Us, We, They, Them
In my most recent craft beer event cooking North Carolina whole hog BBQ, one of the more popular questions was where in North Carolina I came from. Many NC expats who attended the event told me my hog was exactly like how they ate back home and asked when was I returning to New York. For native New Yorkers I was part of “them” – folks living in the State of North Carolina, for NC natives I was part of the “us”.
This actually becomes more clearly funny once you realize that I’m ethnically Asian. It’s also significant to me given the implication of the question. Asian Americans do not really get associated with America. If a black man said he was from Texas or a white woman said she was from Montana, no further inquiry is needed. They quite clearly are American, we simply need to drill down and figure out what flavor of American are they. No one thinks about ancestries tracing back to Ghana or Western Bavaria. They are quite plainly American – red, white & blue no qualifiers needed. Being Black or White means you could basically be from anywhere in the US.
With Asians this basically never happens. You can’t just be from New York, or California, or Texas. The ever looming question of “where you are really from” is always the follow up. You basically aren’t just really American, you’re American-lite. Not one of us, just some folks we allowed in. The child of British immigrants to this country will receive the “American nod” immediately, while 3rd generation Koreans will still be questioned on their true heritage.
I have spent so much time researching North Carolina BBQ – techniques, seasonings, history, tradition – and apply it in my whole hog smoking, that I’ll tend to talk about “we” when referring to the Carolina- style. What I do is no different than what some guy in Wilson, NC is doing in his backyard. Given the amount of practice I’ve had, I might even beat him. So the weekend was interesting. Through the world of BBQ, people asked not of where in Asia my grandfather’s from, but where in North Carolina I’m from. I’m not. But it’s nice for a moment to hear that I’m from my slice of the American pie.