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EnviroLab Asia’s Vietphái nam Research Fellow Vy Doan (Pomona ’18) writes about her experience returning to lớn Vietphái mạnh to participate in the EnviroLab Asia/Cion Trust Clinic Trip in January 2018. A Vietnamese version of the article follows the English version.

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“In Vietnamese, nước means water, country, & homelvà. To ask where one is from is khổng lồ ask “Nước nào?”


16-year old mango tree. Phokhổng lồ credit: Vy Doan


I once planted a mango tree back when I was still living in Vietnam giới. Even though I was quite young, I took care of my tree very well by watering it daily. However, when my family immigrated lớn the United States when I was five years old, I quickly forgot about my mango tree. Upon my arrival in the United States, I felt as if I needed lớn give sầu up parts of my culture in order lớn assimilate.

My family was one of the few Asian American households in the suburbs of Arizomãng cầu. Everyone around me spoke English but no one knew where or what my country was—to lớn them, my country was just a war. It was only at trang chủ where my family & I comfortably spoke Vietnamese. At home page, we were comfortable speaking our own language. Outside, people often thought we were too “foreign” lớn be living here. Due khổng lồ language barriers, I became my family’s cultural navigator since my English was more accepted. A few years later, I spoke English as well as anyone else in my school; but my improvements in English came at the cost of my Vietnamese. Although I could still eat Vietnamese foods và speak Vietnamese, I felt as if I lost more & more of my cultural heritage with each passing day.

Ten years later, I was given an opportunity during my senior year in college to lớn visit Vietnam through a program called EnviroLab Asia. I was stunned the moment I stepped off the plane. Saigon had changed so much within the span of a decade, yet my hometown in Dong Nai two hours outside of Saigon still remained unchanged. At the beginning of the trip, I worried that my Vietnamese was not good enough. People talked so quickly & there were so many new words or words I had forgotten how to lớn use. I struggled with the question: “Was I not Vietnamese enough or was I too Americanized?” Yet, the more I shared my stories with my family and friends, the more my fluency improved và the more I realized that some things were never truly lost. Sometimes, living in the United States made me forget my roots. It was only when I returned to Vietphái mạnh that I started to lớn remember once again what being Vietnamese meant. Like my relatives and my friends, Vietnamese people were not only dynamic but also thoughtful. For instance, the community in my village pooled together their money khổng lồ purchase and hang up Christmas lights around the neighborhood for the holiday season. Although every community has their issues, Vietnamese people will still care for you at the end of the day just lượt thích a family member.

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Even though I still don’t know everything about my culture, I want lớn continue khổng lồ learn as much as possible. For so long, I thought that my màn chơi of “Vietnamese-ness” was tied lớn my commvà of the language, but I later realized that it’s more important to consider personal self-identification. Although I live sầu far away from the homel&, I’ve found my own community và ties to my Vietnamese-ness through other Vietnamese-Americans. My roots may lie outside Vietnam itself but they live in spaces lượt thích the Vietnamese Student Association and my trang chủ in Arizomãng cầu. Nowadays, Vietnamese people live sầu all over the world. Due to our scattered existence, I lượt thích lớn use the term “diaspora” khổng lồ sometimes describe my connection to lớn Vietnam giới and khổng lồ other Vietnamese individuals. “Diaspora” refers to lớn the migration of a group of people, of the same national origin, from a settlement or ancestral lvà. I hope to lớn continue growing in my identity lượt thích the mango tree I once planted và khổng lồ always rethành viên, “when you drink water, remember the source.” My hometown is still trang chủ to me và like the mango tree that grows, blooms, và gives fruit khổng lồ the people, I will also grow & branch out.

Finding Home & Healing

 In Vietnamese, nước means water, country, & homel&. To ask where one is from is to ask “Nước nào?”

When I speak Vietnamese, other Vietnamese people often vì not know how khổng lồ categorize me. My accent is neither fully Central, Northern or Southern—although it is almost always noticeably American. It ebbs and flows between different syllables and phrases, never knowing where or when or how to settle for the right words. When I first stepped foot onlớn Tân Sơn Nhất airport after more than a decade, I was strangely but happily surprised to be addressed in Vietnamese by the staff while obtaining my visa. Despite my attachment to my hyphenated identity as a Vietnamese-American, in that moment, I felt a sense of validation for simply being Vietnamese enough. Although I never thought I would be returning baông xã lớn Vietphái mạnh to study its environmental issues and in studying them, also unraveling more of my identity.

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My rural hometown in the province of Dồng Nai, a two-hour drive east of Sài Gòn, remained virtually unchanged since I left at the age of five sầu. The village was fondly referred lớn as “Bot Đỏ” lớn denote its rich red soil and was well known for cultivating crops including bananas, peppers, và cashews. After the 1950s, the once vacant landscape transformed into lớn small plantations when a mass flow of people migrated from the Northern và Central regions of Vietnam giới. After the over of the war in 1975, Bot Đỏ was renamed as Lê Lợi (Vietnamese emperor) along with many other villages. I would later discover that my family was never actually from the South but rather from the Northern và Central areas of Vietphái nam.