This is another book that was devoured, cooked from, but never posted last year - Mango and Peppercorns: A Memoir of Food, an Unlikely Family, and the American Dream by Tung Nguyen, Katherine Manning, Lyn Ngyuen, and Michelle Bernstein. Amazon certainly knows how to suggest what I like. Seriously. Food. Immigrants. Food. I'm all in.
Not being from Miami - in fact, never having visited Miami - I was completely unaware of the legendary restaurant that is Hy Vong. This is the story of Tung and Kathy - their friendship, partnership, and family - and the American immigrant experience. It is also a tale of the ripples of war as Tung came to American with all of the emotional scars of the Vietnam War. This memoir is told in alternating perspectives from Tung, Kathy, and Tung's daughter, Lyn.
One of my best friends from high school was adopted from Vietnam and, after she returned and found her birth mother, I remember her telling me the story of bringing her here for a visit. Kathy's telling of Tung's terror of getting on an escalator was exactly same one that I was told by my friend. Little things that we take for granted are completely foreign and can be terrifying to new immigrants.
"Then we got to the escalator. Tung looked at the moving metal stairs. Then she looked at her feet. She picked up one foot, put it down, then picked up the other. She didn’t know where to place them. It was as if she was marching in place. I grabbed ahold of her thin arm and pulled her onto the bottom stair. Tung clung tightly to me. Her legs quaked so much I feared they might buckle any minute and send her toppling down the escalator. She surprised me by standing steady as we rose to the second floor."Here's a passage from Tung that explains some of that foreignness from her perspective. We take for granted that food is cooked inside, right? "What I really wanted to do was cook. I didn’t understand America, but I understood how to make food. Maybe I could gather some sticks and build a fire outdoors. That was the only way I had ever cooked. Instead, Kathy guided me into a room in the house that she called a kitchen."
This sums up the book beautifully: "People who simply eat the food of refugees and immigrants, but don’t get to know them as people, miss a golden opportunity. Refugees are here because they have no choice. They also bring enormous gifts and talents, as Tung did. They just need an opportunity."
This was after 10 minutes...
This was after 20 minutes...