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elbows on the table

A Mid-Autumn Festival Story

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This story is part of the Elbows on the Table Essay SeriesIllustration by Irene Lee.

Every year around September and October, when the moon is looking incredibly full and bright, many East Asian cultures celebrate a multi-day holiday known by many names. Harvest Moon Festival, Moon Festival, or Chuseok, to name a few. But I know it best as the Mid-Autumn Festival.

The roots of the holiday originate from a time when farmers would celebrate the season’s bountiful harvest and hard work on the day the moon was thought to be at its fullest and brightest. 

But these days, it’s a time to appreciate the moon and celebrate with loved ones over a feast.

In Taiwan, where my parents are from, you set out chairs, eat barbecue, and feast outside right on the street. You hang out with your favorite people while eating and grilling. Delicious mooncakes and pomelos are enjoyed for dessert as the fall air breezes by. I assume. I’ve never actually celebrated the holiday in Taiwan.

But what I do know is that I LOVE autumn. So much so that many of my coworkers consider it one of my personality traits.  But for most of my life, I’ve associated it with “pumpkin spice season” rather than the Mid-Autumn Festival. 

Being the child of two Taiwanese immigrants technically makes me Taiwanese American. But until recently, I would have preferred to be just American.

I grew up in the California Bay Area in a mostly white neighborhood. At school, classmates gagged at my noodle and rice-based lunches. More than once, someone tugged their eyelids into slits and chanted, “ching chang chong!” to my face. 

All I wanted was to fit in and feel accepted for who I was. So I decided the best way would be to make myself as “white” as possible. So I refused to speak Mandarin, I proudly declared that “I wasn’t that Asian,” and I made racist Asian jokes to distinguish me from the “rest of them.” No one else could make the jokes if I said them first. 

But like the moon, people go through many phases. Call it maturity or give credit to therapy or the more diverse representation in pop culture (see Crazy Rich Asians), but by the grace of God, a few years ago, I started to love my Asian-ness. I began incorporating Asian recipes in our dinner rotations at home. I threw a Lunar New Year party and hand-pleated 100 dumplings. At Imperfect, I push to focus less on Euro-centric recipes and feature more diverse dishes and delicious Asian recipes.

I still hold onto so much grief for the pain my split identity caused growing up. But what heals me is learning about my roots and introducing cultural touchpoints to my white husband and my friends. 

This year’s Mid-Autumn Festival falls on September 19-21, and I plan on celebrating for the first time in years. You’ll catch me wheeling out our grill, gathering with friends to celebrate, and eating good food under the moonlight. 

Wherever you are, I hope you take some time to look at the bright, round moon, even if just for a moment. This year, it will be especially marveled at by a girl who’s recently learned to love herself a little more.

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