Judy: Hi everyone, my name is Judy.
Rachel: And my name is Rachel and you're listening to AmericAsian Girl, a podcast where we girl-chat about the intersection of our Asian identities and girlhoods.
Judy: [This past October], Michelle Zauner came to Northwestern University to speak about her memoir Crying in HMart. We both went to the keynote, and I'd like to hear some of your thoughts, Rachel.
Rachel: I thought it was really interesting that she was so vulnerable with the crowd. I mean, the memoir itself is really vulnerable, especially because it deals with topics like healing, death of a loved one, identity, a lot of complex feelings, just surrounding that whole combination. So yeah, I think it was pretty cool, and she was really natural.
Judy: I'm surprised because I think she definitely had a balance between talking about very deep and emotional topics, but she was also pretty light about it and threw in some jokes.
Rachel: Have you read the book?
Judy: Yeah. I read it because it was the One Book, but I know I have some friends who just picked it up or had read it before.
Rachel: I knew about it before, and I had been wanting to read it, but I was kind of putting it off because I was almost kind of scared to read it. I had heard a lot of good things. And I think also because I'm Korean, I was kind of scared, like ‘Oh, what am I getting myself into?’ But, I really did enjoy it. And, there's just so many topics that a lot of Asian Americans can relate to and because the memoir is her coming-of-age story. Yeah, I just saw a lot of myself.
Judy: Yeah, for sure.
Judy: We can probably move onto some of the more specific topics, kind of reflecting some of the themes that Zauner had mentioned in her keynote. So, the first one is how food relates to your cultural identity. So, I mean for you, Rachel, what were some of your childhood favorite foods?
Rachel: I did grow up in America. I grew up in New York, and then I moved to Korea, so when I was a child, I really liked pasta. But, after moving to Korea and eating Korean food more frequently and stuff, I think I definitely have more of a fondness for it, so I really like kimchi-based dishes.
Judy: I think I cherished a lot of these more cultural, ethnic foods as I grew up. I think I started to value it a lot more, especially when I came to college and then went back home. And then, having my mom cook every Sunday, she would make a whole bunch of baozi (包子) – which is steamed buns – and she would pretty much bring it for her lunch at work and also for my sister, things like that. I think I started to value it a lot more now that I've gone to college and I don't have really too much access to homemade foods.
Rachel: I really do kind of resonate with that though because it's just been a big transition for my palette. Also, I guess I kind of took it for granted because not all Asian Americans eat cultural dishes every single day.
Judy: I also want to bring up how food can connect you with your parents because your parents are the people who introduce ethnic foods, cultural foods into your childhood. So yeah, for you, if it was your mom who mainly cooked or dad who mainly cooked, how did that sort of relationship strengthen, or not, through food, do you think?
Rachel: So I think my mom mainly cooks and it's stuff that she learned from her mom and her mom learned from her grandmother. You know, Michelle Zauner was talking about how her mom used to cook for her, and after she passed away, she started cooking to connect more with her mother. Even if I didn't always feel Korean when I was living in America, eating that food and bringing it to school sometimes, it just gave me something to hold onto.
Judy: Yeah, just the absence of a person, it forces you kind to connect through the food in that way.
Rachel: So how do you feel about how more Asian foods are becoming more mainstream?
Judy: I think the issue with that, and I think with a lot of things that are naturally just when things become more mainstream, you lose out on the more sort of the nuance and kind of the history and the meaning that this food actually does bring to a lot of people. And then, we start to sort of simplify that in ways where, ‘Oh, the Asian American community is sort of represented by boba or sushi or ramen and things like that.’
Rachel: It was interesting because there's nothing inherently Asian about a food or a drink, but Asian Americans really, I feel, embraced having their role in mainstream culture.
Judy: I’m pretty sure a lot of people - I mean technically most people - do not grow up with boba as a cultural sort of food. But instead, they kind of built it for themselves because they identify with Asian American or they want to feel like a part of something that's representing them. Even if boba itself, a Taiwanese drink, was not something that was part of their childhood or anything like that, which is very interesting.
Rachel: And so, one of the other big topics that Zauner talked about in her memoir and keynote was kind of how she was trying to find a sense of belonging in two different places that she didn't feel she fully belonged to the either, so in Korea and America. And, I think in the keynote she had pretty much summed up the idea that she, instead of trying to find a place of belonging in the sort of two binary countries, she had created a space for herself and where she could feel comfortable in through her music, her book, her memoir, or her fans and things like that. So kind of bridging off of that topic, I was wondering, Rachel, how do you view yourself between these sort of two homes in a way – Korea and America?
Rachel: In America – maybe it's because I was so young – but I never really wondered, or questioned my identity too much. But when I moved to Korea, I felt I just became aware of how American I was, and part of that was because I couldn't fully speak the language. But now, I feel I've reconnected with my Korean side more because of the book.
Judy: That’s good, yeah.
Rachel: How about you?
Judy: Yeah, I mean, I was born and raised in the United States. I mean, I visited China sometimes with my family, not nearly as often as a lot of my friends, my other Chinese American friends. And I think all in all, in terms of belonging, and in these two different countries I definitely feel I belong more so in America, but there's of course a lot of other issues as a minority and being Asian all that, but in terms of my relationship to the homeland, I feel pretty removed from it just because, yeah, I don't really speak the language and so that's why I feel removed in that sense.
Rachel: Have you ever felt you weren't "Asian enough?"
Judy: In the context of America?
Judy: Because I grew up in the Bay Area, and everyone around me was Asian, I came from, you know, predominantly Chinese or Indian sort of immigrant families. I never ever thought about the Asian or American side until I transferred to a private Jewish school, and that was the first time where I was in the minority. And then, I think that emphasis of being Asian was really amplified in my own head. But, I don't think I really thought about me being Asian enough unless I was – like I had mentioned before – just comparing myself to other Chinese Americans who maybe can speak the language better, or just have good relationships with their relatives. But, I just always consider myself pretty average among other Asian Americans in terms of how well I can speak the language and how close I am with my relatives. I'm just average.
Rachel: I think it's interesting because even though you grew up in America, because your surrounding community was predominantly Asian that you didn't have to think about that.
Judy: And I think the flip side of that is if you've ever felt you've been able to create a space for yourself where it's outside of these binaries, are there any spaces where you feel comfortable, you feel a sense of belonging outside of these binaries?
Rachel: With trying to feel and see where I belong on this campus, I joined an a capella group, so that's pretty fun. I joined Treblemakers though, and that is the East Asian one.
Judy: Exactly, exactly. Yeah, I'm saying, I think the flip side of this is finding Asian American spaces and people who are similar to you and that they also have to struggle between balancing or working their way through different identities, cultural identities. I definitely see that through your hobbies you can just feel like you're being yourself without having to think about the cultural aspects – especially if you're around other people like you, like other Asian Americans – I think that takes the stress away from feeling out of place all the time.
Judy: This concludes our first episode of AmericAZN girl. I'm Judy.
Rachel: I'm Rachel. Thank you for listening, and we'll see you in the next episode.