My earliest memories were of Hawaii.
Rain was warm and soft.
My mom took me to the beach every weekend.
All the other kids looked like me. Eyes like mine. Hair like mine.
It was such a gift to come into consciousness in a place so safe, so welcoming.
While my mom ran into the commissary, the happy, plump greeter at the entrance called over Honey, stay here with Auntie while your mama shop. At that point in my life, I thought everyone was my aunt.
On May Day at Moanalua Elementary, each grade performed a different hula dance on the lawn. My kindergarten class wore matching purple shirts and blue and yellow leis. My teacher, Mrs. Waki combed my hair and told me I looked beautiful.
It wasn't until we moved away, again and again, that I realized that the girls who talked to quiet, strange me, were colorful, like me. Some kids would pull down and then lift up the corners of their eyelids at me, saying, Chinese! Japanese! Look at these! I joined in, tugging my eyelids, to their applause, and much later my shame.
When I was 17, my friend invited me to a party. I was the only person there who wasn't white, from an upper-middle class family, or applying to a private college. That night in early spring, two boys and three of us girls jumped into a freezing Lake Washington. We quickly climbed out of the lake, shivering in our cold undergarments. In the impulsivity of our awkward, outdoor display of our bodies to one another, we'd only brought one towel. The boy first handed the dry towel to one of the girls. Then, it was past to the next girl. After the boys, I was the last to dry off.
I spent the first half of my time in college wishing this boy would see me as I saw him. His friend, other, like me, half-tried to comfort and explain the boy's tendency to date the thin, same girls, saying White people date white people. Spiders date spiders.
Boys would sexualize my otherness but never see me as more. They did not want to enter my world of otherness, of strange foods and accented parents. They couldn't place me in theirs. I was other, not a girl. Before I said a word, I was other. My body was other, not a girl. So I tried to starve away my brown body. I'd run five miles a day to leave self in my wake, to be less of the less than.
It's taken the better part of my life to gradually unpack and sort through the internalized ugly, unwanted otherness that has, with ongoing regularity, been cast on me, overtly and microagressively. I'm no longer concerned with assimilating into a system that admits me dependent on how I present myself, how I "talk white", or any other variation of sanitized otherness. I'm happy to have reached a place where I love my difference, my darkness, my strangeness. I now know that I am not my own other.
The scent of Jasmine rice steam will forever evoke home to me. Growing up, it was cooked every single night- even alongside hotdogs and ketchup. Once in a while, the rice would take the form of khao piak, rice porridge. It would fill the room with the delicate, comforting aroma of jasmine rice, chicken, and ginger. It's a humble but flavorful dish. I always had fun topping it with practically every condiment in our fridge: fried garlic, pickled mustard greens, scallions, cilantro, black pepper, soy sauce, nam pla, and sriracha. I was a more-is-more kid, still might be. Looking back, I loved it so much that I never noticed that khao piak was around whenever something was wrong.
When my brother and I had bronchitis.
When my mom caught it from us.
When my mom was trying to stretch enough food to include the neighbor girl across the street I'd invited to dinner and a viewing of Sabrina The Teenage Witch.
When my dad had me make it for the first time, the day my mom came home from a surgery removing a lump from her breast.
I'm sharing this khao piak with you today, because today something is very wrong. Today, I hurt for the children made to feel less than because of their difference. I hurt for all the colorful girls being told they aren't beautiful. I hurt for the immigrant families, like mine, fearing they'll be torn apart. I hurt for the step back toward a supposed "great" time when we were unconcerned with helping our most vulnerable in favor of elevating our privileged. Today, again, I feel outside of and vulnerable to the place I should call home. Today, something is very wrong. So today I made some khao piak, because today I need some home.
Khao Piak Gai
1 cup of Jasmine rice
7 cups of water
1 chicken breast
1 1/2 inch piece of ginger, skin removed and cut into thin slices (no precise size necessary)
2 teaspoons salt
5 large cloves of garlic, sliced as thinly as possible
1/2 cup of coconut oil
2 stalks of green onions, thinly sliced
6 sprigs of cilantro, roughly torn
soy sauce, for finishing
fish sauce, for finishing
First, clean the rice. Place the rice in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse under water until the water runs clear. Place rice in a 5 quart pot. Place chicken breast atop the bed of rice. Add ginger, salt, and water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once it comes to a boil, reduce to the lowest heat setting. Partially cover with a lid. Stir occasionally, every 5 minutes or so to allow the rice to break down and to prevent any from sticking/burning at the bottom. If the rice is cooking too quickly (which makes for something more like wet steamed rice) before the rice breaks down and thickens into a gravy, add another cup of water (can be done more than once, as needed). Cook for about 1 1/2 hours until your desired consistency is reached. I like mine pretty evenly between loose and firm.
While the porridge is cooking, we're going to fry up our garlic slices. In a small pan, heat your coconut oil over medium-high heat. Place a strainer and a plate lined with a paper towel nearby. Once the oil is heat, add your garlic slices. They will cook quickly and continue to cook and darken as they cool. Using chopsticks, keep the garlic moving around the oil, flipping the slices to cook evenly. Once the garlic is crisp and a light golden brown, remove from heat and into the strainer. Salt the garlic chips (just a pinch is fine). Let cool on the paper towel-lined plate.
Once the porridge is cooked. Remove the chicken breast. Let cool the chicken cool slightly. Then remove the meat from bones and skin. Shred the meat with a fork or your hand (I used my hands).
Plate the khao piak into bowls. Top with shredded chicken, green onions, cilantro, and fried garlic chips. Season to taste with soy sauce, fish sauce, black pepper and lime juice. Enjoy.