Chinese New Year, arguably the most important event in the Chinese calendar, is a momentous occasion in Chinese culture. As an American-born Chinese (ABC), I have celebrated this tradition for as long as I can remember. We feasted on steamed fish garnished with green onions and ginger slices, and New Year’s cake: a steamed, chewy sweet made from glutinous rice flour, slab sugar, and water. At night, my parents would leave the lights in our house on. Perhaps a long time ago, superstitions dictated that the house should be lit to guide the gods of good luck and prosperity, but now the tradition persists as the lore has faded away. For me, celebrating Chinese New Year has always been about eating together with my family. Receiving red packets with crisp dollar bills inside is an added perk, but after leaving home and moving to USC, I miss the familiar foods we used to celebrate the new year.
Last summer, I had the pleasure of participating in the Global East Asia Program, hosted by the East Asian Area Studies Department. It is a four week summer class that takes place in both USC and a country abroad, in this case: Japan. In this blog post however I want to share with you the great things we did before we went abroad because not only did we get to study and research in Japan, but we also got to learn a lot about Los Angeles and research right in Downtown LA as well!
After our daily lesson on campus, we went to Dodger Stadium and took a tour of the historic ball park. It was a really special thing to do, as they only offer two public tours a day! On this tour, we learned about the history of the Dodgers team and gained insight on how this traditionally American game opened up and accepted Japanese players. I learned that the Japanese actually share the same reverence to the sport as do Americans and this commonality allowed the two cultures to have a mutual respect for one another. I had never been to Dodger stadium before so this was certainly an eye-opening experience. With the stadium tour complete, we then went to speak with Mr. Okasaki, a Japanese American who merged his heritage with his passion for baseball, and went to live in Japan to gain experience on a Japanese baseball field. He then returned to the US and earned a job with the Dodgers. He told us about how rewarding it was to sign two Japanese players to the Dodgers as well as shared a couple frustrating stories about the difficulty of translation and cultural difference. It was really inspiring to hear about how he created his own career path by following his heart.
The Japanese American National Museum was next on our list. We went to the Hello Kitty exhibit and saw how a tiny coin purse turned into an international icon for cuteness. Seeing how Japanese Hello Kitty or “Kitty-chan” was able to warm the hearts of people around the world was thought-provoking because it showed how Japanese cute culture is accessible and attractive to people all around the world. Other than the Hello Kitty exhibit, there was the permanent installment of the history of Japanese Americans. This museum is important because it shows what kind of struggles racial minorities face in America and acts as a home to the important history of the hybrid culture of Asian Americans, specifically Japanese Americans. Going to this museum was such a rewarding experience; you can learn so much from the pieces and the people presented in it. If you’re ever in the Downtown area, you should definitely check out the museum and the area called Little Tokyo that surrounds it!
Last summer I had the opportunity to visit my family in Guadalajara, Mexico. I had been there a few times before when I was younger, but unfortunately I do not remember much from those trips. This time, we stayed at my aunt’s house on the outskirts of the city. I was excited to see my large extended family and to revisit the beautiful city with more mature eyes. The trip was given to me by my wonderful abuelos (grandparents in Spanish) who wanted to bring me back to my cultural roots.
It was an unbelievable trip. The city was full of people and happiness radiated throughout. Vendors had cold ice cream (perfect for those hot summer days) and the markets teamed with the most vibrant fruit that had been picked earlier that day. The architecture of the city is mainly neoclassical with influences from indigenous contributions and later modern European influences. The city has beautiful churches, markets, plazas, and theaters, in one of which, the Teatro Degollado, I got to see my uncle perform. He plays the classical piano and, on this occasion, he played with a Russian violinist.
In the big Mexican cities, houses are wall to wall with each other and, more often than not, do not have backyards. Because the people tend to be very cramped, the city makes up for it with a lot of parks around the city with basketball hoops, slides, and jungle gyms.