As warm aromas of Thanksgiving cooking rose from the kitchen into my bedroom, I woke up with a feeling of excitement that my family and I were finally having a real, home-cooked Thanksgiving meal. As I ran down the stairs, I looked forward to saying goodbye to our annual, premade Costco Thanksgiving dinners and hello to homemade turkey and mashed potatoes. My excitement turned into disappointment as I walked into the kitchen to find a roast Peking duck in the oven and my mom kneading the dough for dumplings.
I grew up with a love-hate relationship with the holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas especially. Every year, I would get my hopes up for a chance of having the quintessential American holiday experience, getting to finally partake in traditions I grew up only hearing about. Instead, I always got the Asian-American version of those holidays. Having duck for Thanksgiving was only the beginning of it. Decorating our house for Christmas was never allowed, and my parents were always too stingy to get Christmas presents for me and my sister. Up until this year, I had only ever been embarrassed of the way my family spent the holidays. The holidays often served as a reminder that I was only American to an extent. Despite being born and raised in the United States, I would forever be straddling the two worlds of being American and Chinese, with my Chinese identity seemingly overshadowing all else. It was the part of my reality that was inescapable but still the hardest part of myself to come to terms with.
As I sat down for Thanksgiving dinner and took a bite of my parent’s homemade Peking duck, a feeling of gratitude and comfort dawned on me. I felt relieved that I was not biting into a dry piece of turkey that I would have drenched in gravy as a means to overcompensate for its lack of flavor. But I also realized how much I had missed my parent’s traditional Chinese cooking. While my family’s version of Thanksgiving is different from those of most American families, these traditions are what made me feel at home. To celebrate Thanksgiving any other way would have been inauthentic to who my family and I are. As I ate to my heart’s content this Thanksgiving, I developed a newfound appreciation for the holidays, learning to cherish these traditions I had previously felt ashamed of. I realized how much my Chinese identity truly meant to me. The food gave me a sensation of home and delight that no other cuisine would be able to provide, especially not turkey or pie. As we dove into conversations about plans for Lunar New Year, reflected about our long-standing tradition of watching the Chinese New Year’s Gala on TV together and filled the house with Lunar New Year decorations, I was put in the holiday spirit I had been yearning for.
I would be lying if I said that I have been transformed to fully embrace my identity as a Chinese-American. Part of me is still that same elementary school kid who wished he had Lunchables like every other American kid rather than the dumplings my parents packed me for lunch. But I’ve slowly begun to feel a sense of pride and belonging within my Chinese-American identity. Realizing that I wouldn’t have wanted to spend Thanksgiving any other way helped me see how far I have come along this journey.
Charles Jiang is a member of the Class of 2025.