Food has always been an integral part of the Asian American experience for me. Food is not just sustenance, it is always an experience, tied to distinct memories. Boba has always been attached to my late night study sessions, sushi is part of my family’s complicated past with Taiwan, and roti canai reminds me of the loneliness of the immigrant experience. All together, they remind me of who I am, and where I come from.
Part I. Boba and School
A lot of my social life revolves around boba. That’s just how it is when you call an Asian American suburb your home. There’s a boba shop adjacent to my school, a boba shop next to the Vons—heck, there’s a boba shop on the other side of my block. No matter where we go, my best friend and I always order the same thing—peach green tea with lychee jelly (half sweet) and milk tea with mini boba. If it’s a good day, we’ll get sweet potato fries to go. Going out for boba was a great way to start off the weekend on a Friday afternoon, but boba also reminded me of the crushing academic culture that many of my peers and I grew up in. Boba shops often stay open late, making it the ideal spot for a six hour AP Calculus study session, a place to cram for finals, and last minute college-essay writing. In an academic pressure cooker, boba tasted like three more hours until I can get to sleep, four more chapters to study, one more practice test, two more college essays…The hours filter by as study partners jostle each other awake, pulling up an extra chair next to the booth for the friend who shows up two hours late. Boba was both a relief from school and a reminder of it.
Part II. Sushi and Grandparents
My grandparents speak Japanese, a remnant of the Japanese occupation of Taiwan in the 1900s. So my grandmother brings sushi to Christmas every single year, along with a gigantic pot of miso soup. She embraced Japanese values and education as a means to rise in a tumultuous time, and each sip of soup and bite of sushi is a reminder that home is complicated, and sometimes painful. In my grandparents’ lifetime, Taiwan was occupied by the Japanese, then the Kuomintang, and is still currently claimed by China and not officially recognized as a country. On February 28th of every year, my grandfather invites me to the adult table and tries to remind me of his generation’s pain, and the university professors he lost in the White Terror. Certain words and opinions, whispered to the wrong person, or said at the wrong time, cost them their lives. His table, with his friends, has slowly shrunk over the year. He fills the seats with his children and grandchildren, and whispers his stories to us. In his broken English, he tries to say that home is hard, and he misses his home—what it was, and what it could have been.
Part III. Roti Canai and Chinese New Year
I forget that America is not my mother’s home, and it’s never more obvious than during Chinese New Year. Hours are spent on the phone, calling her mom and sister, apologizing about how she can’t go back this year. The pain in her eyes when she knows that there won’t be a seat saved for her at the family table. She grew up in Malaysia, and still ends some of her English words with la. When we go back, I always gorge myself on roti canai, a traditionally Indian food that fills the streets year round. Roti canai isn’t as good in the States, and I miss it—but I know my mom misses it more. It’s not true roti if it doesn’t come off a stand, still flaking and steaming in the cool of the morning, a relief from the impending humidity of the afternoon. Roti is a reminder of her home, and how she is always an “other” in America, an “other” in my Taiwanese church. When I hear her on the phone missing her family, I remind myself that no matter my relationship with my family—I’m going to call home every Chinese New Year.
Home is complicated, home is painful, home is stressful. But, I remember that wherever I call home, wherever I am—there’ll always be a seat for me at the table.
Created by: Yumei Lin
About the Author: Yumei is a student at Tufts University, passionate about social justice, movies, and finding the best boba shops.