Whole branzino, shame on the side. Self-loathing for dessert*
I can’t wax poetic about the sociocultural impact of my first generation-ness because there really wasn’t much impact. I’m fairly well-assimilated, but that can probably be chalked up to being only (I use only in a non-pejorative manner here) half-Filipino. The other half being half Bronx-Irish, means I can kick your ass in two languages. I said I was well-assimilated, not well-adjusted.
But, not much impact doesn’t mean my ‘other-ness’ has no impact.
Last week, I went out to dinner with my mom and other family members. She ordered the branzino; she’d been to this Italian restaurant before, and previously enjoyed the dish. Our dishes came, all manner of Mediterranean goodness, but hers was pretty spectacular: one large fish, head to tail, a plate full of crispy goodness. We all tucked into our plates, and I realized throughout dinner that she would alternate between eating with fork & knife, and eating in the Filipino style of kamayan – with her hands. While she was by no means a sloppy eater, there’s really no delicate way of eating crispy fish head with your hands. She was sitting to my left, perpendicular to the window, the rest of the restaurant to my right. I caught myself leaning forward as I ate, as if to block the rest of the patrons from seeing her eat this way. Other than this, the rest of the meal was ordinary.
I am not in the habit of experiencing shame related to my cultural traditions, or even regular old family quirks. I don’t know what was special (not so special) about that night, or what triggered my reaction. All I know is that my braised short ribs went down better than that display of self-loathing. Will I be better than that in the future? I certainly hope so.
(*Technically, dessert was crème brûlée. That it didn’t go down very well can be chalked up to my lactose intolerance.)