Sunday, October 18, 2009

“Gwoye Fan”

[Cross posted at Cranial Gunk]

When you make fried rice, you use rice that’s been in the fridge overnight (“gwoye faan” in Cantonese). You don’t use fresh rice right out of the cooker.

The other thing you don’t do when making fried rice is you don’t cook everything all together, all at once. I mean you can, but I’m pretty sure my Dad would give you his patented WTF-look. It’s not a look of anger or reproach. It’s more on the lines of “if you’re not going to do it right, please step out of my kitchen.”

It’s been so long since I posted to Rice Daddies that it didn’t feel right to repost or cross-post something from Cranial Gunk (my personal blog). Happily, other Rice Daddies have been composing some really thoughtful pieces and sharing some really interesting links. I tried to leave comments on the posts that really struck me, but had too much to say for just a line or two.

So here I am with my gwoye faan, my eggs, spring onions, and my Birds Eye Classic Mixed Vegetables, to make you some of my Dad’s “chaau faan.”

How do other Rice Daddies feel about Jon Gosselin? I think he is making some very foolish decisions right now in a belated effort to assert his identity and redirect the course his family has taken. I feel that a lot of unflattering reports are a result of his being a public figure without a savvy public relations team.

Obiwanhavanese posted about his anxieties regarding his son not learning his parents’ native language. I’ve also had the same fears. Currently, despite starting early with my eldest, we cannot say that he speaks Chinese. He remembers numbers and a phrase here and there but not well enough to actually use them with any automaticity.

However, it’s not his problem or his brother’s. It’s our problem, their mother and mine. The children want to learn but among the hindrances is the fact that neither their mother or I speak Mandarin (the Chinese that their mother and my parents say the kids should learn). Their mother speaks Vietnamese and I speak Cantonese. My parents (native Cantonese speakers) speak a little Mandarin but are not fluent enough to help the children learn. In fact, part of the problem is that my own Asian-born immigrant parents prefer to speak English to the children!

Malcolm Gladwell spends a good deal of Outliers speaking to the impact of “cultural legacy” in shaping success and Karen the Californian alludes to the social expectations of an Asian face mouthing Asian words. While I maintain my belief that learning Chinese is important for my children, I also acknowledge language is only one cultural transmitter. Language helps but there are other ways to perpetuate a cultural legacy.

In the opening of Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake, a pregnant Indian woman living in Boston, combines

Rice Krispies and Planters peanuts and chopped red onion in a bowl. She adds salt, lemon juice, thin slices of green chili pepper, wishing there were mustard oil to pour into the mix… a humble approximation of a snack sold of pennies on Calcutta sidewalks.

There are differences between Asian culture and Asian American culture. Food is another cultural transmitter. Lahiri’s description of a woman’s attempt to recall her home country through a self-concocted recipe is an example of this difference.

Now let’s go back to Jon. Current circus aside, there was a painful episode of Jon & Kate Plus 8 where he “teaches” his children about his culture. Jon’s mother is Korean (which brings up the interesting question – Why doesn’t he assume his father’s culture as his culture?)

I agree with Racialious, the episode was atrocious and upsetting because it promoted several Asian stereotypes. In this day and age, it is not outrageous to expect both Jon and Kate to be more racially sensitive. In the show, Jon talks to the camera about his “culture.” I wonder if he identifies himself as an Asian American or if the designation was put upon him by the show’s producers seeking to expand the show’s demographics?

Back to Obiwanhavanese’s dilemma, as Asian Americans how important is it for our children to speak our parent’s language? Do you think the Gosselin children will learn Korean? Does their father?

Assuming our children do not speak the ancestral “mother tongue” (it is a given that mine don’t because Mandarin is not my mother’s tongue) can what is lost be replaced by another cultural transmitter?

Part of the challenge of identifying yourself as Asian American is determining which is Asian and which is American? Identifying yourself as Asian American necessitates the establishment of new common “norms,” traditions, or practices that distinguish the categorization from identifying yourself as Asian.


Obiwanhavanese said...

Thanks for your post. I too agree that multiple cultural transmitters are important, language and food are usually at the top. One thing I noticed is that growing up, cultural traditions seem to morph and or disappear as generations go on.

Now, all the responsibility of passing on those traditions are left to me alone. Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of family or elders in our family circle to drawn from. For whatever reason, I do feel significant pressure to be able to teach my children these things. I guess that's why I feel it's important about passing on the language.

Three of my main reasons for my children to speak Korean is so I have an opportunity to pass something on and to prevent myself from forgetting the language too (maybe that's selfish, also it's fun to be able to communicate secretly so others can't understand). I also think it's beneficial for their own personal development to be multi-lingual.

Your point about Jon Gosselin's culture is well taken. I always try to make of point of explaining that our children are the product of three cultures: Korean, Scottish (wife), and Canadian. I still hope that my kids speak Korean, and recently my son has taken more of an interest in doing so. For whatever reason he's been more compliant, but those of you with kids know toddlers are as fickle as you can get. So, maybe next week things will turn again. For the time being I'm happy that he's been more receptive.

Robyn said...

I figured that Jon Gosselin identified as Korean because he looks Asian. I mean some would say he looks hapa, but I think he would still get asked about his Asian side. This seems to happen with a lot of people. Maybe it's also that whites are assumed to not have culture? From the show, I got the feeling that he saw himself as Korean though rather than the show pushing it on him.

thisislarry said...

First off Vincent, you gonna share that fried rice recipe or what? Mine always sucks, and has gotten worse over time, as my grilling skills have improved, hmmm....

That said, culture is not a static thing; at least, I dont want to think of my "heritage" as some fragile, precious object I have to be careful not to scratch. I am shaped by my parent's experiences of being Chinese immigrants to the US during the Vietnam years. They were shaped by being raised during a period of great Chinese cultural and political upheaval, and so on.

Each generation's experience and cultural references are different, and I'm glad that among the tools I have to shape my kids' experience are bits and pieces of Chinese, Californian, and American identities.

Anonymous said...

have you ever seen rice art of this kind? Name on a Rice this is amazing. your name on rice. name on a rice grain! a single one!

Vincent said...

Thanks Everyone for your comments especially Obiwanhavanese for the post that inspired my post.

tipytop said...

Thank you for bringing this topic out to the open! My husband is Korean American and I'm Chinese American who speaks Toisanese and a bit of Cantonese, due the big Cantonese population in Boston during the 70's. My parents are Chinese Americans whose families spoke Toisanese. They had no choice but to sign up my sisters and I for Cantonese classes. (I hated it, but that's another story.) Now, I find myself signing up my kids for Mandarin classes for the same reason. Remembering how awful our Chinese and Korean classes were, we try to make it more meaningful for our kids by having one of us sit in the class and learn along with them. We always opt for a culture class afterwards to make it fun. We like this situation because it proves to our kids that we like our culture so much that we too participate in the many wonderful things it brings.

When we asked our young children which language they wanted to learn first, our second daughter quickly stated, "Why should we learn Korean when Daddy, Grandma, Grandpa, Uncles, and Aunties don't speak to us in Korean? At least you, Hoo-Hoo and Gung Gung speak to us in Chinese. I want to learn Chinese, even if it's not the same Chinese." This statement was an eye opener for us, so even though our kids aren't learning Korean formally, we try to give them a dose of the Korean culture whenever possible: family, friends, books, events, movies, restaurants, and yes, even a Korean church once in a while. It's not the best but it'll do.

Anonymous said...

You say that you want your kids to learn the 'mother toungue', which I guess would be Vietnamese in your case, but Vietnamese never comes up in the discussion. Why not? Not Asian enough for you? I guess you are sexist. Your parents speak Cantonese but you want to teach your children Mandarin. Why? Money? Why not teach them your own familY's language?

What Obiwan is trying to do by teaching her children Korean with English nouns embedded in the sentences, I have no clue...