My thesis project Foreign Lands, Familiar Stars is a journey of examining self-identity as a millennial immigrant. I was born in Taiwan, raised in Hakka culture, later educated in New Zealand and New York. The following writings are my internal monologues during the thesis process. The streams of consciousness style of writing harnessed the rapid iterative process that my ADHD brain excels at.
1/27/21 Wednesday 10 pm
Am I Hakka enough if I don’t act like one?
Cultural practices are ways of life. We are all human beings with the same needs and desires. We were given the same materials (more or less, as we do live on the same planet) and we do different things with them. Things are done in different ways by different groups of people. The specific ways they do things are cultures. It’s a way of life. Rituals that we perform. Aesthetics that we prefer. If I were to do things differently because of available resources, tools that were created, etc. I’d feel strange and alienated. Cultural practices are the things a group of people does together that make them feel belonging and unity. What makes us feel belonging? Familiarities in what we see, hear, do, eat, experience. Some of the easier/obvious things are food, clothing, language, traditions (rituals). Does it have to be seen/public? Exercising cultural practices in public places is a form of pride and representation. Practicing something that isn’t the mainstream. Practicing at home or in private isn’t about showcasing. Is it a form of self-care? Doing something that makes you feel connected, at home, or happy is a form of self-preservation and therefore self-care.
2/2/21 Tuesday 4 pm
I never really tried to find “authentic” Taiwanese/Hakka food in almost 15 years of living abroad. It isn’t the question of authenticity. Food memories can’t be replicated and nothing will ever match up to my memories.
Maybe I should go back and think about food. I forgot that grandma would buy chicken combs (or keeping them instead of throwing them out) and put them in chicken soup because I liked them. I had completely forgotten about this. It was probably because the chicken comb isn’t used in Hakka food, or, I should say that it’s not used in cooking that I’m aware of. Not at restaurants. Only my grandma does it. I was talking about cuts of meat when this piece of memory came back to me. Hakka food (and many other cultural cuisines where the culture had been oppressed or colonized) utilize “bad” cuts of meat. Namely pork belly, pork head meat, pig stomach & intestines, ground pork, feet, etc. Salting meat and vegetables help to prolong the shelf life. It’s never about having the best, freshest, or top-quality ingredients because they were simply not available to the Hakka people in the past. I grew up eating offal as well and I do really enjoy them. That is not a general consensus, and I realized that when I was older. Immigrants often experience judgment and xenophobia when it comes to food. I’m not Asian American myself but having other AAs calling the food I eat weird and gross feels like a betrayal.
2/10/21 Wednesday 3 pm
Can you separate yourself from your work?
I have several journals. I started journaling this year and so far it’s been going great. The thing is that I feel like they are slowly blending together. Like this part should have been in the personal journal. I don’t know ⸺ the more I work on my thesis the more personal it becomes. At one point I wanted it to be something that is somehow universal. But the more I remove myself from the work, the more I struggle with it. I know that the more personal the work gets, the better (for the lack of a better word…) it gets. I should just embrace the fact that I AM my work and each project is internal research as well as an external one. Every piece of work is a process of me processing what goes on the inside and how that relates to the external world. Why am I in New York? I’m sitting at a cafe (outdoor seating, of course) on second Ave. and I felt that I could write something. Why am I in New York? I’m fortunate enough that my migration journey is voluntary and is fully supported. Then, why am I here? Why am I still here? Ultimately, I can’t relate to the stories of many other immigrants. I have the fortune to have my own agency, unlike my refugee ancestors. I have many options now ⸺ even if sometimes things are difficult. My ancestors either had no choice or it was their only choice. Am I a (great-great-great-great-great-great) granddaughter of immigrants/refugees? Yes. Can I call myself an immigrant? My identity has always been something I struggle with. I don’t feel Taiwanese the way some do. I’m not AA. I’m too stale for an FoB. Then who am I? What can I claim? Is this some sort of imposter syndrome? The identity crisis is a universal experience.
I think things make a little more sense now, even if I now have more questions than I started with. This project, inevitably, became personal.
New York based