguyen Duy Hau Lawyer
When I tell stories about Vietnam, I prefer not to talk about wars and victories. I know our country is much more than just tales about the past.

Studying abroad has given me the opportunity to make friends with people from every corner of the globe. Our meetings are always a chance for cultures from across oceans to mingle with songs and meals by strangers in foreign lands. Many years ago in Germany, I used to eat peanut candies from Hue with Japanese mochi and sip tequilas to Flamenco steps.

A Mexican friend once asked us what we were proud of about our countries. She told us about football World Cups and the Olympics, a Brazilian boasted about his country’s coffee exports, a Spanish guy took out his guitar to play a song, and a South Korean told us about K-pop.

That was easy, I thought. As someone who loves Vietnamese history, that question should be a walk in the park. But I hesitated. I did not want to tell them about how our forefathers fought off invaders and built this country, but not because I'm not proud of what we have been through.

I could have told them about our family traditions or our willingness to help one another during hard times, but these exist everywhere.

I settled for cuisine and my friends seemed satisfied to hear it. I was not.

I have since mulled over that question for a long time, but not until the pandemic hit did I find the answer I was looking for.

Last year all you could hear in Vietnam were the country’s success against the coronavirus and the so-called "Vietnamese pride" that comes with it.

But this year, when the virus revealed its hand and plunged us into a crisis, I saw what Vietnam has to be truly proud of: our willingness to get along with one another.

Throughout its history, Vietnam has never had to stand alone. Despite historical conflicts and ideological differences, Vietnam has managed to maintain its relationship with all international organizations and countries on the planet.

Amid the pandemic, we managed to garner support from around the world in the form of medical supplies and monetary support. We should be proud of the fact that we always have friends to lean on. That has helped us time and time again throughout our history.

After all, we are but one human race. One may think geopolitical divides and the clash of civilizations diminish what makes us us, but the truth is far from it. We thrive in a diverse world, and we are at our best as part of a global community.

We have been both victors and losers over our 1,000-year history, but never gone into the extremist side of things when it comes to dealing with former enemies.

Two decades after the Vietnam War, our country has managed to normalize relations with the U.S. When I grew up hearing slogans about how Vietnam wants to be friends with the entire world, I felt a sense of patriotism rising within me. Not the extreme, nationalistic kind, but a quiet and humble love for our national identity.

I believe that is our defining characteristic, one that has been crafted over generations.

There has been a debate lately about what Vietnam’s cultural values should be. Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam said "innovations should be celebrated and differences should be respected," and that message resonated with me.

In the past rap music was looked down upon as a "thug" genre, but is now regarded as any other artistic form of expression. Topics about sex and gender and new lifestyles are also becoming part of our daily conversations.

As the world shifts and turns, Vietnam also learns to match them, resulting in a diverse and active culture that is aligned with the global zeitgeist. It is the key to our long-term prosperity.

There will be many more challenges in future where our culture and identity will be put to the test. If I must point a finger at a social issue of the 21st century that needs to be addressed, it is extremist nationalism which pits people against one another.

Vietnamese as a whole, but most importantly our younger generations, should not fall into that trap. All humans are born equal and no nationality or culture is superior to others.

Celebrating diversity and practicing tolerance has always been the key to humanity’s future, and Vietnam should continue to do what we do best.

*Le Nguyen Duy Hau is a lawyer based in Ho Chi Minh City. The opinions expressed are his own.

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