For this project, I decided to interview Gloria Mi, a close of friend of mine. Gloria just completed her first year at Oxford College of Emory University and is double majoring in Business and Computer Science. While I have many friends who are familiar with Chinese and/or Italian cuisine, I specifically asked Gloria for the opportunity to interview her because of her extensive knowledge of Chinese cooking and culture. In addition, I had spoken to Gloria on several occasions about the experiences of Chinese immigrants in America, and I was very interested to hear about her own experience alongside her thoughts on how specific foods (such as noodles) affect the immigrant journey from China to the United States. Because Gloria is interning in Minnesota for the summer while I am in Dallas, we decided that an interview over Skype would be best.
Gloria first reflected on her background, stating that she was “born in Xi’an China, but moved to the United States when [she] was two.” She quickly followed up with the fact that her “family is fairly traditional, so [she] grew up attending Chinese school over the weekends that had math, drawing, and [Mandarin language] classes. Even though [she] didn’t visit China very often as a kid, [she] always had relatives over every summer, and [she] thinks that’s probably the reason [her] mandarin is near perfect despite being an “abc” (American born chinese).” This idea of “ABC” that Gloria discussed made me think about the idea of a possible binary between immigrants from China and those Chinese-Americans who are born in the United States. I was curious to learn more about what Gloria thought about this possible divide and see if she had any insight into how food helped her to keep in touch with her Chinese culture while still living in the United States.
When discussing how her Chinese heritage blended with her being raised in China, Gloria explained that “[her] parents moved to America to pursue the “American Dream”, so they always encouraged [her and her sister] to assimilate into the culture, but at the same time remember [their] roots.” When asked about whether there was ever a disconnect between the way she interacted with family at home and with non-Chinese friends outside of the house, Gloria reflected that “this caused some confusion for me as I was growing up, it felt like I was stuck in the middle of two cultures, neither of which fully accepted me.” I was intrigued by this disconnect, as I know firsthand that many first-generation Americans feel this way. While immigrant parents often attempt to have their kids keep in touch with the culture of the parents’ country of origin, many students feel lost when navigating through the schools and other systems in America. When Gloria touched on this, I was immediately interested to learn more about how food helped her ease this disconnect.
Gloria identified food as being one of the main ways in which she bridged the cultural gap between Chinese and American cultures and cuisines. She stated that “in elementary and middle school, kids weren’t super open to different types of food, and Asian food would fall in the category of “weird and smelly” … Even among friends, it was better to find a food that was more socially acceptable for everyone. I feel like the younger me was ashamed of my culture because others pointed out that I was different. Nowadays, I think that people are generally more open and respectable. Food is a global way to connect people, something that everyone can understand.” She also described how her relationship with Chinese food evolved since she was younger. When she was young, she often had noodles on her birthday because her family believed that if one ate long noodles, that they would live a longer life. Other than that, she didn’t consider any underlying meaning to the staple ingredient in Chinese cooking. She stated that however, as she got older, “[she] came to realize it has significance beyond that. The amount of love that went into preparing the noodles, making the dough, hand crafting the noodles, was a silent way for [her] parents to show how much they cared.” In addition, she again identified the noodle as being an example of a food that helped her stay in touch with her Chinese culture.
As I was wrapping up the interview, I was curious to learn more about how Gloria’s growing up in the United States impacted her views on specific types of food. When asked about this, Gloria stated that “I think that growing up in America has definitely broadened my views on food. It’s a melting pot/salad of cultures coming together which means that there are many chances to experience different types of cuisine and cultures. I think that if my family had stayed in China, my life would have been very different, and my experiences with food would also have been very different.” She credited American cuisine to the diversity of different cultures that exist within America and added that while growing up in America has made her grow closer to her culture, it has also piqued her interest in learning more about other cultures and the cuisines that lie within.
My interview with Gloria helped me analyze the immigrant experience in America. I delved into topics such as first-generation Americans’ connection with food and how it helps bridge the gap between connecting with heritage and grasping an American identity. Gloria’s interview also provided me more insight into how the noodle serves as a vehicle for storytelling, not only a major food used in Chinese cooking. Perhaps Gloria summed up the noodle best, in saying that “noodles can represent family, caring, love, harmony not only in Chinese culture, but other cultures as well.” Noodles and food, as a whole, serve as a connector between people, their cuisines, and their experiences.