The Politics of our Choices in Chinese Food

I’m going to talk about one of my favorite things in the world because I need to today: Chinese food.

As a 2nd generation Asian American, food has always been synonymous with culture for me.  At every event I would consider cultural, food has always had a big presence.  When I want to escape the oppressive White world, I can think of no better activity than going to a restaurant that serves my culture’s food, where I can be surrounded by people from my culture.

This is particularly important as a 2nd generation Chinese American.  For children of East Asian immigrants, language is a barrier to connecting with and communicating with our parents.  Growing up in North America, we have no choice but to make English our primary language.  I grew up speaking Cantonese, but I can only speak Cantonese with a limited circle of individuals.  English on the other hand, I can speak with practically everybody in this country.

As East Asian immigrants lose connection with the language of their parents, there is a certain level of shame.  There’s a sense that we aren’t “Asian enough” and have lost connection with our culture.  For those of us with grandparents who immigrated, many of them speak little English.  Communicating with our elders is difficult and laborious.  Many of us wonder about how much of our parents’ native tongue our children will be able to speak.  After all, if we speak so little, how much can we really teach our children?  Moreover, who are we if we can’t speak the language of our ancestors?

This is further complicated by the fact that East Asians are also stereotyped as perpetual foreigners in America.  Many Americans approach us as though we just recently immigrated to the country, even if we have lived here our whole lives.  This doesn’t exactly help with our identity formation.  Once again, if we can’t speak the language of our ancestors well, and Americans also treat us as not one of them, who are we?

All of these processes highlight how important of an experience it is for East Asians to be eating authentic cultural foods.  Meals are what bring different generations of Chinese individuals together.  It is an experience I can share with my grandmother.  Given that she speaks virtually no English, opportunities for shared experiences are hard to come by.  It is the one place where I can feel at home and feel connected with my culture; it has been critical to forming my identity as a 2nd generation Asian American man.

Sadly, despite the fact that Chinese restaurants are everywhere in America, finding the authentic Chinese restaurants, where I can feel at home, is very difficult.  This happens because Chinese restaurants which serve authentic food struggle in places without large East Asian populations.  To appeal to White Americans, an essential task for locations with few East Asians, Chinese restaurants are forced to bastardize their food.  Food gets covered in sauce and things become deep fried.  It’s gross and unhealthy.  Every Chinese person I have met can immediately spot the difference between Americanized Chinese food and the real deal.

What hurts the most is that what White Americans choose in terms of their Chinese food also affects me.  I really hate that White Americans are not willing to try authentic Chinese food because it makes it harder for me to find authentic Chinese food.  I’ll give you an example.  One of my favorite Chinese restaurants is only doing take-out this summer because they need the Chinese international students from the university to sustain their business.  When I see Panda Express thriving during the summer while serving oversalted terrible Chinese food, I get angry.

So many White Americans don’t understand our food.  So many refuse to be patrons of authentic Chinese restaurants.  They would much rather eat Asian food in restaurants where they don’t feel like a minority.  This highlights how strong White privilege is.  I have to hunt far and wide to find the few restaurants where I can feel at home.  For White Americans, that’s the default.

I’ve heard White Americans say to me that they don’t like Chinese food.  I’m always taken aback by this because there are so many different types of Chinese food.  They usually follow up by telling me that Chinese food is too salty, which I can’t help but laugh at.  These individuals obviously think Chinese food is too salty because they have been eating “Chinese food” at establishments like Panda Express their whole life.

After my initial bout of laughter at their ignorance and naïveté, I feel sad.  I feel sad that this is how so many White Americans understand my culture’s food.  I feel sad that most Americans have no idea what my culture’s food actually tastes like.  This to me is what cultural appropriation feels like: it is the power of the privileged to redefine what your culture really is.

 

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We are in the Age of Reckoning for White People

We are living in dangerous times now in America.  We have a government who is willing to separate children from their families.  To keep those crying and distraught children passive, the government is even willing to administer powerful antipsychotics to these children to keep them docile and more manageable.  Heaven forbid they hire childcare workers for these children to make things as humane as possible given the circumstances.  Instead, we are giving drugs to children that are typically given to people with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.  Think about that for a second.

What’s perhaps more distressing is that a lot of individuals just don’t seem to care about the fact that our country is committing these atrocities.  Millions of people appear content to go about their daily lives and keep their heads in the sand, pretending none of this is happening.  How could the country that they grew up in and love do such things?  They cry fake news because they refuse to believe it.  For many, what is going on in this country is anything but fake; it’s very real.  People of color and LGBT individuals are actively thinking about leaving the country.

Are these people being alarmist, paranoid, or being snowflakes?  Hardly.  According to individuals who study genocide, there are eight stages.  Many believe we are already in the sixth stage.  Genocide Watch describes the sixth stage as:

Victims are identified and separated out because of their ethnic or religious identity. Death lists are drawn up. Members of victim groups are forced to wear identifying symbols. Their property is expropriated. They are often segregated into ghettoes, deported into concentration camps, or confined to a famine-struck region and starved. At this stage, a Genocide Emergency must be declared. If the political will of the great powers, regional alliances, or the U.N. Security Council can be mobilized, armed international intervention should be prepared, or heavy assistance provided to the victim group to prepare for its self-defense. Otherwise, at least humanitarian assistance should be organized by the U.N. and private relief groups for the inevitable tide of refugees to come.

These days, I have been thinking about Tiananmen Square a lot.  I feel it is a significant event because the Chinese government used lethal force to suppress dissent.  I wonder how far away we are from doing so in our own country.  We have already begun the process of vilifying those who disagree with the dominant White narrative.  Colin Kaepernick is still unemployed and the Department of Justice is actively investigating “Black Identity Extremists.” How long will it be before the Trump administration begins mass murdering Latinx individuals and telling everyone it was because they were part of MS-13?  How many White Americans would be content with such an explanation?  When lethal force is used to suppress dissent so publicly, we are at a point of no return.  If we get to that stage, the government can only be removed by force.  We cannot let that happen in this country.

For us to save democracy, we need to get our act together as a country.  We need people to stop being apathetic.  We need White individuals to stop living in their white privilege.  If we are to resist fascism, we need individuals to not be content to go about their daily lives as usual.  This is particularly true for White individuals for a number of reasons.  Many of them would be the last to be targeted by the fascist state; they would be the last to have their freedoms taken away.  Currently, many White individuals quite frankly, don’t seem to care about what happens to the rest of us.  Fox News aired a segment today where they said literally “like it or not, these aren’t our kids, show them compassion, but it’s not like he’s doing this to the people of Idaho or Texas.”

The responsibility is also on White individuals because they are primarily the individuals still supporting Trump.  We would not have Trump without White America.  A majority of White Americans, both men and women, voted for Trump.  That can’t be said about any other racial/ethnic group.  The fact of the matter is, democracy cannot be saved unless millions of White people fight against White privilege.  Democracy will not be saved unless millions of White Americans start caring about what happens to people who are not like them.  They need to start caring about what happens to Black Americans, Latinx Americans, LGBT Americans, Asian Americans, disabled Americans, Muslim Americans, and more.  Trust me White Americans, you need to do this as well.  If the rest of us are gone, who will fight for you when the fascist state comes after your freedom?

At this rate, I don’t know if we can wait until the midterms or 2020 to vote out this fascist regime.  Furthermore, I honestly believe that voting is not enough.  We must dismantle the factors that created Trump in the first place.  Conservatives are right, undocumented people and asylum seekers were not treated fairly under Obama as well.  Obama wasn’t perfect.  People of color, LGBT Americans, Women, and Muslims were all persecuted under his watch.  We cannot be content to return to a time when the persecution of non-White individuals was less obvious.  We need more White people like Cynthia Nixon (she’s running for governor in New York) who are willing to call for the abolishment of ICE and label it a terrorist organization.  She has removed her White lens and taken things from the perspective of Latinx individuals.  She recognizes that although ICE does not target her or people who look like her, it is targeting others, and that, she will not abide.

I want to have hope in White people, but they’ve let me down so many times in the past.  I’m trying so hard to have hope; I want to believe that White people are better than this.  White Americans, now is the time for you to define your narrative; begin to rewrite what it means to be White.  Do you want Whiteness to continue to be something abhorrent in this country?  Fine, do nothing.  If you want to be respected and accepted by people of color, fight for us now as if it was your lives on the line.