When I was a freshman in college, my boyfriend gave me a small red rice cooker as a Valentine’s Day gift. Fourteen years later, Jacob and I look back and laugh at how it has unexpectedly become a symbol of our relationship and overlapping identities. We’d been dating for about a month, and I had mentioned to him how much I missed white rice. It hadn’t occurred to me until I went away to college that it wasn’t a common staple for other American households as much as it was for mine – we’d have it with nearly every dinner, multiple times a week. Our school cafeteria served rice on infrequent occasions, usually with specialized dishes (like samosas on Indian night). I was touched that Jacob had taken note and had gotten me such a practical and heartfelt gift.
Jacob and I both come from multiracial and multicultural families, so even at the beginning of our relationship, being able to share the nuances and joys and frustrations of our experiences brought us together quickly. Jacob is first generation Cuban American. His Abuela brought her children to the US when his father was ten years old: first to Connecticut, then New York, and ultimately Miami. Abuela’s ropa vieja is a coveted recipe that Jacob gets closer to mastering at each and every attempt. Ropa vieja, or “old clothes,” is a slow-cooked shredded beef dish that is not complete without rice and beans.
I’m second generation Chinese American; my maternal grandparents came to Boston after WWII. My Por Por immigrated from Toisan by arranged marriage to my Gung Gung, who had already been in San Francisco and served in the US military. They ultimately opened a restaurant, China Port, in Gloucester, and raised six kids. My mom, a first generation Chinese American, grew up in transit from the city and the family business and continued to work at the restaurant to pay for her nursing degree at Salem State. My family moved to three different houses in Beverly over the course of my childhood, each one marking a new era of my life. Home sometimes felt like a transitory state. My parents have moved once more since. But even so, their oversized rice cooker is always percolating on the kitchen counter. Since 2009, my red rice cooker has traveled with me to four dorms, three apartments, and two houses, many of which Jacob and I have shared together. Sometimes it’s filled with seasoned yellow rice for ropa vieja, and sometimes it’s filled with plain white rice to be paired with fish and vegetables, eggs, or kimchi: a vessel of care that can be carried with us to each place we call home.