Last Sunday, I went to a sort of “pre-Thanksgiving” potluck. Holding the dinner was my idea originally, but my apartment was unfortunately not very conducive to actually hosting one, so my friend agreed to hold it at her place.
The people that showed up included my friend, her roommate, and one of her other friends, all of whom were international Chinese. All of them were in business-type fields. My other friend who came was an international Korean student working on a PhD in fiber science. Of course, you also have me, working on my Master’s in mechanical engineering. I’m sure it seems like a mess of people with rather dissimilar backgrounds.
The operative word here is “people”. Regardless of what walk of life they came from, everyone liked good food and good wine. I made chicken Marsala while the other guy present made a Chinese-style pork chop. Both were a hit with everyone. I also contributed a Chianti, while another girl, who’s looking to be a Master of Wines, provided an excellent Gewurztraminer. With the food and wine, we found common ground to bond over.
Despite my chicken and the pork chop being Italian (with a dash of creole) and Chinese styles respectively, I did note the actual process of making both wasn’t all that different between the two. Both involved coating the meat in flour, searing it, then preparing a sauce, and then finally cooking the meat in the sauce.
As a Cornell student, as well as a resident of Edison, NJ, I have been fortunate enough to be immersed in extremely diverse American environments. What I find a little troubling, admittedly, is that despite there are all these different groups in one place, there is very little interaction going on between said groups. I think it’s from having spent my pre-school and elementary school years in a very largely white town that I have grown to be extremely comfortable around non-Indians (i.e. people different from myself); had I lived in Edison, with its well-known Indian community, my whole life, I suspect Indians would’ve accounted for a much larger percentage of my friend circle.
JP Stevens High School had an obnoxiously clique-y culture, and there was no place where it was more apparent than in the lunch room. Over here is the table where the popular white kids sat. Over there is the table where the high achieving Asian kids sat. Close by is where the Indians sat. And the list goes on, where people happily conformed to stereotypes, possibly in an attempt to be “normal”.
While I feel like people at Cornell are generally more open-minded, many still tend to bunch up with people similar to themselves. The fact that a Greek system even exists on campus shows how people try to belong to a group. Also, very frequently, you’ll see people of one ethnicity bunched up on campus, all chatting in their home language. To me, it’s symptomatic of most people having very small comfort zones and an immense fear of stepping out of it. I once met a couple friends for dinner, and another one of their friends happened to step into the restaurant. He was invited over, and I asked one girl how she knew him. She quite frankly said, “We’re both Chinese.” Again, as an Indian-American who is very comfortable around non-Indians, I always found the idea of latching onto someone just because they’re the same ethnicity as you just a little odd, especially among people that have lived in America for a while.
As I’ve written in my post on sister blog The Pop Culture Historian, I am, in the eyes of many Indians, an ABCD, or American-Born Confused Desi. The inspiration of that post came from a comment I saw on a YouTube video of Emeril Lagasse showing an Indian-American woman how to make tandoori chicken (which I want to attempt to make, but more on that later).Long story short, I was a little bothered by the fact that this user felt the need to point out that he doesn’t like how the woman is, as he said, an ABCD.
I fancy myself as a man of the world. Barring my food allergies, I like to think I’m generally unafraid of stepping out of my comfort zone. As part of my appreciation for foreign cultures, I like eating food of different cuisines. Part of the reason I wish I didn’t have food allergies is because I would’ve liked to be Andrew Zimmern’s successor. Among other things, I succeeded in homemaking daeji bulgogi over the summer. That endeavor was completely due to how much I liked Koko’s daeji bulgogi. I wanted to see if I could reproduce it and also save some money while I was at it.
Basically, what I mean to say with this whole digression is that I discovered that despite all that, breaking barriers down between people is really not that hard as soon as you find even the tiniest bit of common ground. Being Indian-American is an absolutely inescapable part of my identity, but I think the idea of pigeon-holing myself into being that, and only that, is kind of stupid. As someone who doesn’t do such a thing, I enjoy the luxury of being able to “float” around different groups and thus be in a position to try to bring them together. As a result of such floating, I know one thing almost everyone (especially me) has in common is that they like good food. With that in mind, it’s always good to have an idea what to put on the table.