When I was growing up, I had to eat what was on my dinner plate. All of it. Without complaint, because there were children in other countries who didn’t get to eat at all, though I couldn’t imagine that they’d want soggy Gorton’s fish sticks every Friday.
I was never allowed to snub a dish, though believe me, I tried. The rule of the plate extended beyond our household to restaurants and other people’s houses. If I broke this rule (especially when out and about), there would surely be hell to pay.
Now that I’m older, I can eat whatever I want. My refrigerator has never stored Brussels sprouts or Gorton’s fish sticks and it never will.
So, when my boyfriend’s mom asked me if I’d like to have some kim chee (basically, spicy pickled Chinese cabbage) with my taeji bulgogi (a Korean pork dish), I said yes.
I also said yes because, very simply, I want his mom to like me. To her, I am an outsider in many ways. I am not a nice Korean girl, my Korean is horrible and I am inescapably white. I do not want her to think I am some high maintenance white girl that won’t eat what is offered to her. I don’t want her to think that I do not care about Korean culture, because I do very much, and it is not always easy to communicate that.
Interracial relationships are fraught with peril, most of it coming from outside the boyfriend-girlfriend relationship, not the least of which is racism. As a white girl coming from a mostly white community, the only discrimination I ever encountered was because I am a woman.
My own family has a few folks who are not exactly helpful. Someone bandied about the term “Chinaman” to describe Koreans and just could not understand why I got upset at the incorrect and racist remarks. I have no idea what my boyfriend’s family says about me. I have never expected a boyfriend’s family to welcome me with open arms, regardless of ethnicity. Hopefully, they’ll all come around.
At any rate, I took the kim chee and popped it in my mouth. It was hot and cool at the same time, and it was good. His mom and aunts watched my face (this happens whenever I’m fed Korean food). “It’s good,” I proclaimed.
“That’s my kind of girl,” his mom said, and smiled at me. I passed that test, but I know there will be others.
Being a couple is a test, like eating kim chee. Not everyone passes. For instance, I have a friend, who for weeks complained that she was the only one in a group of girlfriends who hadn’t tasted the ubiquitous Korean condiment. She felt left out. I finally got my hands on some and offered it to her.
Her lips curled in disgust. “My fianc퀌�’s brother said kim chee was made from rotten lettuce.” I was a little shocked, considering her earlier desire to try it.
What really irritated me was that the aforementioned brother is NASCAR-watching white trash. His exposure to Koreans and Korea is watching M*A*S*H*. “Wait,” I said, “it’s just pickled cabbage.”
“Well, isn’t that rotten?” She seemed determined to be right.
“Umm, pickles are pickled cucumbers and they aren’t rotten, right?”
“Well, no, but that’s different.”
I was really pissed because she’s really, really wrong. “Honestly! What the hell does this brother know about kim chee? He wears a Dale Earnhardt jacket and thinks eating at Olive Garden is exotic!” Perhaps I’ve turned into a bit of a snob, but I’m really upset that she won’t even give the food a chance, based on something an ignorant redneck said.
Even my own father (who was the creator and enforcer of the Clean Dinnerplate Policy) won’t try Korean food, though I suspect it’s more of a reaction against my boyfriend as a person who is probably sleeping with his daughter (or at least seriously considering it) than his ethnicity. But, he uses my boyfriend’s ethnicity as a source of cheap barbs, which doesn’t make anything easier.
I suppose perhaps, that people regard our relationship much the way they look at kim chee (it should be mentioned that the above mentioned friend only has a problem with kim chee and not my boyfriend). I can’t ever make people like our white girl/Korean boy pairing. It’s obvious that some people won’t even try, because someone already poisoned their mind. I will never be able to make them see that we are happy and love each other very much, but that isn’t going to stop me from trying.