What Being Asian American Means To Me

By Deborah Lu

It means food. Food is community, food is family and food is universal.

I am an “ABC”—an American Born Chinese. I grew up in Belleville, Montville and Westfield, New Jersey. I was fortunate to have many aunts, uncles and cousins who also lived in New Jersey, so large family dinners were common. Phrases of “have you eaten”, “are you hungry” or “here, try this” were expressions of love. I have fond memories of making wontons and hot pot dinners, where cooking and retrieving food from the hot pot was a full contact sport.

My mother was a wonderful cook and she made me care packages of my favorite dinners when I was in college. Unfortunately, they were very popular with my roommates so I had to eat quickly before they were gone. My mother’s response was to cook more so there was enough for everyone.

Today, I keep these traditions alive by hosting dinners, especially hot pot dinners. I have watched the children first refusing to eat hot pot (too foreign) and then eagerly asking when was the next dinner. Unfortunately, I have not yet mastered won tons but when I do so, it will be a welcome addition to the hot pot.

I remember my neighbor the Italian grandmother and my Shanghainese grandmother who could not speak to each other, but communicated through their mutual love of cooking. A friend’s German mother feeds me her special potato salad. I have been fortunate to be invited for meals all over the world, and there is nothing like home cooking.

It is no wonder that client relations blossom over lunches and dinners and deals are often closed over meals. Even though the new normal includes more videoconferences than meals, I am optimistic that we will return to a time where sharing food takes center stage.

*This series has been created to celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.