Post one in a series on exploring on coffee and the Asian-American identity.
I’ve been sitting on this idea for awhile, trying every which way to make sense of how I feel about it.
So there’s this experience that I often experience when meeting new people.
A double “where are you from?.
“where are you from?” response.
“Where are you REALLY from?” ...
Initially all I remember is the negative experiences.
I get the sense they want to put a label on me and put me into a box. It all stems from the responses after the follow up of "Where are you REALLY from?"
As if I was confused when I was first asked, and gave the wrong answer. Now I am required to follow up with the MORE correct answer… seems a little strange. It’s bothersome on so many levels, but I want to focus on the question asker. I say it’s ridiculous every which way but honestly, what does this extra bit of information give the question asker? What’s going through their minds.
So I self reflect and try to think of situations in which I might do this...to empathize or just exit the gaslighting effect that this question produces.
Enter stage left, specialty coffee.
At first I was unsure what to make of coffee.
I picked up a bag of coffee. I squish the bag and feel the beans crinkle against the bag. The aroma is funnels out through the tiny hole on the back.
"Oh where is this from?
Oh... from a local roaster - Out of Office Roasters.
Roasted on US soil,
Paying for US shipping and taxes and creating wealth for a US business. Hereby seemingly making it a US product. YET, I ask that question to the coffee.
"But where are you really from, coffee?"
You are FROM NOT HERE (You are not from the USA).
Awesome! Can't wait to try you.
I find myself COMPLETELY satisfied with the answer labeled right there on the bag. This feels completely fine and acceptable, yet why does it feel so wrong when I am asked the same line of questioning.
This idea of perpetual foreignness is ingrained into coffee as it is me, an Asian American. But one is completely happy being foreign, yet the other is not. My curiosity is content about coffee and I can go about my day.
I find myself jealous of coffee. Effortlessly being able to hold two monoculture in tandem. One to be fully an American product and two to be fully a coffee nation's product. Coffee is able to code switching with ease between the worlds and being completely content in it.
Maybe because I understand that value has been added from origin to the moment I hold this bag in my hand. Loosely, at origin, will be approximately $1, moving to a processing center it gains a little more value, then to the hands of the importer the value has increased to ~$3-10, then to the hands of the roaster the values jumps again +$2-4, then to the shelves, it has increased about 20x without doing much but just being itself.
This immigration journey of the coffee seed feels right.
Maybe because to highlight where it comes from, to highlight its unique qualities that make it special, to highlight the range of what it can become with the right environment with the right hands at the wheel of the roaster, to highlight its potential…. Is to highlight what is good and right in this world.
Maybe because I really want this for myself. This thoughtful level of “foreignness” is something to strive after. This level of understanding can reclaim those biting words of “perpetual foreigner”. To make it okay to be a foreigner.
This feels right to me. This level of understanding and care for something that can’t speak for itself. At the whims of the economy and demands of society.
I’m reminded of the times when I travel, and am honored more that I am not seen as an American, but as some other foreigner. I would much rather be called a Canadian than an American overseas. Yet I want to be American not some foreigner when I’m in America… I wish to be uniquely asian in America, yet disappear as a local overseas.
How do you hold two monocultures within the boundaries of my own skin? Or do I create my own? Why can't I accept both?
lessons learned from coffee
Afterthought: my brother reminded me of positive experiences this question the other day.
Sometimes the person asking is genuinely interested in me and curious about understanding my background and how it might differ from their experience. At the end of the conversation, we come to a place of shared experience.