My Dumpling Loving Self

“You just have to pull the top of the dough over the meat and squish it to the bottom to make a perfect dumpling,” my mother says, as five years old me attempts to shape a dumpling for Chinese New Year. Although I have already tried shaping the dumpling countless times, the end product was always just a pile of oily dough with some meat sticking out at the top. That was my first time trying to make dumplings for the holiday.

Each year, I look forward to Chinese New Year, where I get to enjoy all the dumplings I struggle to shape, the sticky rice cake that always gets stuck in my teeth, and the red packets given to me by my family that I have learned to refuse (but still take in the end). What really makes me excited about this holiday is the chance to reunite with family around a dinner table eating all of the traditional foods we have prepared ourselves. Just like how the filling for dumplings needs vegetables, meats, spices, and dough to taste delicious, Chinese New Year needs family to make it the special holiday it is to me. Even in Chinese, the dinner we all have with each other is called “tuan yuan fan” or the “reunion dinner”. Having everyone around me, sitting in the large, round, mahogany table each year is what makes Chinese New Year special.

In elementary school, I would always be afraid of bringing food from home and would always ask my mom to buy me lunchables from the grocery store. Although I was never ashamed of the food I ate at home, I was afraid that other people would look at me differently. How would the beef stomach look compared to the chicken nuggets from the school cafeteria? How would my fried and deflated eggplant look compared to the Caesar salad from the school cafeteria?

It wasn’t until sixth grade, when I moved to my new school, where I met friends who would bring their own food from home and even share it with others. I was able to taste homemade kimchi from my Korean friends, and homemade Biryani from my Indian friends.

Starting from then, I began to realize the importance of being proud of my own culture. If I myself wasn’t even proud of being Chinese, how would others look at my culture and where I came from? I began to bring my own food to lunch and share it with my friends. Through these simple exchanges of food, I was able to experience the wonders of other cultures, just at an elementary school cafeteria table!

In seventh grade, I had to take a Chinese writing exam to skip through languages in high school. Even though I had always gone to Chinese school and learned Chinese, I have never truly developed a passion for learning the language. However, to prepare for this exam, I began looking for ways to easily develop my Chinese learning skills. I decided to start watching Chinese dramas and reality shows while reading the captions given to me. Without much thought, I was able to easily absorb the language and learn so much from watching the shows.

Now, reading and writing Chinese comes as a breeze to me. Through this experience, I have learned that learning is not just sitting through classes and taking notes, but it is actively participating and having fun while learning. The process of learning my own culture has helped me even in school, when I am learning other subjects. I not only focus on learning the subject, but enjoying and developing a passion for the subjects I learn.

As an Asian American, I see the best and worst of both worlds. Although I have the ability to communicate with both Chinese and American people, I will never fully be accepted into both groups. Knowing that, I have learned to embrace and show both sides of me.

What matters most to me is my family and my identity. Previously, I would always celebrate Chinese New Year with my extended family. However, because of COVID-19 restrictions this year, I had to stay at home and celebrate my first New Years without all of my family. That was when I realized that the dumplings and red packets were not what made the holiday special, it was the people sitting around the dinner table. Being Chinese has allowed me to experience these gatherings.

Being Asian American has brought me along a journey from being scared of others learning about my culture, to being proud and learning from my culture. Although this journey has definitely not been one that was easy, I have learned so much about being a Chinese American through the endless challenges I am met with. Every day, I am constantly searching for the balance of showing both the American and Chinese side of myself. I have become someone who is proud of my culture; the holidays, the food, and the language are what makes me the proud dumpling-loving Chinese American girl I will always be.

DISCLAIMER: The content of this essay does not represent the views of the contest organizer CAPA NOVA.
5 thoughts on “My Dumpling Loving Self”
  1. Love how relatable this is. Often times eating at the cafeteria made more sense than eating home brought food. But home is where the heart is. The best memory of high school was eating foods brought by my viet friends. Authentic viet. And chinese tradition is more than just food, but the family you spend it with.

  2. The essay’s title is catchy. Emily tells a beautiful story of her journey being a young ABC (American Born Chinese) embracing Chinese heritage and building a strong self-identity. Emily’s mom taught Emily to make dumplings at age of 5 which is a very good living example of teaching Chinese culture and traditions. Great job!

  3. Very well written,Emily told a very good story. I like dumplings too. I like this simple and clear way of writing to tell your point of view. This is a lovely girl’s exquisite observation of life, as well as her love for life.I am so proud of you!!

  4. Great writing – from dumpling to Asian culture thinking “I have become someone who is proud of my culture”.

  5. This is beautifully written with small glimpses that remind me of Asian-American author Amy Tan.

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