Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The memory of gifts

This is one of the posts that I wrote this past weekend before the other stuff. I'm feeling better -- sort of -- so I thought that I would start off with this one.

Normally when I watch Dumb and Dumber, I catch up on my DVD viewing since there is no cable in the house. And the thought of watching nothing but network TV on a holiday weekend? Ick! But Friday night I was sucked in by a series on the local PBS station, "Becoming American: The Chinese Experience."

Throughout the series, I found myself thinking how POCs have so many experiences in common living in the United States. Not that theses were new thoughts for me.

One woman talked about her two close friends in school; one was black and the other white. It reminded me of my two closest friends from high school. We told people that we were sisters who had the same mother but different fathers. Do you know how many idiots actually believed us? And my sisters? I'm still friends with them today. One is the friend for whom I made the layette a couple of years ago. And we were all heartbroken when that baby was stillborn. But a few weeks ago she gave birth to a healthy baby girl.

And there was this one kind of bold woman and by what they said about her college graduation date, she's about my age. She talked about how the joy of being American is that you can decide who you want to be. She pointed out that others may not be happy with your choice and try to make you define yourself in another way but the decision is still yours. She also talked about going to Cal and how everyone lumps all of the Asians together but how they're not all the same. She pointed out to Bill Moyers that there were terms that white America might not know that were discussed within the Asian community -- FOBs, ABCs, Twinkies. And I thought to myself, "But I know these terms because I had friends in high school and college who used them.

Now we get to the why of the bracelet. It was a gift from a family friend when I was in high school. Often dinner at her house involved looking through her jewelry after the meal. And when you said, "This is pretty," you would be told, "It's yours." Or she'd come back from a trip to Hong Kong with a new piece of jewelry for you. When I moved into my apartment three years ago, I had to sort through things. I came across this bracelet that I hadn't worn in years. I had forgotten that I owned it. And while watching the show, I remembered my bracelet and the rest just flowed. Because it was about a lot more than jewelry.

This friend proudly proclaimed herself to be ABC. Unlike her parents. She was like having the cool older sister around. When she came to dinner at our house, she'd peruse Seventeen magazine with me while my mother cooked up soul food. At her house, she introduced me to cranberry juice. And showed me how to fold wonton wrappers to make potstickers. Sometimes we would go to Clement Street for dim sum where she would order everything in Cantonese. And then she would say, "Just taste it. I'll tell you what is later." The item that I remember the most was shark. After she told me what I had just eaten, I said, "You could have told me what it was. I still would have eaten it." When she got married, I got to attend my first Chinese wedding banquet. I told my mother that I simply had to marry someone Chinese because I wanted one of those banquets. (She later divorced this husband after she found out he was cheating on her, if I remember correctly.) Over the years she also gave me numerous books to read. In fact she is responsible for my love of the hard-boiled detective genre. Later when I was home from college one summer, she took me to dinner at the cafe at Chez Panisse. (My mother had been invited as well but my mother can be rather opinionated about food and refused to go.) I remember what a wondrous place it was. And every time I walk past the place I remember that evening.

In remembering this friend (I'm not sure what has become of her. My mother had one of her infamous arguments and this friend disappeared from our lives as so many of my mother's friends have over the years.), I remember how so many conversations in trying to close the cultural divide centered around food. And maybe that's why I go back to food so often here. It's often a comfortable common ground. Except for maybe that pineapple thing. Or maybe that is as well.

Oh, and today marks three years of this blog.

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