December 5, 2023

Immigration Marriage

Feel Good With Immigration

Stop Calling It Asian Salad

These Minor Feelings: It’s a Generational Thing

In the book, “Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning” (at Amazon), the author Cathy Park Hong gets at the existential core of what being constantly gaslit by the mainstream public can do to a person. The experiences aren’t new. But speaking up about them kind of is. The number of Asian Americans born and raised in the U.S. is larger than ever but many of us grew up constantly pounded by microaggressions that we were supposed to just quietly take. But we’re all grown up now, and some of us are kind of pissed.

“Immigrant generations are generally not all that incensed with questions of misappropriation but their children tend to be quite sensitive about it,” says Ray. “Partly because they grew up here and many of them were bullied and ostracized about their weird lunches at school and now all that weird stuff has become very trendy and sexy.”

It’s true. When I asked my parents, who opened Thai restaurants in the ‘80s and ‘90s, what they thought, they told me they never thought about it; that they were too busy working and appeasing white customers to make money to send me and my sisters to college so we could disappoint them with our liberal arts degrees and earn the privilege to think such thoughts and make our own money writing about them.

Fair enough, Mom and Dad, thank you, and I love you, but also, like, a little “OK Boomer,” amirite? The demographics of this country have changed. Millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. and the most diverse group of adults this country’s seen. (Gen Z will be even more so.) Before we know it, half of this country will be majority not-white and Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial group among them. So, if restaurant groups and grocery chains are marketing and naming things for the benefit of the consumer, they’re excluding a huge chunk of people. And I’m not the only one with Asian salad under my skin.

In 2017, Bonnie Tsui wrote an op-ed in The New York Times asking the same question: “Why Is Asian Salad Still on the Menu?” the comment section of which is like gaslighting on steroids. But we’re not going to stop talking about this.

“Asian salad as a concept highlights the potentially harmful ways people can digest cultures different from their own,” says Divya Gadangi, a Brooklyn-based multidisciplinary artist. “They’re experiencing something flattened and distorted expressly for their consumption, and a lot of the time it’s for some white dude’s gain.”

“The Asian salad aimed to appease the white gaze,” says Gadangi. “And is now being wielded by mostly non-Asians, if not exclusively non-Asians, to what? Celebrate Asian flavors? Bring underrepresented foods to the forefront? Hardly, because who is celebrating the culture? Who is at the forefront? Who gets to decide what the ingredients are? It was never meant to be representative.” 

Brown says that so much of Asian American identity revolves around food and grappling with feelings around how it gets appropriated, disrespected, and misrepresented can get tricky.

Growing up in Staten Island, Gadangi says, she’d wish to see more of herself in the prominently white culture. “The shallowness and commodity-ness of what we get says to us, ‘Well, we still don’t actually like you, let’s get that straight. But we’ll eat your food.’”