The Guiding Fish

My move to America, like any typical immigrant story, was not easy. We moved in a desperate strike for better life. Engulfed in this desperation, we lost our past. After years living as “aliens” in a foreign country, the culture we were once so proud of trickled down to a few short nothings. My past self, my past country only produced a sore blister on the face of the foreign land I now call home.

I had lost my identity.

Everything changed when, during a trip to LA, I ate. A food vendor, shamelessly parked outside a posh bank, drew me in through an irresistible ambience. Before I knew it, my feet had parked themselves just a few feet away from the vendor. I peered over to examine the food. My heart stopped. A small display of boong-uh pang, a sweet and crunchy snack, overtook me. With a murmur, I bought one and swiftly walked away. I had often eaten boong-uh pang as a child in my birth country. The pastry, curiously shaped as a fish, was an indelible part of my childhood; countless summers were spent biting into the snack, seated with friends outside, cooing at the summer night stars and dreaming of low beetle hums.

A few blocks later, I halted, and in the middle of the street, my mouth crunched into the sweet snack. Chew. Swallow. I sighed at the smooth texture of the crispy yet chewy flour. I marveled at the warm and rich sweet-bean paste inside. Then I cried.

There, in the middle of Los Angeles, I rushed back to the past. I charmed the twinkling stars; I listened to the humming beetles. Between that single bite and the streaks of tears, I was back in Korea, laughing with friends, watching the lanterns fold into the darkness one by one.

Cars rushed by and in the cold, I burned into my hands a forgotten culture of old.

This world is filled with color. As an “alien” I did everything I could to fuse into a monochrome in the scenery of black and white. I lost the color of my past with unity as my justification. I felt that the culture I grew up in was suddenly unacceptable and in the end, I had lost myself. Then, my boong-uh pang, that curiously shaped pastry, led me out of the monotonous sea. While cars rushed by under the cold dark sky in LA, I found my colors once more. Through the salted rivers flowing down my face and the mist that puffed out of my mouth, I embraced my old culture as well as cultivating the new. Perhaps old languages, habits, and behaviors are distasteful in a new home.

Yet food, and only food, might just be the ultimate gateway to an infinite acceptance of different cultures.