Wednesday, September 8, 2010

boxes

after i finished my morning meetings, i reheated my excellent leftovers from mission chinese food for an early lunch. i've been to mission chinese food three times now (twice to dine-in and once grabbing food togo) and each time resulted in me bouncing in my seat, humming to myself in happiness as i noshed away on the goods. i've thoroughly enjoyed what i've ordered. for funny and interesting review of the food (much better than stuff i write that is for certain), i suggest you visit the sfweekly write up here

http://www.sfweekly.com/2010-09-08/restaurants/mission-chinese-food-offers-a-matrix-mind-twister-of-a-meal/2/

as an aside to the article...just wanted to let you know that i've had the slow cooked char siu pork belly over the rice noodles twice....and i quite enjoyed it. a lot.

anyway, while i was noshing on my leftover ma po tofu....

and braised mongolian beef cheek....
for my lunch today, i was thinking about expectations, authenticity, and ethnic identities. it is interesting isn't it? expectations that people have regarding ethnicity and food.....not to mention ethnicity and life in general. this is usually a topic that i only discuss with my closest friends.... post-berkeley of course...jez, i doubt anyone can get through berkeley without having quite a few discussions regarding ethnic identity.

yet, after i graduated from berkeley i tried to run from those topics in everyday conversations as much as possible....except for that time when i told JS that calling me "banana" in public in the bay area wasn't a great idea. poor JS, the six foot something blue eyed white midwesterner who probably didn't know what hit him when the tiny foodie hunter he worked with matter-of-factly informed him that he basically called me a wanna be white person (you know...yellow on the outside and white on the inside). i didn't think it was possible for him to get any more pale, but he did that day. i told him that i wasn't offended and that it was ok he called me that, as long as it wasn't in public. he was pretty mortified and he never called me that again until years later, after he became one of my closest friends, moved to st. louis (don't ask) and said he could call me that because there were no asian people in st. louis....which even makes me snicker now, years later. i think there are a couple of asian people in st. louis, although i didn't see any when i visited him.

i guess the point that i'm trying to make is that sometimes it is good to have open non-judgmental and non-inflammatory conversations about things like this. so, i suppose i'm going to dive right in because i've been thinking about this a bit recently due to some things i've read and experienced both food and non-food related (i.e., like the new york times article about designers of asian descent getting attention...i mean, if they are good designers they are just good designers....one would think the work speaks for itself). i'm not raging on the times or anyone else. it is more of how reading those sort of things have made me a bit pensive about ethnic identity politics and, well, boxes.

i suppose you can take the foodie hunter out of berkeley, but there are some things about berkeley that i will always carry with me....like the willingness to at least have (or provoke) an open discourse about it.

from my perspective, if someone is passionate and relays their passion through their food than whatever to their ethnicity. the proof is on the plate, in the taste, in the texture, and the connection people forge with the food itself. i think that if you are surrounded by a type of food or culture, there is a certain fluency you may have in your sensory memory that you can access....but that is no guarantee that you are going to be a good at recreating those sensual experiences on the plate....or recreate that connection with food.

i am also going to own that i also bring a certain level of bias into my perspective. i certainly do not want to be put in any "box" of any kind. for those that know me, they know that within my academic career i was an anomaly given how young i was.....and for my professional career, i have been one of "the onlys"....one of the only women, one of the only non-white people, yadda yadda yadda....and i have not exactly worked at small companies. as a super intensely self-driven alpha who always seeks to be better, i'll be damned if i let something like that make me feel self-conscious and put myself in a box. i work hard and have always taken the stance that my work speaks for itself.

it has worked out rather well for me.

i have always been a top performer. i expect nothing less of myself. this is who i am.

so if someone tried to tell me that due to my ethnicity, that i couldn't do the work that i do....or had expectations that my work would somehow be "less than" or "not as good" because of my ethnicity, i would probably point to my portfolio of work and then sweetly kick their ass.

yet, i know that not everyone has this perspective....whether in cooking, food, writing, working in whatever industry, or being in school.

i will always remember many many moons ago....when i was at berkeley, running this student organization that was funded by the english department, i was doing some academic peer advising for a young man who confessed that he wondered if he would do well at berkeley.... because the statistics of his ethnicity attending university said he would fail.

it almost broke my heart.

my response that day was that i could understand why he felt that way....and that regardless of statistics....he had the opportunity to prove to himself that he would succeed through his work. i have no idea if it helped him or not.

yet, throughout the years, when managing or coaching people or teams i have come across remarkably similar situations...whether it be boxes that people put themselves in because of ethnicity, class, level of education, etc.etc., and as a result... feel a sense of resignation of being "less than" because of it.

i've always had the same response.

"i expect you do to well. now, show me."

i've been told that this approach is also an anomaly and "out of the box" and you know what?

i'm ok with it.

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