Beyond Food: Exploring Asian American History and Culture
In honor of Asian American/Pacific Islander (“AAPI”) Heritage Month, several Chase Oakers answer questions about the diverse history and culture that has shaped their experience as Asian Americans. Read about their perspectives (and top food recommendations) below.
The word “Asian” encompasses a huge range of nationalities and cultures. 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.
Cindy Park: Korean
Stanley Wang: My parents were born in China, fled to Taiwan during the Communist Revolution, and came to the U.S. in the late 1960s.
Marjorie Chang: Taiwanese and Chinese American
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
Please share some things you appreciate about Asian/AAPI 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.
CP: Food (variety in texture and flavors/ spices, fairly healthy). Decorating aesthetic (clean lines, simple, minimal)
SW: I am connected to a rich history that spans thousands of years. And family and community are central to Chinese culture.
MC: Value for family and community. Culinary diversity. Roots in an ancient culture that has produced things like the printing press, silk, and tea.
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!
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.
SW: Fred Koarematsu for standing up to injustice against Japanese Americans;
Yo-Yo Ma - a fellow cellist and a messenger of peace;
Soong-Chan Rah - a scholar/theologian that has spoken out about the need for the church to lament and to pursue racial justice
MC: So many! Maya Lin for honoring American history in simple, beautiful, symbolic ways. Makoto Fujimura for profoundly fusing faith and art. My grandmother for her resourcefulness as a war refugee. Chanel Miller for her eloquent and unflinching honesty. Indra Nooyi for trailblazing in business and beyond without losing focus on family. Jane Hong Lee for her voice as a gifted, insightful historian and Christ follower.
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).
What is something you wish more people knew about the Asian 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!
SW: I wish we could dispel the model minority myth. Asian Americans are incredibly diverse, both ethnically and social-economically; we have and continue to experience micro- and macro- aggressions simply because we are Asian.
MC: Being an Asian American woman presents a unique set of both joys and challenges—ones that are often hidden but are very real. It’s worth asking AAPI women about.
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.
The history of Asians in America is a long, complicated one. What historical events do you think are most important to understanding the Asian/AAPI 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.
SW: We are the only ethnic group to have been excluded by law from being a part of this country.
MC: Too many to list – but I would start by recommending the documentary series “Asian Americans” on PBS.
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)
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.
CP: Korean BBQ
SW: Xiao Long Bao (Soup Dumplings)
MC: Pho, tonkatsu ramen; butter chicken; dim sum; sushi; milk tea
PP: Korean BBQ (try it at GEN, Ari, Jin, or Maht Gaek)
JL: Xiao Long Bao, Beef Noodle Soup, KBBQ, shabu shabu, sushi, shaved ice
Hearing another person's perspective can be a huge step in building greater empathy and understanding. Unity Table makes that easy to do through sharing a simple conversation or a meal with someone. For more information, visit here.