Growing Up Asian in America: Pass the Soy Sauce

Selections from Winners in the 2004 Asian Pacific Fund Art and Essay Contest

It is six o’clock on a Friday night. All my friends are out. They are at the movies. I, however, am stuck at home, eating with my family. It isn’t even Chinese New Year, a time when I know I am required to attend dinner. It is just another day, another typical Chinese dinner consisting of rice, soup, some sort of steamed greens and leftover roast duck. I do not want to be here. I want to be out with my friends. “Pass the soy sauce,” I mutter grumpily. My mother shoots me an evil glance noticing my rude tone and says in her broken English, “You want, then you get yourself.” As I walk to the other end of the table and grab the soy sauce, she begins her lecture about family and friends. “Family always before friends,” she says. I pretend to be concentrating on mixing the soy sauce with my rice, but she knows I am listening. The rest of dinner is eaten in silence, not counting the constant clicking-clacking of chopsticks.

Once the dishes are cleared and the table is wiped, my mother announces she will take me to the movies. Although the movie is over I still want to go. “At least I’ll get out of the house,” I think. So, I quickly agree and we leave. When I arrive at the theater, my friends run up to greet me. I tell my mom, “I’ll call later.” She nods and exits the parking lot. Soon, I am laughing and talking nonstop with my friends. I completely forget about the dinner scene for the moment. I feel like a normal American teenager again. It gets darker by the minute, and everyone starts to leave. One of my friends, Stephanie, offers to bring me home. “But it’s late and you don’t even live near me,” I protest. “So? My dad won’t care anyway. Come on, we’re like family, ” she says. Suddenly the night’s dinner rushes back. “We’re like family,” I repeat to myself. I then accept the ride home.

At home, I continue to think about it. I realize, then, that the words “friends” and “family” are really not that different. Stephanie is my friend, and, yet, she is also family. She even said it herself, “Come on, we’re like family.” No, we do not eat dinner at the same table or live under the same roof, but we are so close that we act like family. My mother, on the other hand, is part of my family, but she is also my friend. And, no, she doesn’t go to school with me or listen to the same music, but we are close enough that we act like friends. I come to the conclusion that when you get right down to it, real friends and true family are the same. I decide to treat both with the same attitude, the same respect. Meanwhile, I also know my mother would disagree with my theory. She would say, “What are you talking about? Friend is friend. Family is family. There is a big difference. Grandma, Grandpa, Dad, Sophia — they are your family. You see?” My mother is very traditional. My father is the same way. They both grew up in Hong Kong with the same values. Family always wins over friends. Family equals respect. Thus, they try to instill the same value in me. I understand this, but, at the same time, I see how it is not constant. Just because someone is family doesn’t mean I automatically like and respect who he or she is. No. For me, respect must be earned; it is not just given. On the other hand, a long-time friend may not be blood-related, but I may like him or her very much and have great respect for him or her. Family does not always win over friends; it depends on the family, on the friend. Sometimes, they are tied, and everyone wins. It is something that I strongly believe, whether or not my mother agrees. The next Friday, the phone rings. It is my friends asking if I want to go the football game. “It’s homecoming game though!” they say. Remembering last week’s lesson, I say “No thanks,” hang up, and continue setting the table. I would rather spend some time with my family anyway. Today is another typical day, another typical Chinese dinner consisting of rice, soup, some sort of steamed greens, and, this time, leftover sweet and sour pork. My mom asks about the phone call. “Who was that?”

“Just some friends.” “What did they want?”
“To hang out at the football game.”
“And you don’t want to hang out with your friends?”
“I already am, Mom. Oh, would you please pass the soy sauce.”

— Linda Wong, 16, Piedmont Hills High School, San Jose


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