On February 26th 2002, I was born to two biethnic parents, a German-Indian mother and German-Chinese father. Unlike my older sister, who often gets mistaken for being half Chinese, or my younger sister, who has a beautiful olive skin tone, I have predominantly Caucasian traits. My complexion is fair. I have blue-green eyes, and my hair falls straight and brown. I am the spitting image of a classic “white girl,” causing shock to be the typical reaction from others upon hearing my last name. “Huh, Wu? You're Chinese?” Being racially white has undeniably come with many privileges, but at the same time, it has made it difficult for me to feel connected with my Asian heritage. It also does not help that neither of my parents have strong ties to their Asian culture—both of them are first-generation Canadians, and had a North American upbringing. They grew up in a culture founded primarily on the beliefs and practices of European colonizers.
When I was younger, I did not question my background, nor did my peers. I was mixed and proud of it. For Chinese New Year, I would not hesitate to wear a silk qipao, but as I grew up, I discovered the delicate history and fragility of Asian culture in Canada. I feared it was not my place to be representing it—be it through my clothing, or any other form. I feared what outsiders would think, paranoid of being deemed yet another white girl appropriating Asian culture. Thus, to walk the edge between my paranoia and my heritage, one of the strongest connections I have had with my Asian identity has been through food.
For many years, it has been tradition for my father to cook a grand dinner with dumplings, egg rolls, beef and broccoli, noodles, and spicy cabbage for Chinese New Year. We would invite many of our friends over to celebrate with us and would even partake in practices such as the gifting of lucky red envelopes. Looking back, the food was likely one of the only things that differentiated this celebration from any other party we held. My three siblings and I would often help wrap dumplings. Despite my father’s countless efforts to teach us how to properly wrap and fold—the way his Chinese father taught him—I must admit that I have still yet to master this skill.
On my mother’s side, we often eat Indian food for special celebrations, like birthdays and family gatherings. My personal favourite is my mother’s chicken curry, a recipe that was originally from her father. When she cooks, she follows his, at times illegible, handwritten instructions on papers that have yellowed through the decades. Although, in true Asian fashion, he repeatedly gives very vague measurements—“a pinch of turmeric” or “some crushed tomato”—or occasionally no measurements at all, my mother seems to get it perfect every time. The recipe calls for coconut cream which gives the curry a beautifully smooth and creamy texture, and adds a hint of sweetness in all of its spicy glory. Just knowing that the recipes were my grandfather’s makes it that much more special.
Since I can remember, we have always eaten a diverse range of foods from a variety of different origins and cultures. I love packing my fajitas with so many toppings—and flavours—to the point that the shell can no longer contain the insides and I will never get tired of a nutritious greek salad with rich feta cheese. My father often says that my mother travels by stomach. Although it originally meant she literally travelled to places with amazing and tasty food, I believe that it has since adopted a second meaning, that being she is metaphorically transported through the wide range of food she eats. But I have come to learn that this is not the norm for many people. When I was in the ninth grade, one of my peers—a first generation Canadian born to Chinese parents—questioned me about my background, to which I explained that I was mixed. He proceeded to ask me the follow-up question “But then what do you eat at home? Indian food? Chinese food? German food?” He was stunned to hear that we ate all of the above and so much more. This encounter made me realize that although my family's meals often reflect our heritage, it is flooded with multiculturalism and diversity—a true reflection of my parents’ Canadian upbringing.
For me, food and its surrounding conventions have played a role in my life that extends well beyond its basic biological purpose. Food has undoubtedly served as a key connection to my Chinese, Indian and German backgrounds. Even the smallest actions—using chopsticks or enjoying spicy foods—have allowed me to bond with and acknowledge my ancestry. Today, I am working on not simply accepting my Asian side, but rather embracing it. Nevertheless, the path towards loving my family and heritage was and continues to be filled with many things to digest. The nuanced nature of society’s socio-racial standards and the underlying paranoia of accidental cultural appropriation leaves me, and other mixed people, with much food for thought.