Ethnicity Meets over Dinner

Kevin Fong, Editor-in-Chief

It’s a funny thing being hapa.

The story of my heritage begins on opposite sides of the globe. While Englishmen and Irishmen worked the fields in the British Isles, Chinese labored among oxen in the Canton Province.

Hapa is a shorter way of saying half white-half Asian. As I was growing up, I never fully realized the uniqueness of my situation. I grew up knowing two worlds: the East and the West.

Every February as the Chinese New Year came around, I would get red envelopes from my grandparents. Throughout the year we would go to sketchy places for more “authentic” Chinese food where my brother and I would watch the fish swim around in tanks before they were taken out to be fried. We would watch the lazy susan spin around and around, the assorted plates of steaming food swirling into a blur as Chinese words and phrases were thrown across the table.

I would pretend to understand what was being said, yet my brother and I were as lost as the crab in the corner of the tank, trying desperately to escape the cook’s net.

Afterwards, we would go for walks along the city streets, toothpicks sticking out of our mouths pretending to be the cool kids ruling the sidewalks.

Our other adventures included trips to Asian market places where my grandmother would trek into a mosh pit of old Chinese ladies, all shoving to the front of the stall, trying to get the farmer’s attention. There was also the awkward smiling from my brother and I as my grandmother showed us off to her friends, speaking to them in Chinese.

There was always that sense of excitement whenever I would walk into my grandparent’s house and smell the sizzled soy sauce, long evaporated into the air and ceiling. There was always that potential of being showered in Chinese candies. We  would run around the house, fascinated by the many Chinese antiquities that adorned the halls and cabinets. The kitchen was like a stock room of lichi jellies, pocky, and enough napkins to host a many course feast.

I visited the other side of my family mostly during the summer. They lived in the valley, a long drive away, so visits were less often.

Oh, but the adventures we had.

My little cousin had a delightful fascination with animals that led us on many expeditions, and my Aunt’s ranch was a perfect place for an animal lover to be born. The place had Southern charm; its red barn and wide open spaces made me want to put on a cowboy hat and boots. From the old faded water hose to the rusted fence, everything shouted  hospitality. It may also have been the 17+ cats scattered across the fields, along with the 6 dogs  bursting with energy to say “hello.”

A little creek trickles across the land, and in our younger days we would go excavating for crawdads, usually coming up short. Beautiful horses galloped along the edge of the fence before being corralled into their stall in the barn. The rev of engines would cause me and my brother to race back up to the house to see my cousin on a dirt bike, waiting for us to hop on one of our own and follow her up a mountain, a few dogs trailing behind.

And then there was my grandpa teaching my brother and me how to shoot while my aunt, uncle, and cousin fired off rounds easily, hitting the targets, making them swing around and around. My mom and grandma would sit on the back of the truck and hold the dogs, quivering from the “pop” of the rifle firing into a pumpkin.

Of course, we would eat. The delicious array of our family recipes blessed the table in their tastiness. The clinging of plates, forks, cups, the murmur of “Could you pass the biscuits?” all combining into a beautiful symphony of family.

This side of my family intertwines with the history of America. Since the dawn of the revolution they’ve been a part of these many years of freedom. The other side of my family is the other story of America. The immigrants seeking a new, better life than the one they left behind.

Being at this crossroad of founding fathers and immigrant America, I realize they both have something in common. The importance of food.

Whether I’m in Hong Kong visiting relatives who prefer to speak in Chinese or in the San Joaquin Valley being chased by a bull, feasting is important. It’s the time when family comes together. It’s the moment that solidifies love.

It’s the food for the soul.