Monday, March 17, 2008

Chinese Restaurants

Food plays such an important role in each and every culture, it would've been a shame if we had skipped it in our study of Asian American Pop Culture. Here, in this documentary, we see the use of food as a means of cultural identity. For instance, a question has always lingered in my mind: why is it that the Chinese, even after hundreds of years of settling in a foreign land, still identify as culturally Chinese? For example, my family has lived in Vietnam for over a hundred years, yet my entire family still identifies of Chinese. The Chinese immigranted to Mauritius ages ago, but still recognize themselves as Chinese. One strong indication of their cultural identity we notice, is the use and production of their food.

In these documentaries, we learn about the Chinese diaspora, and the traditions and beliefs the Chinese bring with them to their new homes. For instance, in the beginning of the piece on the islands, we see a narrative on the Hakka people, and the traditions still practiced today by the Hakka in Mauritius. Being Hakka myself, and knowing this is a minority group, it was really interesting to see them mentioned in a documentary piece.

After watching these documentaries, I, like some of my fellow classmates, also wondered what the role Chinese restaurants are used to fill. We see the restaurant as a means of survival: financial needs are met by working at these restaurants. We also see the restaurant, and the Chinese "fusion" food as a connection to the ancestral culture. By making Chinese food, are they just as Chinese as those in China?

Just the idea of fusion food is a very interesting topic within itself, and could be thoroughly discussed. Is it a type of assimilation? And we see this in every country, not just in the United States. It is inevitable to incorporate cultures when displaced.

I really enjoyed this piece, and it made me wonder about the Chinese restaurants in my own town. The stories behind each establishment, its hopes and dreams. I wonder about the food and how much it has been intermingled with American ideas of cuisine. It also helped raise more questions about food culture and its use in Asian American popular culture.

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