FOOD AND IDENTITY

In the era of 45, where Black and Brown folks continue to be shot and killed systematically enfranchised and deliberately targeted by White Fragility, what is my position (or right) as a Taiwanese American who has a pack of blessings, privileges, namely, sexual identity and orientation, marriage, an affordable and comfortable place to live in a nice city, a college education, middle class upbringing, that so many people of color and white people do not even have an inkling of?

This is likely a question I will continue to struggle with the remainder of my life with my identity split between my storied (or boring) socialite upbringing, intergenerational trauma, mental health struggles, activism around race and identity for myself, my mixed-race children, and their dark-skinned Black father who is doing the same work to create a better world for our family and other families of color.

What is my role as a Taiwanese-American? It's been said to me by a friend that activism and a keen sense of injustice is ingrained in the Taiwanese--our yam-shaped island has been a hotbed and continues to be--of conflict, war, martial law, colonization, loss, government killings, cultural upheaval and identity seeking/shifting. You figure, you see enough people 'disappeared' for their Taiwanese identity, you start to question authority and the powers that be, so that you might someday not be living in fear of being 'disappeared'/shot/get money stolen from you by the government/etc.

My role is to interrogate the places my consciousness is filled with the slow arsenic drip of self-hate or internalized inferiority. My role is to interrogate the places where I think I am superior to other races, gender identity, sexuality, ability. For now, I wish to explore a place of identity and conflict for many American children of immigrants, especially of Asian descent. In light of police brutality, anti-Muslim hate crimes and legislation, incarceration and privatized detention of undocumented but not forgotten women, children, and men, and continual decimation of indigenous rights to health and autonomy, it may not seem like my inner psychoses around identity and food is worth mentioning. However, I think the smallest ways in which we are susceptible to white supremacist thinking, in which we are beaten down, made to believe we the people are less than the visible, white and resource-rich...

I believe we suffer needlessly in silence alone. The more we investigate our own relationship to various hierarchies without boiling it down to our oppressive oppression olympics, the more we expect and accept cohorts, though imperfect, prone to quibbles and backbiting and misunderstanding and painful togetherness, the more we can reach out and bond together across color and culture lines. the more we learn and grow, strategize and comfort teach other in contentious and frankly, frightening times.

*~*

The shame I feel when I eat beef tendons, in a non-family setting, my inability to cook pigs' feet in preparation for/preventing of possible postpartum mood disasters/disorders, the grief I get from white and black americans around any and every odor in food, be it the nutrient dense sulfur of eggs, the potent brine of sardines, the char of fresh hot sautéed greens, echoes the American homogeneity of white cow's milk I can't digest or drink without itching or having the shits.

Something about bland supremacy and an affinity for unhealthy white, processed foods takes hold in the homogenization process. Difference must be rooted out, ostracized, eliminated. My lunch bags didn't smell or look as deliciously safe as the white kids' PB+J. I never brought my stinky ethnic food to school again after say about 2nd grade. So I could eat convenient, from a box, processed foods in the school's hot lunch tray, like white and orange dixie cups: so clean, convenient, a dichotomy of color and white, separate but equal, a safe wooden spoon to scoop them out with. so clean. so discrete. so beautiful.

What is the loss? Had I not had a strong Taiwanese upbringing (weekends, weeknights, at home a strictly Taiwanese/Taiwanese-American speaking and eating community with peers and adults), had I not married a Black man, I would likely not be aware of these intricacies and my need to stand strong against self-hatred. I am now aware and working every inch of my being against the destruction of white homogeneity in culture and in my heart and upbringing. I am clinging to what ethnic-ness I can recoup, even as i'm putting off making pig feet soup, which I know very well my young two year old will probably eat and enjoy, yet untainted by the whiteness outside our little home, and my many generations american husband will likely turn his nose up at like at all non-american 'safe' and 'neat' and 'understandable' foods.

What is the loss?

The more you erase who you fundamentally are, your culture and uniqueness, the more your piece of the American quilt looks like a white square with an eagle and apple pie on it. This country--built on the backs of Native, African, Latin, Asian immigrants to the profit of whites, oversimplifies, this amnesia. I get a little nausea when I think of the ideal of America and who it's left out of the frame. I get a little seasick when I see the flag thinking of the deaths and rapes that solidified our american white homogeneous systems and institutions.

Happy fourth of July, Happy American as Apple Pie. Should I ever get around to hating my family, culture, and self a little less, I plan to eat scrumptious pigs feet with green papaya, made with love, on the fourth, nourishing my body and soul alike. Sugary pie is not going to do it. Next to a shrine of my foremothers and immigrant family and our velveteen portrait of a taiwanese dude sitting on a water buffalo with the space needle behind him. feet in both old and new country. with my feet in both identities. so i can feel whole and not disparaged by my own 'white is best, bland is best, drink milk you're allergic to' white devils in my head. 

-Hannah Hong Frelot-