As a child, the main event was getting red envelopes with money from friends and family. I didn’t pay much attention to what food was being served, just that there was a whole bunch of it. As an adult, I’ve been much more of an active participant, asking my mom (and the internet) questions about what I’m supposed to eat, and what superstitions to follow. I started paying more attention to the traditions that my family held and have done my best to carry them on in a way that makes sense for me. I’ve taken time to learn and research but given that I haven’t gone to Taiwan to celebrate there, it’s still a little hard to conceptualize how important this celebration is to my family. As children of immigrants, it’s just one example of the many conflicts and challenges we face.
Currently, Asian American representation has never felt stronger. Representation in the media (Shang Chi, Norah from Queens, Minari, Crazy Rich Asians), in politics (Kamala Harris [yup, claiming her!]), Michelle Wu in Boston, Aftab Pureval in Cincinnati], and in music (BTS, Japanese Breakfast, H.E.R., the Linda Lindas). School districts such as San Francisco Unified took 2 days off to give the students and families in their district the opportunity to celebrate a holiday so important to their culture. For this next generation of youth, they will be able to see people who look like them on screens, have their stories told in “mainstream” media, and are able to celebrate without making excuses or giving explanations.
In a time where there is so much to celebrate, there are still shadows that linger over the progress that has been made. Recently, a Korean American newscaster in St. Louis shared with her audience what she and her family ate for their New Year’s traditions (dumpling soup! Yum!). In response, a caller left a message saying she “can keep her Korean to herself,” and that it was “inappropriate” that she was “being very Asian.” This news story brought about flashbacks to lunchtimes of my youth where kids scrunched up their noses at my food, commented on the funny smells, or asked why my eyes looked the way they did. This caller highlighted that even though there has been progress, the reality is that many children today are still experiencing the othering that happened to me many years ago.
As we embark upon this new year, I encourage everyone to keep conversations alive about race and culture. That we keep People of Color in the forefronts of our minds, that we don’t wait to address issues until we hear about the next Asian elder that has been beaten and robbed, have more mass shootings fueled by racism, or mourn the next Black man that has been shot and killed by the police. That we take time to learn about each other’s traditions and give space for celebration and joy.
Take care of yourselves, take care of each other, and find spaces where you can heal and thrive.