I can eat anything.
This is not because I am Korean. This is because I am American.
I was born in Queens, NY. The U.S. Census listed my zipcode- 11377- as having more ethnic groups living there than anywhere else in the country. But that’s not why I can eat everything. I only ate Korean food growing up. So when I started school, I was excited everyday about eating school food because I was finally eating real American food.
I loved the sloppy joes, beef patties, tuna fish sandwiches, and even the cardboard pizzas that the other kids dreaded. My absolute favorite was the salty salisbury steaks. I would hate the days lunch was not served and I had to bring lunch from home. I never knew what my mother would have packed for me, but it wouldn’t matter anyway because whatever it was, I was guaranteed to hear, “What’s THAT?” or “that’s your LUNCH?” or “what’s that SMELL?” I always responded to the ignoramus with the customary tolerant look and a Korean food lesson, and then casually ate as quickly as I could. Lunch was awkward on those days.
My mother must have somehow picked up on my anxiety on those mornings, even though I never complained or refused to take her lunches. One day, she gave me the lunch bag and said, “Sandwich” with a proud smile.
I should’ve been prepared, but I wasn’t. It was peanut butter and jelly on white bread, but laid in between was also a hot dog that had been sliced lengthwise, ketchup, a lettuce leaf, and a slice of American cheese. My mother had also thought enough to put a pickle spear next to my sandwich in the tin foil. I ate the whole red, white, and purple thing, but this time I had no words to explain my mother’s misguided American sandwich. This was just the first of some truly unique and colorful cross-cultural cuisine combinations that I endured faithfully as a dutiful American.
But now that I think about it, I’m surprised how quickly I got used to them. And so did the ignoramuses at my table. If someone started to say something smart, they’d be the ones with the quick retort, “it’s her mom’s SANDWICH.”
Regardless, I learned to make my own sandwiches very soon after, but not before my stomach had become a melting pot. Thanks to my mother.
Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence to help create a country where it was the standard and central belief for all people to be “whomever they wanted to be regardless of race, creed, or religion.” Trying so hard to be American is un-American. This I believe, and it is freeing.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.