There’s a scene in Amy Tan‘s The Joy Luck Club, where one of the moms is preparing a crab dinner with her daughter. There’s just enough crabs so that each person gets one, but one of the crabs is too small, and appears to have spoiled. The daughter notes that her Chinese friend and her Caucasian boyfriend take the largest crabs, while her mom, takes the small, spoiled one, but doesn’t touch it through out dinner. It’s a memorable scene for me, because that mom could have easily have been my mom. My mom would never really eat until she was sure everyone else had their share. She’d make everyone else take the best pieces of food, and only take the smaller less desirable pieces for herself.
I was taken down memory lane this week because of a cryptic blog post titled Asian People Only at Resist Racism. It was a blog post by an Asian who talked about how she recently had her mom over for dinner, and some unexpected dinner guests showed up. She whispered to her mom just before dinner, asking her to say she wasn’t hungry (and not eat) if it appeared there wouldn’t be enough food. This request probably seems benign and normal to anyone from an Asian household, but may seem strange or impolite to anyone else. But in most Asian families, asking a family member to make a sacrifice is perfectly acceptable.
This blogger wrote about her dinner party since she had seen a post over at My Mom is a FOB that was a picture of a piece of paper that an Asian auntie had left on everyone’s plate at a dinner party. For most people that paper was probably indecipherable, but interestingly enough quite a few of the Asian commenters knew exactly what it meant. It was request to dinner attendees (probably all family) to take no more than 3 pieces of fish each. That kind of request is certainly not uncommon between family members, and I remember my mom making this type of request to me when we’ve had guests over for dinner, to make sure our guests had their pick of the best food first.
These posts and stories reminded me how there aren’t as many boundaries in Asian families, and how acceptable it is to have family members make sacrifices for one another.