Having been born in China and adopted by a white American family, my upbringing in suburban Pennsylvania was quite a diversifying experience. Despite the cross-cultural experiences and challenges I faced as a result of my upbringing, there was always that one thing that kept me grounded in my Chinese identity – chopsticks!
At the heart of every Chinese meal was a pair of chopsticks that delivered delectable morsels to each mouth at the table. At least that’s what they were supposed to do. At the age of seven, my feeble attempts to pick up a single piece of food off my plate were discouraging and I yearned to be like the other Asian children around me who connected confidently with that part of their culture.
Elder Moon, one of the leaders at the Korean church I attended, witnessed me fumbling with my chopsticks at an annual church meal. At fifty-five, Elder Moon had a lifetime’s experience with chopsticks and chose to pass his knowledge onto me, opening my world – and palette – to endless possibilities.
With practice and determination, I grew adept at using chopsticks, and my growing skill served as a rite of passage into a community remarkably unlike my American upbringing. And for me, Elder Moon’s tutelage in chopsticks became the catalyst to welcoming diverse people and practices into my life. No longer ashamed of my lack of skill, I grew eager to try foods of all cultures and took pride in teaching my friends how to use chopsticks as well. Although they would rarely use that skill, the ability to use chopsticks allowed me to introduce an intimate part of my life and culture to different people.
In return, I was eager to receive insights from other cultures in my community and often enjoyed meals with friends that connected to their way of life, thinking, and practices.
In the end, the ancient art of chopsticks helped bring me closer to my Chinese identity and Elder Moon helped me realize the importance of introducing others to practices that foster cultural identity and a diverse sense of community.