I’ve been a Californian for at least half my life, so people are often surprised at my connection to the Midwest. My parents arrived in America as graduate students in the late 1960s, benefitting from the Immigration Act of 1965, landing first in South Dakota, then in Michigan — where I was born. In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, I’m musing on the little tidbits that feel unique to my childhood as a Taiwanese American girl, yet also seem significant to the time and place. Here goes…
We seemed to always know every other Taiwanese person in town (they were usually graduate students or co-workers with my father).
I went to a daycare where they served goulash for lunch with a little boy I would meet again when we were college students ourselves at Berkeley.
Sometimes I was babysat by the neighbor lady; she was Egyptian and the wife of a medical student.
I also played with a little blond boy whose apartment smelled like patchouli.
At age four, I was sitting at the bottom of a slide at a park when two men yelled a racial slur at me.
In the summer, we sometimes ate only corn on the cob for dinner.
My younger brother once participated in a watermelon eating contest on the Fourth of July.
As an adult, I still have a sixth sense for people from the Midwest.
I had a t-shirt that said “Mexico” on it; the kids on the school bus asked me if I was in love with Erik Estrada.
The local newspaper interviewed me on President’s Day when I was in first grade.
My mother had a Betty Crocker cookbook that I loved to look through.
We once tried La Choy canned bean sprouts, but lived for the twine-wrapped boxes full of canned pickles and instant ramen from Taiwan.
My first Asian friend was a girl who was also named Grace; we met in Idaho, of all places.
I sometimes like country music and pearl-buttoned denim shirts.
When we visited my old Idaho house, there was a Chinese name on the mailbox.