LUNCHBOX MOMENTS

Community, Self-Care, Healing, Support, and Action

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Since the start of the pandemic, the Asian American community has experienced an increase in violent attacks and verbal insults. Experiencing these racially-charged incidents may cause re-traumatization of past experiences. For many Asian Americans, a first memory of discrimination and embarrassment was in the lunchroom. In collaboration with the Colorado Asian Culture and Education Network (CACEN), we asked members of the community to respond to a statewide call for visual artwork, photography, and stories reflecting moments when they felt they were judged due to the cultural foods that they enjoy. By sharing these stories, it brings a sense of community and healing to know that we are not alone in these experiences, and that it’s time to be proud of the foods of our families. These are their responses. 

"Growing up, most of my friends were non-Asian. When friends would come to my house to play, my father would sometimes be cooking Japanese food in the kitchen. On the weekends, shabu shabu was a favorite meal. The smell of mushrooms, scallions, tofu, steaming rice, ponzu sauce, cabbage, pickled carrots and sliced beef wafted to my room. My friends who never smelled Japanese food often made “gross” or “it smells like fish” comments. I would often feel hurt, but would play off the hurt by joking along with the them. “I know it’s gross.”

Shabu shabu was a family meal around or round kitchen table. I loved the help-yourself process and the “swish swish” cooking of my own food in the bubbling water. It always felt festive and connected me to my Japanese heritage."

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"My parents are first generation immigrants. I remember a time when I was in middle school where I had to pack a lunch for a field trip. As the oldest in a low income family of 8, asking for groceries to make an American lunch was out of the question. So I made a stir fry ramen with hot dogs and fried egg in a Tupperware container, carried in a used plastic grocery bag. I was embarrassed we couldn’t afford a real lunch tote. Though ramen is a typical hearty Asian meal, back then in the American culture it was indicative of your poor status.

I love ramen because it extends across many Asian cultures. It's versatile, you can eat it wet or dry, plain or with many different condiments. It was one of the first meals I could make and reminds me of the meals I'd cook for my younger siblings."

"I was 6 or 7 years old living in San Bernadino, CA in 1982. I was the only Asian person in my class and seemingly my school. My mom would always pack me a musubi for lunch with nori wrapped around it. I remember taking it out of the waxed paper and my lunch table gasping in unison. "WHAT is that?!" "Ewwww!!" I remember my face feeling hot and not understanding how people didn't know what musubi was. Then they started singing the "Chinese, Japanese" song and pulled the sides of their eyes. Whenever people did trades at lunch they definitely didn't want to trade with me. I soon started begging my mom to make me bologna sandwiches on white bread to be like every one else.

Musubi has always been a staple in my life growing up. It is my number one comfort food to this day. I grew up moving around from state to state because my dad was in the Air Force. Whenever the weekends rolled around and we would go off exploring, my mom would always make musubi for the day. I never tired of them and they were a constant reminder of where I came from. When we would visit Hawaii in the summers, musubi was what we ate at the beach. It was a connection to our family when we were so far from Home."

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