Culture Transfer: One Bowl at a Time

By Candice Fong

“Ewww that’s disgusting,” as they wrinkled their noses and made mild gagging sounds. 

congee (rice porridge)

That was the response my children made when I brought a bowl of congee (rice porridge) to the dining table. I couldn’t help but take offense and became defensive. 

“Well, you know, fish congee was the very first solid food you ate as babies and you loved it then.” I was hoping this would convince them to give it another try but both looked in disbelief and declined. Where did I go wrong? I felt I had failed in imparting my Chinese heritage to my children and hashtagged this incident as #culturetransferfail. Food is a gateway to culture and by openly rejecting something that I grew up eating and loving, I felt like they were rejecting their Chinese culture and in some ways, me. 

Growing up second-generation, I, too, rejected parts of my Chinese background in an attempt to forge my own identity as a Canadian. I loathed Chinese school which consisted of waking up every Saturday morning to attend another day of school learning Cantonese and Chinese traditions. I did the bare minimum and spoke almost exclusively in English. I wonder if my parents felt the same way as I do now: a little bit of shame, a little bit of guilt, and a little bit of frustration. No matter what I do, I can’t hide the fact that I’m Chinese. I look Chinese and my last name is Chinese, perhaps being Canadian is to embrace rather than deny that side of me. 

My children are Chinese-Jewish Canadians who go to a French-language school. In Canada, these schools protect French minority language rights outside Quebec. So, they are multi-hyphenates belonging to multiple minority groups. I sometimes wonder how they identify themselves and if they embrace or reject parts of themselves. Will they grow up feeling lost with no real sense of belonging or does this just strengthen their ability to immerse themselves amongst various communities? 

Unlike my upbringing where I can recall being the only Asian kid in my class, my kids are growing up in an outwardly diverse city and you don’t have to go far to see other people just like us. Was that the missing variable in my equation? Does seeing themselves reflected in our day-to-day life make a difference? Does representation matter? Truthfully, I’m amazed at how fluidly my children interact with society. Maybe they are embracing their identities but it’s more of a revolving door rather than shutting one door in order to open another. Bodes well for me as I figure I’m just going to play the waiting game and maybe one day, in the not too distant future, I’ll make congee and instead of wrinkled noses I’ll get an intrigued look and a “Can I have a taste?” 


Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. The essays represent their personal beliefs and not that of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.