Good Food and Beyond: Exploring Asian/Pacific American Culture
In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, several Chase Oaks staff and elders share about the history and culture that has shaped their experiences as Asian Americans. Read more, including some of their top food recommendations, below.
The term “Asian/Pacific” encompasses a huge range of nationalities and cultures across all of Asia and the Pacific Island nations. Is there a specific country or culture you identify with?
Andy Ho: I am Chinese, born in Hong Kong when it was still a British colony.
Rowena Soo: To be honest, I have always identified more with Western culture than I do with Asian culture. My upbringing has always been very strict and culturally based, so I wanted to be the total opposite of being Asian. Malaysia is a melting pot with Indian, Malay, Chinese, Nyonya and even Western cultural influences, even though I’m Chinese by birth.
Peter Park: Korea (specifically South Korea)
Yenipher Chung: Chinese-Panamanian American. My parents are from South China (Guangzhou), and I was born in Panama and lived there before moving to the States.
Jason Lee: Taiwanese
Marjorie Chang: Taiwanese and Chinese
OnDat Truong: My grandparents are from China, my parents were born and raised in Vietnam, and I was born in Hong Kong and raised in Canada and Dallas. So I’m a blend of Chinese and Vietnamese American, with a little bit of Canadian mixed in.
Please share some things you appreciate about Asian/Pacific Island culture.
AH: Food, family and friends. I enjoy these things together, because they give me a sense of a community and belonging and help to counteract the world that is rejecting and judgmental.
RS: Having said that I prefer Western culture, there are subtle and not-so-subtle things I enjoy/appreciate being Chinese. For example, Chinese New Year spent in Malaysia is such a HUGE deal for my family and also for our culture in Malaysia. My mom taught me the traditions of each individual dish that she puts out when families come over to celebrate the event. I missed the stories she would tell; she brought the celebration to life. And there’s the red envelopes filled with money that we would receive as children! I love finding out about why my family does certain things and how the Chinese culture from China has evolved. My great-grandparents decided to emigrate to Malaysia and brought their culture and history with them, but it has evolved over time.
PP: I love having a multicultural perspective on holidays. E.g., New Year’s is celebrated with showing respect to our elders, who in turn give us money! (It’s a great trade-off until you become the elder). The unique variety of food. Getting to pick and choose the best of AAPI cultures and American culture in raising our kids.
YC: If I were to be born as another person, I would choose to be Asian because of the food. I love all Asian food: Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, etc. I also enjoy the intergenerational connectedness—how involved my grandparents were in my upbringing. I have such fond memories of them, and now, my in-laws are really involved in the lives of my children. And I enjoy the fashion. I grew up watching Chinese shows with actors in traditional dress. Ancient Chinese fashions are beautiful.
JL: The food is incredible. And the tech innovation: so much of what the world uses has come from Asia!
MC: Value for family and community. Food. Connections to cultures that have lasted for thousands of years and produced things like the printing press, silk, and tea.
OT: I appreciate the seemingly instant connection I can form with other Asians. There is a warmth and hospitality that comes with many cultures and people, but sometimes seems faster for me within Asian cultures.
Are there any Asian or Asian American role models, mentors, or historical figures who have influenced you?
AH: I have a few mentors who showed me how to be a Christian in a distinctly Asian sub-culture in America. They taught me that I am unique in God's creation, and that being different is nothing to be ashamed of. People (including me) are naturally afraid of differences, but I am able to speak up and be true to God's calling in my life.
PP: Bruce Lee. One of his philosophies was to be like water.
“If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” Reminds me of 1 Corinthians 9:20-22.
Additionally, the stereotype that all Asians know martial arts saved me from bullying and racial attacks in my youth. Little did others know what it meant when I said I had a “second degree white belt.” (By the way, such a belt doesn’t even exist!)
YC: I grew up watching Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Michelle Yeoh. Seeing them succeed in Hollywood has made them even more legit. And now, there’re even more Asian actors/actresses. I love “Fresh Off the Boat” featuring Constance Wu. I also love YouTube — I follow a bunch of Asian content producers, including Wong Fu productions.
JL: Francis Chan; he’s an incredible man of God who has shaped my faith in so many ways. There is also a parallel in that his wife is white, which is cool. Jeremy Lin’s rise to fame was cool as he’s Taiwanese American. Tennis player Michael Chang (I also like tennis).
MC: So many! To name just a few: Makoto Fujimura for his fusion of theology and art, and his vision for the church. Maya Lin for honoring our country's history with powerful monuments and installations. Indra Nooyi for being a pioneering business leader and champion for the value of family. Jane Hong Lee for her thoughtful, Christ-honoring scholarship. Mary Li Hsu for her dynamic faith and enduring legacy of compassionate advocacy. My grandmother for her tenacity and resilience as a war refugee.
OT: I attended a Vietnamese church in middle school and a Chinese church starting in college, and in both contexts, I met great men and women who were Sunday school teachers, counselors, and pastors that invested in me….a few of whom are at Chase Oaks!
What is something you wish more people knew about the Asian/Pacific American experience?
AH: People think that all Asians are hardworking and "smart" naturally. But that is not always true. We are perceived that way because it has been the primary means for Asians to survive in America. No one will hire a "B"sian!
RS: People could spend more time to sit down with each other and have deeper conversations about our history. I would like to see people exposed to more of Asian culture outside of Chinese or Vietnamese or Indian food, or knowledge about the Korean or Vietnam Wars. I could be just as ignorant as others because I haven’t taken the time out to search for places to help me understand the forefathers of Asian culture who came to the US, when US was still so new.
PP: There’s a long history of racism toward the AAPI community in America. I hope that this knowledge will bring greater unity and solidarity with others.
YC: We are from different, diverse countries with different languages (not just Mandarin). If people don’t know something about my language or culture, I would prefer they ask me about it, rather than assume.
JL: I think the term “racial reconciliation” can be alienating for Asian communities because so much of that term speaks to black and white matters. There’s not a lot of empowerment from the AAPI community to speak out, and sometimes we feel like we’re not allowed to because our experience isn’t “as bad” as the experience shared by black Americans.
MC: "Asian/Pacific American" is such a broad term that goes beyond connections to a handful of East Asian countries. It includes Central/Northwest/Southeast Asia, India, etc., and the APA experience is just as broad/diverse.
OT: While there is some commonality among Asian Americans, there are also significant differences between different kinds of Asians. Probably similar to Europeans (English vs. German vs. Italian), or different South American or African ethnicities and cultures. Asia is a BIG continent.
The history of Asians and Pacific Islanders in America is a long, complicated one. What historical events do you think are most important to understanding the Asian/Pacific American experience in the US today?
AH: The existence of Chinatowns is a strange phenomenon. In the past, as Chinese were being excluded from American society, these communities formed for self-protection and economic reasons. In the process they created a perpetual cycle of self-isolation and external exclusion. Somehow, this sets the tone for some Chinese communities, including churches. To gain a greater understanding of the Chinese American community, we need to have a deeper understanding of the history of the initial formation of these communities, including the circumstances, motivations and unhealed hurts involved.
PP: Unfortunately, I only came up with negative events in our history. Hopefully many will come up with positive events/trends.
YC: I didn’t grow up in America and don’t know AAPI history. But I would love to learn more.
JL: I think people need to revisit the internment camps in California; Asian representation in Hollywood; the building and construction of Asia-towns (China town, K-town, etc.); sex trafficking (think of the massage parlor industry)
MC: Too many to list. I would start by watching Asian Americans on PBS.
OT: For me, how people immigrated to the US has a big impact on the AAPI experience. Some, like me, came as refugees from a war-torn country (ex. Vietnam, Cambodia, Korean), some came for graduate school or jobs, and some have been in the US for 4 or 5 generations. This applies to so many other cultures, but how and when people came to the US shapes our experience and perspectives.
Food is a big part of Asian cultures…if you had to introduce a friend to Asian food, what would you feed them?
AH: Authentic Cantonese wonton noodle.
RS: This is a no-brainer! I LOVE food!! I’d say Malaysian food because there are so many different spices and ingredients used to make a dish really flavorful. And it has so many cultural elements in each dish that you cannot find anywhere else: Indian (Northern and Southern), Malay, Chinese, Nyonya (mix of Chinese, Malay and Portuguese flavors). Even though we have a Malaysian restaurant here in town, the ingredients used just don’t taste quite the same.
PP: Korean BBQ (try it at GEN, Ari, Jin, or Maht Gaek)
JL: Xiao Long Bao ("small juicy steamed dumplings), Beef Noodle Soup, KBBQ, shabu shabu (like a broth fondue), sushi, shaved ice
MC: Pho, sushi, steamed dumplings, butter or tikka masala chicken, milk tea, tayaki (like a stuffed funnel cake shaped like a fish), ramen, mochi ice cream.
OT: Dim Sum! And the full experience, on a Saturday or Sunday, with the carts rolling all around.