When I started working on this thesis, it was a project. The thought of a yearlong project was daunting. What do I want to do for a year? What will hold my interest and continually spark creativity? I think when I first started this project, it was difficult, because I thought of it as a project. Something with a deadline and requirements rather than what I was truly interested in. Once I broke away from the formalities and thought about why everything I was researching was important to me it turned back as a reflection on myself. It was about how all these things that I was exploring were really parts of my upbringing that were and still remain, important to me. These are parts of my heritage that I am now taking with me, as I move away from home and the comfort of family. These are the things that I share with others and what make me who I am today.
Monday night, I had dinner with Claudia. She was my professor first and soon very good friend. Claudia is the lifesaver that let me stay in we apartment while I was not able to live in mine after the building fixed the Hurricane Sandy damage.
Throughout this year, Claudia has been a teacher, friend and mentor to my life. Based on her responses to my questions, I brought her spaghetti and meatballs, wine and some ice berg lettuce salad with Italian dressing. Claudia is someone who is constantly attached to technology. She seems to always be connected and up to dat thanks to the lovely “internets” as she calls it. Giving up her phone for almost three hours, I was extremely proud of her. Claudia shared her memories of growing up in the 70’s. We had a great conversation and meal together talking about her past, my past and some current life things we are going through.
Claudia has become like family for me here in New York. With no one from her family right in the city we both share the same wants to have a close friend nearby. She is already scheming to keep me in the city. I do believe that keeping and making relationships like the one I have with Claudia is what makes me feel at home, away from my home.
Tonight I had dinner with fellow thesis-er Paweena and her family, son Ping and boyfriend Eric. I went to Sunnyside, Queens which seemed to be too much for my thesis to handle because for the first times, after all these miles it’s traveled, it broke! One wheel came off as I was bringing it down the stairs at Grand Central Station. No problem, because I just had to balance it on three. The next one came off going to the subway after dinner was over. Luckily Paweena was walking with me and I was able to get a cab once we got to Queen’s Boulevard. I don’t think I would have been able to get it home without two wheels. Now I have a lopsided thesis that I need to fix. Luckily, it’s not the boxes that are the problem, just the bag I have been using to transport. More information how the dinner went later. I’m tired tonight, it was quite the challenge.
This is Beatrice:
I originally met Beatrice through another friend who also lived in the city. The two were roommates while they did a volunteer program last year called, Jesuit Volunteer Corps. They were living in Harlem. Since then, my friend moved away but I still remained connected to Beatrice. We don’t see each other too often, but do make the effort to get together or at least chat here and there. Beatrice now lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn so to get to her house, I went on the R train and tranferred to the N Train. Luckily it was just across the platform. One dish Beatrice mentioned was slumgullion, a German pasta dish made with hamburger meet, onions, and elbow pasta. I found a recipe online and made this for our meal together. According to Beatrice, it tasted very similar to what she remembered! Phew.
Other foods we shared were some things she mentioned in her responses to foods she remembers eating like salad, mashed potatoes, but we also had a few things we have shared together like Indian and chocolate chip cookies for dessert! I explained to Beatrice my thesis and the process I went through in making everything we used. I realized that I shared a lot about myself with Beatrice that I never did before. She learned about my family, as I learned about hers and slowly our conversation was a back and forth between what she remembered doing in comparison to what I remember from my childhood. We both agreed that now that we are living away from our family, things have changed. Beatrice told me she never thought about family dinner as a ritual and how throughout her life, and her own family changes, they also changed their habits. Beatrice was also the first person who told me they frequently watched TV and did not necessarily eat at a table. Although as she got older, they did do that more. I think this process of sharing myself with others has really allowed and open communication between both sides. The intimacy and comfort of the food and the atmosphere play into what we talk about and how the conversation progresses.
The other dinner was with my friend Carisa. Carisa is actually from Oahu and we accidentally met one day last spring while she was coming in for a class as I was leaving. She saw my “Aloha” sticker on my computer and asked if I was from Hawaii. Instantly, we connected on many different levels. Aside from being the same age, Carisa also had a sister who lived and went to the same college as I did. Carisa and I also lived in the New School housing downtown in apartments that were only 1 floor away from each other. We lived so close, but never crossed paths. We exchanged numbers and kept in touch. We did not meet up too often, but through events like Hurricane Sandy, Carisa checked on me. Carisa is in the Architecture program so we are both busy, but we have set aside time to hang out this semester. I wanted to have dinner with her because she is what I closely associate to home, because we share the same home. We are both far away from our family and friends, going through the same “island girl problems” dealing with the weather and the school work.
For this dinner, I prepared food from Hawaii. I made SPAM musubi and Teriyaki meat. I also bought some chicken katsu (breaded chicken filets), potato salad, and Hawaiian Sun juice! Since Carisa is also very busy prepping for finals, we had our meal in her architecture studio space. We just made a little home on the floor with my table.
Although Carisa and I only met briefly and then hung out a few times after, we really get a long well. I think a lot of this comes because we were raised in the same place–Hawaii. Carisa is from Oahu, but still grew up in that same culture and community that I had growing up. We relate in many ways because of this. During dinner we talked about how SPAM musubi reminds her of soccer events and reminds me of the beach. Basically, having quick lunches on the go. She said that having the meal really made her happy and that in turn, made me feel happy. I was able to bring a small piece of home to her in the midst of stressful deadlines, in New York City, where we are a while continent and half an ocean away. I was also able to share with Carisa my personal story about growing up and how dinner rituals and my family was important as I grew up. She said that she was also not allowed to watch TV during dinner and her family sat together at a table nightly. We also both agreed that now that we are away, we find ourselves eating and watching things on our computers just because there is no one else to share a meal with. This also made me think of how many more people there are doing the same thing, eating alone, and having meals independently. It also made me think that sometimes, you think you’re the only person going through a certain situation when really, you’re not. Sharing this meal and time with Carisa was very relaxing for me. Somehow, I always feel at ease when we hang out, considering we don’t even do it that often. There is something about sharing the same home with someone, that allows a person to find a bond. I remember this happening a lot when I moved away from college. We somehow share the same values and ideas on certain things allowing us to get along well.
Here’s a picture of my box in the middle of the lobby at Parsons. It looks lonely, but is also able to bring together people and create community.
After more painting during the day, I had a Sunday night dinner with my friend Anna on the Upper East Side. On this trip, I brought one box, because Anna lives in a small space. Anna became a friend, by way of another friend, Kara. Kara is one of my best friends from home, growing up with me from the time we were in the 6th Grade and into various high school shenanigans. Anna became Kara’s good friend in college when they met at Gonzaga. On a visit to the city, Kara introduced me to Anna and after a few visits, Anna and I decided to also hang out without Kara. We are both living here in the city, out of our comfort zones, and in a new place. I think Anna and I get along well because of our interest in trying new things and more importantly–eating! Since I met Anna, we have always enjoyed many delicious meals together and tried new things. We go to Chinatown and Queens, often in search of tasty noodles and dumplings. This time, we left out the Chinese and focused more on family.
The food I brought was based on a few dishes Anna mentioned to me prior to the dinners. Carnitas, baked chicken, potatoes, and chips and salsa. A random mix of things that hold special memories of family for Anna. My only regret was not bringing the wine. We had a nice meal over some of Anna’s family’s food traditions. Basic things that hold memories for her. It’s interesting because it made me think of my family, and how it’s not s much about the food and dishes, but just the fact that we can be together. Anna said that although carnitas is something her dad always made, she would much rather have carne asada when getting Mexican. However, the carnitas reminds her of family gatherings.
Although this was a “phone-free” dinner, it has been a phone-free weekend for Anna since she lost her phone this weekend. After her phone went missing, we coordinated this dinner over Facebook messenger. We also talked about how not having a phone makes us feel so limited, but at the same time frees you from a lot. Unfortunately Anna’s NY life was also lost with that phone because all her photos were on that little device.
We also talked about how in the city, we have pockets of friends and not large groups. We meet people through other people, but these individuals somehow become our support. I have only known Anna for a little over a year, but I like to make the effort to see her. In a place so busy like New York where people’s schedules often don’t align, you make the extra effort to spend time with your friends. A ritual, like dinner, becomes a great excuse to get together. Anna and I become friends through Kara, but even more so over the conversations we had getting to know each other over dinner.
Dinner, or meals, allow for an open exchange and conversation between complete strangers. It is a time to share stories and open discussion on many topics. Dinners also become an excuse to get together, the hardest part being making time to get together. Now I can see why my mom made it a point for us to have dinner together. Without the conversation, without seeing each other, without being in the same place, it would be difficult to feel complete. Being together makes you feel like you’re apart of something. Receiving attention from another person makes you feel needed and gives you a sense of purpose. When we use our phones and put them in front of our faces, we seclude ourselves from others. Without our phones conversations become richer and meaningful, making people think about what’s going on and sharing because no one likes dead silence, that’s just a little awkward.
I would have never met Anna if it wasn’t for my friend from home. Home seems to follow me wherever I go, however it happens. In this case, it brought me a new friend, in a new city, and a new dinner ritual all contributing to my story and my heritage.
Tonight I had my first official dinner with my dear friend, Marisa. A fellow MFADT student and one of the first friends I made here at Parsons. Marisa and I met on the first day of school, and since then have become very close. We have been through a lot together here in the city–hurricanes, earthquakes, but above all, fun-filled memories. I brought Marisa Panera Bread because she wrote to me about how it was one of her family’s go-to meals. It is also the go-to meal when we are together and what we bought for ourselves before Hurricane Sandy hit and we spent the week together.
After setting things up, we put our phones in the box to have a technology-free dinner. Although, I did take pictures and record sound to document our experience! I found that ironic since in some ways, that can also be distracting. My thesis has always been about my family rituals and how I am sharing that with others. Once the phones were out of sight, we proceeded to enjoy our meal.
I learned a little more about Marisa tonight. Although we spend a lot of time together, there are some things we don’t get around to discussing. As I shared my family dinner experiences with Marisa and how this thesis has evolved around my upbringing and changes in my life, she told me about her life. Marisa is Jewish, and growing up grew up eating Kosher meals and celebrating Sabbath on Saturdays. I think Marisa is my first Jewish friend, so learning about these customs is very new to me. She told me about how eating certain foods was a treat, but also about how these rituals and values of her culture were important to her and her family. There were also certain foods that she remembers her mom cooking for certain occasions that instantly remind her family meal time. They were never allowed to watch TV at dinner either, but she did listen to the news on the radio! For the first time Marisa and I exchanged conversation about things we didn’t focus on before and it was nice to do that. This also made me see my thesis as more than just me sharing my stories, but receiving stories from other people. The table is the set up, but the content comes from the conversations.
After dinner, it was time to wrap everything up and take my thesis back home. The struggle of getting a box up and down the subway is a welcomed challenged. It is also a great conversation starter. People look at me and I know they are probably thinking “what in the world…” but I also see that as an awesome reaction. I want to do something that not only pushes myself out of my comfort zone but gets questioned by other people.
This afternoon in the subway while I was bringing my thesis up to school to prep for my dinner with Marisa, I met someone in the subway station. His name was Imran, from Chicago, but living in LA. We had a really great conversation on the R Train as I explained my project to him. After this run-in it also got me thinking how this project may not just be about the conversations I have while at dinner with friends, but in transit while moving this box. The ‘big red bag” sure looks like something out of a Santa Claus tale, but also opens up as a topic for discussion for anyone–something that I rarely do here in the city. Most of the time everyone is busy reading, looking down, listening to their headphones and really missing that face-to-face conversation. Tonight on my way back home, someone in the elevator of my building asked if I had my laundry on wheels. I said no, but she responded, “Oh, I thought it was your laundry and thought ‘what an awesome idea’.” So maybe after thesis is over, I’ll repurpose the bag for laundry transport, but for now, I’m excited to see what other encounters and conversations this big red bag, and wooden boxes will have in store for me.