I’m what many consider Chinese American. Granted, I wasn’t born here in the states, but I might as well have been. Since I was three, I’ve called America my home. It’s nice and I like it a lot, but it’s all I really know. February is Chinese New Year and my family likes to go all out.
Everyone exchanges red envelopes filled will large bills that are as fresh off the mint as can be. Me being the first born son of the first born son has a lot of perks, but I don’t really see it as anything special. I was and still am the black sheep of the family. Getting red envelopes has always been interesting since I was a kid. Our surname in Chinese is printed on them, which is pretty cool if I think about it. Personally, I’ve never been one to think all of this would magically bring prosperity and good fortune, but I play along for the sake of tradition.
Food is a big deal around this time. I remember on some years my dad would buy an entire roasted pig and go through the laborious process of cutting it up to serve to anyone. For a little kid to see, it was a spectacle. I remember thinking to myself, “Hey, there’s a giant pig here!” with a lot of intrigue and excitement. I think PETA would gawk at the sight, but who am I to know. Tradition is tradition.
Everyone meets up, eats a crazy huge dinner either at home or at some upscale restaurant we’ve been at the last several years. My dad knows the owners and is good friends so we get preferential treatment. It’s something I didn’t notice as a kid until I was older. We’re treated like VIP. I think we order somewhere around 8 or 9 dishes, which sounds like a colossal amount of food because it is. Lobster, crab, shrimp, etc is always on the menu. The idea isn’t really to finish it all, more so to just have a little bit of everything. Making sure we get a good first meal in the new year is a high priority. I dig it.
My Cantonese is less than perfect, but usually I get by ordering and asking the staff for what I need. My family speaks a dialect of Cantonese that’s only found in one province in China. I equate it to how people from the South sound like here. I can understand about 90% of standard Cantonese when I hear it, but if I were to speak it, I run it through my head before I utter a word. For this reason, my pronunciation is a bit off but I’ve haven’t met anyone who has given me a hard time for it.
Fun fact: the first Chinatown’s established in America were immigrants from my hometown. Many of the first Chinese railroad workers were also from there. It’s something I’ve always been proud of even with my level of disconnect to my culture. I’m a sense, it ties me back to history.
I’m certain this is a tradition that I will be a part of for the rest of my life. It brings back a lot of warm fuzzy memories as a kid with people that are no longer with us. For that, I take it all in and hope I don’t forget where I come from.