A discussion on cultural identity and food was presented at the Diversity Initiatives and Resource Center’s “Bao: Expression of Love and Care” workshop on Tuesday.
As part of the Association for InterCultural Awareness’ Social Justice Week, the Association of Chinese Students and Vietnamese Student Association began the workshop with a viewing of Oscar award-winning animated short film, “Bao,” directed by Domee Shi. Following the viewing was a Q&A session with a panel of representatives from both associations.
Jacob Chacko, coordinator of the Asian Pacific American Resource Center, led the conversation and encouraged audience participation between panelists and other attendees.
“We hope to have a great dialogue. Feel free to add to the discussion. We don’t want it to be just one-sided with folks from the panel. We want to hear from everyone’s experiences as well,” Chacko said.
“Bao” is about a mother who experiences empty-nest syndrome as her son disconnects with the family’s cultural identity. At first, the film introduces the story through the mother’s perspective as she keeps a hovering hand over her precious child.
Metaphorically molding her son from dough, the mother controls every interaction in his life instead of letting him experience them on his own. From riding the bus and going to the market, to doing tai chi in the park together, the theme of “Bao” emphasizes family values and relationships in traditional Asian culture.
As he grows older, the son drifts away from his family as he naively assimilates into Western culture, forgetting his mother’s instruction.
Similar to how the son in “Bao” disrespected and disregarded his mother, audience members expressed remorse for not cherishing their relationships with their parents.
“Upon watching it a million times later the biggest thing that stood out to me was the intense feeling of regret,” said Julia Kong, an Association of Chinese Students member. “Especially when the mom was crying alone, I felt regret because I feel like I definitely made my mom feel that way before.”
The personification of the dumpling also serves as a direct representation of the importance of food in culture and family. Whether it’s eating or making the dish, the memories that are associated with a certain soup or dessert is only conceivable through establishing unique connections with family.
“In all of our cultures we put a lot of effort and a lot of labor into food, and it shows the hard work that our parents or our grandparents put into the food that we eat,” said Milan Le, a Vietnamese Student Association member.
Ever since Le learned how to make traditional Vietnamese noodle soup, bún riêu, with her grandma when she was in elementary school, she said the experience was not the same when eating the same dish in restaurants because she prefers home-cooked meals.
From pho and tamales to bò lúc lac and baklava, students from all ethnic backgrounds shared experiences of making food with family growing up.
Kong said watching films that support Asian culture makes her wish she could have seen them while she was growing up.
“Being in college and seeing these people be successful is a huge inspiration for (my friends) and me as well,” Kong said.
Randy Ear, an Association of Chinese Students member, also struggled to accept how his culture was a part of his identity as he shared how he was made fun of for speaking his language.
“I kind of shunned out my Cambodian culture,” Ear said.
However after viewing “Bao” and attending college away from his family, Ear realized how much he’s left behind.
“It sucks that I can’t make a lot of Cambodian food here, but I still try to make the effort to make Cambodian food. It’s something that brings me back home,” Ear said.
Lauryn Dang, a Vietnamese Student Association member, emphasized that themes in “Bao” can be found in other cultures and from different ethnic backgrounds.
“Even though there’s different cultures here watching and learning, we also can relate to simple things such as making food or just being family and how traditions bring us all together, even though our lives can be so separate at times,” Dang said.