Melting Pots, Ethnic Food and Language

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I love that the United States is a melting pot. Today I found myself thinking about diversity and the many ways we can choose to embrace it. As a child born into a multicultural household (mother Asian, father WASP from the US) it has been important to me on a personal level to integrate and honor both cultures I represent.

For me, the process has been fairly easy. I was born a military brat and got the opportunity to travel with my family. Even better, my mom is an amazing cook who passed her skills down to her girls. The picture above is of a Filipino dish called pancit using rice noodles, veggies and chicken (though it can be done with other meats). Making this tasty Asian pasta for my Italian husband today was what put me on the path to this discussion.

I’ve enjoyed integrating our cultures through food, and so has my guy. As many of you know, he cooks, too. What’s funny is that he wasn’t exactly anyone’s idea of a culinary adventurer when I met him. He hadn’t even tried Chinese food, convinced he’d hate it. Too many childhood jokes about fried lice that he actually believed it. (And somewhere along the way he’d heard soy sauce was bug juice). Dating me changed that and opened his palate. (It’s amazing what guys will try to impress the girl.)

So, in our house these days, you could be treated to traditional American fare of pot roast or meatloaf or you might be served Asian fried rice or pancit….or even homemade ravioli or chicken cacciatore. The big regret I have is that I never learned my great grandmother’s Cornish pastie recipe.

But food is not the only blending I do. I’ve learned to merge my love of languages and music, too. I love that I can still remember a few of my favorite church songs in both Tagalog and English. Over the years I’ve even taught them to some of my friends. I enjoy the fact that I can still speak, read and write in both languages. My husband has even picked up some words and phrases over the years.

Which leads me straight onto a soapbox. As many of you have probably guessed, English is not my mom’s first language. Would you know it if you met her? Maybe not. She only has a hint of an accent. Why do I bring this up? Because there has been such a huge deal made lately about immigrants and their language choices that it’s had me shaking my head.

Why am I shaking my head? Because I sort of feel like we’ve brought some of these negative behaviors on ourselves. To be clear, I do believe that those who want US citizenship should be required to learn the language. I’m not saying to throw away or hide your primary language. In fact, I recommend you teach it to your children should you have any. I simply feel that if you decide to take up this country’s flag and the many benefits that come with it, the least you can do is learn the language. I believe this should be the case for whatever country you decide to reside in.

But here’s where we screw ourselves with our arrogance. We are notorious for going into other countries for vacations or business and demanding they speak English. Why? We are in their world, not ours. Is it any wonder why they get pissed off and return the favor when they come here?

We’re getting a taste of our own medicine, people!

The beauty of this country is in our diversity…and yes, there’s more than ethnics in diversity, but it’s what I decided to share today. If we were to take the time to understand and appreciate a few more cultures here within our melting pot, maybe we’d have a little less hatred and violence. There are so many cool and unique flavors to our many different cultures. I challenge you to try just one thing outside your cultural comfort zone and see what you learn.

Am I way off base with my little ramble? Have you had a really cool experience a little outside of your cultural box? What’s your favorite ethnic food?

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31 thoughts on “Melting Pots, Ethnic Food and Language

  1. Jess Witkins says:

    I don’t think you’re way off base, Kitt. I’d agree with you. In addition to your language argument, I always thought it was interesting how many immigrants come to our country speaking several languages, and if an American speaks multiple languages they’re labeled as so gifted and intelligent. Yes, that’s true, but it’s because our culture doesn’t typically integrate other language studies so early in school (depending on the school). What’s considered normal in one culture is above average in another. It’s just interesting.

    My favorite food…well, since I’ve been craving it and have no access to it, it’s bulgogi. Korean barbecue. I ate it a couple times on my trip to Seoul last spring. YUM!

    • Kitt Crescendo says:

      Sounds delicious, Jess!

      And you know what? You’re right about the languages thing. In the Philippines they started teaching English with their Tagalog in Kindergarten (And Tagalog was rarely the local dialect). Even when I lived in Germany most people spoke more than one language.

      It really is interesting to see the different perceptions based on education and cultural differences.

  2. Katie says:

    I agree with you, Kitt. When I went to France in high school, I made every effort to use the language as to not be one of those tourists, but I quickly found most of the waiters, etc. all figured out I was an American and immediately reverted to English. Getting people to speak French with me was a challenge.

    If you go to another country that doesn’t speak English, you should have your dictionary on hand.

  3. Emma says:

    In Ireland most of us can’t speak anything but English. Maybe we remember a little Irish from our school days, a smidgen of French or German, but that’s about it. I love travelling, but I do feel a bit mortified when I’m in Europe and can’t speak French, Spanish, German etc. In Europe, kids are taught English from a young age. I’d love it if Irish kids were taught the same way as Europeans, growing up speaking more than just one language.

  4. MonaKarel says:

    I think if you plan a long term stay in a foreign country you need to learn the language. If you’re visiting, you should learn as much as you can, and apologize when you don’t understand what people are trying to tell you (Instead of just talking louder in English…because, of course, louder always translates better. However, seeing ballots in thirty different languages (California) really frosts me. You have to learn the language to be granted citizenship to be able to vote. So why on earth would you need the ballot in anything but English? Sigh.
    Favorite ethnic food: Hmmm, since we moved to New Mexico it’s pretty much anything covered in NM green chile , especially chile relenno. But from the countries I visited, I miss good soba noodles (can’t eat them now, low carb) so I’d have to say good sashimi. Or the tempura I had in a little village.

    • Kitt Crescendo says:

      Very good question!

      Food with green chile is good. Got into a lot of spicy Mexican dishes while in El Paso for a few weeks. As for the sashimi & soba…yum to both. 😀 Thanks for stopping!

  5. sheridegrom - From the literary and legislative trenches. says:

    kitt – Great subject and you covered it without bias. I agree with you on the native language usage. The years I lived abroad, I made every effort to learn the language of the country I was living in. Often the locals I worked with wanted to practice their English and would only speak in English when we were together. I found it interesting that in almost every country, English was a required language.

    • Kitt Crescendo says:

      That’s in line with my memories, too. The local folk sure appreciated any effort made, though. It shows a willingness to bend and learn which, I suspect, makes them more willing to practice their English on you. If it’s imperfect, it’s okay. You were less than perfect in their native tongue.

      Speaking of other countries…My parents said they realized I had an “ear” for languages when at 3 my dad took me with him to our landlords in Germany and I wound up being the translator/ go between. Unfortunately the German I kept with me was minimal.

  6. renxkyoko says:

    Right away, I recognized the pancit.

    And it’s good you can speak Tagalog. I thought I was fluent * we immigrated when I was about 6 *, but believe it or not, the language evolved. I can barely understand written Tagalog. Or maybe my vocabulary isn’t enough. Mine is that of a 6 year old’s…… limited.

    Cheers.

    • Kitt Crescendo says:

      I thought you might recognize the pancit. 🙂 As for Tagalog, I suspect it may be simply age based vocabulary. I haven’t found that many changes over the years & I still have pretty close ties to my friends from my time in the PI.

  7. ramblingsfromamum says:

    Hmm did someone mention ‘ramble’ 😉 If I visit, I take a dictionary (primarily to help me out of possible sticky situations) “Um where is the loo” etc. I have been to Europe and Asian countries – I go with the flow with all the cuisine on offer and try most things – though I draw the line at chocolate covered ants..beetles…spiders… it would be lovely to learn another language but at my age … I wouldn’t retain a thing! Outside the cultural box? Hmm just the standard ‘tourist’ things like riding an elephant having an elephant massage. I do enjoy getting involved as much as possible with the culture of the country I am visiting, hence I don’t think I could do a ship cruise…I want to experience as much as I can…eat what I like, choose where to go…I digress – excellent post lovely.

    • Kitt Crescendo says:

      Thanks, my friend! Have you gotten the opportunity to ride a water buffalo yet? That’s definitely unique. I love the way you embrace the culture you’re visiting. Like you, I haven’t gone on cruises because I don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to experience the culture of my host countries. (I’m also in agreeance regarding any sort of chocolate covered bug. Ick.)

  8. Professor Taboo says:

    Kitt, a delicious post of our/your family blending! Filipino, your father’s heritage(?), and Italian….our planetary family! What is ridiculously (sadly?) ironic is 40,000 to 60,000 years ago ALL OF US came from a small family group in south-central Africa. Oh my Stars! You mean I’m African originally! But I’m Caucasian! I gest of course. Genetically, we are all humans from Earth, period. NOW….let’s eat at the table of life sharing stories! Cheers! 😉

    • Kitt Crescendo says:

      Filipino is mom. Dad is English, Swedish & Polish.

      As for the comment about Africa- I had just recently mentioned to a friend that most of the people I know who transplanted from Africa are white. My black friends are mostly islanders or have been in the US for multiple generations. There are actually aboriginal (black) Filipinos, too, but not many.

    • Kitt Crescendo says:

      Cuban food is good. I get mistaken for Latina every time I visit Miami. The problem is when people start to speak to me in Spanish at machine gun speeds. If it were slower I may even be able to communicate. 🙂

  9. filbio says:

    Most of us here in AMURRICA can barely speak English! Living in NYC we are exposed to so much great ethnic foods. I have friends of alll backgrounds and they take me to many differents places to eat. Good points on this post about language.

    Also, I’m coming to eat at your house!

  10. Jessi Gage says:

    The image of the noodle and vegetable dish above looks delicious! My favorite vacation ever was to Ireland. I loved the hearty meat and potato meals there. My favorite ever was a lamb stew with a side of amazing buttery crusty bread. Oh, yum. i’m back there in my head, in that dimly lit, rustic restaurant overlooking a popular street with lots of pedestrians and music filtering up from the bar downstairs. So fun.

    • Kitt Crescendo says:

      Thanks! It’s a tasty dish, if I do say so, myself. As for the lamb stew…that sounds delicious! My hubby and I both enjoy lamb. Maybe I’ll have to look for a recipe and experiment… The ambience you describe is my favorite kind, too.

  11. James Garcia Jr says:

    Preach it, Kitt! 🙂 No, you’re exactly right in this. We demand everyone speaks English and then, as you rightly point out, we don’t return the favor in the slightest when we’re the strangers in the strange land.
    By the way, that dish looks great. What adult beverage are we serving with that?
    Have a great weekend!

    -Jimmy

  12. donofalltrades says:

    Nicely said. I’m not very adventurous when it comes to food, even though I like to cook. I’m getting better though. My neighbors wife is Korean and she’s yet to force me to eat something that hasn’t been awesome tasting! A Lebanese woman made me try something she called a football that I think was wrapped in a grape leaf. It was good. I’m Italian and that’s my favorite food, but I’m getting better at trying new things.

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