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Others in America: “Stealing Buddha’s Dinner” by Nguyen Essay

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Updated: Aug 30th, 2020


Human beings are social in nature and, therefore, they tend to attract each other. Nonetheless, human beings are religiously and ethnically heterogeneous. There are numerous religions and ethnic groups globally. In America, for instance, there are many religious and ethnic groups with diverse believes and different worldviews. Each group is internally homogenous with member groups having common beliefs and ritual practices. As such, communitas is evident among religious groups with similar believes and practices.

A major concern is that the variances in different religious and ethnic groups make the minority groups feel out of place. In some instances, the differences may create hostility, intolerance, and infringement of other people’s rights (Leigh and Hambler 4).

This essay discusses the experiences of the religiously/ethnically others in America. The main text used in the essay is a memoir by Bich Minh Nguyen, Stealing Buddha’s Dinner. Bich Nguyen, a Vietnamese immigrant, moved with her family into the US after the Vietnamese war. There are similarities between her ethnic group and other minority groups such as the Indian community in the book Lame Deer, Seeker of Vision (LDSV).

The term ‘religious/ethnic others’ is used in the essay to refer to the religious and ethnic minority groups. The essay supports the thesis that the ‘otherness’ in religion and ethnicity as a basis for stereotypes and intolerance and, therefore, the religiously and ethnically others face challenges when they practice their religious rituals and in their endeavors to realize the American dream.


As mentioned earlier, the American citizenry is made up of different religious and ethnic groups with the majority being Christians. Some groups have many members while others have fewer. The groups with fewer members are oftentimes classified as religiously or ethnically others. Some of the religiously and ethnically others include the Buddhists and the Hindus.

The lack of acceptance and appreciation

Although some members of the majority groups accept the ethnical others in the society, some consider them strangers and odd. As Bich was growing up, for instance, there were campaigns for diversity inclusion and immigrants’ acceptance. However, other whites rejected the Vietnamese and tormented the immigrants asking them to leave America. Such experiences make the minority groups feel unaccepted (Nguyen 15).

Knowing that people expect nothing good from you is very humiliating. Although some immigrants in the US are exceptionally gifted, they are hardly appreciated. In fact, foreigners are not expected to perform well even at school. Bich was an exceptionally gifted girl and performed well at school. For instance, she won a spelling bee beating kids from the majority of ethnic groups. She was, however, surprised to learn that her teacher did not expect a foreigner to be better than local kids (Nguyen 55).

Oftentimes, there are forces to conform to pressure from the bigger groups. The groups classified as ‘others’ tend to hide or abandon some of their characters or behaviors. Before the narrator’s father got married to the new wife, Buddha stayed in the living room but when the new wife came, Buddha was relocated to a bedroom where Buddhism rituals were performed.

People’s outward appearances are highly influenced by their ethnic backgrounds. For instance, people from the Far East tend to have smaller eyes than dominant American ethnic groups. Such physical differences increase cases of ridicule. Ridicule can make the ethnical others feel unaccepted and humiliated. At school, for instance, some kids laughed at Bich’s physical appearance (Nguyen 51).

Cultural differences and inferiority

The minority in the US tend to feel inferior. The inferiority complex is propagated either by the majority’s behaviors or by the minority’s views of their own cultures and religious practices. Major ethnic and religious groups are of the view that their traditions are more superior relative to minor groups’ traditions and rituals.

Therefore, the minority groups are oftentimes more likely to abandon some elements of their cultures. They experience pressure from the majority groups and end up conforming to their behaviors.

Some of the Vietnamese, for instance, gave in to cultural pressure and adopted the white people’s cultures. They would even change their names to sound more American. Further, they felt odd and awkward practicing some of their religious rituals such as giving food to the ancestors and Buddha (Nguyen 121).

Misunderstanding and confusion in religious practice

The Christian religion dominates most of the public and private schools in the US. Religious minorities, therefore, experience confusion since they must practice Christian rituals at school. For instance, many of the practices done at school left Bich more confused. She only copied what other pupils did without properly comprehending the meaning. She, for instance, did not entirely comprehend the Holy Trinity concept and could not understand how a virgin could be the mother of God.

Bich got more confused when she was required to lead the prayers. She was, however, relieved when her stepmother wrote a letter informing sister Wendy that the narrator was a Buddhist. The sister was deeply disappointed (Nguyen 18).

The confusion was mixed with nonchalant attitudes, especially during religious and non-religious holidays. In the US, religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter are celebrated by the majority.

The narrator’s experience on the Easter Holiday, for instance, was different from that of the majority of Christian citizens. She did not care about the Easter traditions such as the egg hunt. She was dissatisfied during one Easter egg hunt when she could only manage to get two eggs. The grown-ups only laughed at her and she wished she was at home alone in her bed enjoying her solitude (Nguyen 109).

The Christmas Holidays were not any different. The narrator’s family only celebrated Christmas with their own views and attitudes. She only viewed Christmas days as days for gifts and Father Christmas. The idea of the birth of Christ led to more confusion.

Employment problems and the American dream

Most of the ethnic minorities in the US are immigrants. Immigrants experience hardship in acquiring jobs, especially the jobs of their choices or training. Many end up working in blue-collar jobs or are required to first undergo entry training courses to match their credentials with the US requirements. The lack of equity in employment makes the ethnic minority and immigrants experience relatively higher financial constraints and ethnic inequalities.

Bich’s father was trained but he ended up working at a feather company. The pay at the firm was hardly enough to support the family. The family only got basic necessities and could only afford to share rooms and other facilities. The children got cheap presents and they would receive some gifts from their sponsors making them financially dependent.

Financial sabotage was also evident in the book Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions when religiously others were evacuated from their farms without compensation. The US government discovered gold in the land occupied by the Lakota community and evacuated them (Deer and Erdoes 91).

Communitas during religious ceremonies and rituals

Oftentimes, the religiously and ethnically others hold meetings of their own kinds. During the meetings, they reminisce about their lives in their home countries. Moreover, they tend to experience a sense of belonging. Bich’s father, for instance, established a friendship with fellow Vietnamese and they would occasionally meet, have fun, share their cultures, and practice mythical rituals (Nguyen 72).

Similarly, characters in Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions would occasionally gather and perform religious rituals that were extremely different from Christian rituals (Deer and Erdoes 209). It is worth noting that communitas is a key aspect of Buddhism, Hinduism, and other minor religion in the US.


Ethnically and religiously others, especially the immigrants, face a lot of uncertainties. Their lives depend on forces beyond their control. For instance, Vietnamese at the camps were required to move to states they hardly knew anything about. They relied on vague information.

More uncertainties are evident in Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions when sacred places such as the Black Hills are taken away by the government (Deer and Erdoes 91).


America is a country that supports minority reception and diversity inclusion. As such, campaigns for ethnic and religious tolerance are done to enhance diversity inclusion. Nonetheless, religious and ethnic intolerance is evident. The minority groups are oftentimes victims of unfair treatment.

This essay has described some of the experiences that the religiously and ethnically others face in America. It is evident that most of their experiences are not desirable. They face uncertainty, unacceptance, ridicule, frowning, disillusionment, confusion, employment, and economic problems among other experiences in their endeavors to realize the American dream and practice their religious customs and rituals. The essay has used a case of Vietnamese immigrants who underwent most of these experiences after they moved to America following the Vietnamese war. Their predicaments are almost similar to other minority groups such as the Lakota in the book LSDV.

Works Cited

Deer, John (Fire) Lame, and Richard Erdoes. Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972. Print.

Leigh, Ian, and Andrew Hambler. “Religious Symbols, Conscience, and the Right of Others.” Oxford Journals Law 3.1 (2014): 2-24. Print.

Nguyen, Bich Minh. Stealing Buddah’s Dinner. New York: Penguin Group, 2007. Print.

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