I never liked dumplings before March. Other Chinese foods were alright, but I think it
was the blatant stereotypicality of dumplings - the slant-eyes, the dog food, the “dum-pah-ring” - that haunted me through six tearful years. I am grateful now to live in a very accepting and kind neighborhood. Yet, somewhere, sometime, I knew the stereotype lived on. So whenever my parents, these soft-spoken Chinese-American immigrants, cooked dumplings, I’d politely decline.
That changed one Saturday in March, after the inevitability of coronavirus settled in,
right before the toilet paper-fueled mania started. We were waiting in Costco’s checkout line, my mother watching her phone and I a nearby cereal box. Just as I was scanning the nutrition label, the box was yanked away and loaded into the cart of someone on the opposite side of the shelf. I found myself staring at the eye of a man where the calorie count used to be.
He lifted a pink finger and started shouting, “Chinese virus” and “go home” among other
things I’m too embarrassed to repeat. He threw something--hand sanitizer--across the shelf. I froze. For ten seconds or ten minutes, I found myself stunned into the powerlessness of an eight year-old again. It was elementary school, except the playground bullies had grown into adults and ignorance into hatred. My silence hung pathetically while the man swaggered away.
My mom tugged on my arm. “I was on the phone. Was he talking to us?” she asked in Mandarin.
Two hours later in Midland, Texas, a nineteen year-old would stab a Burmese man and
his two children. When asked about his motives, he said he wanted to stop them from infecting others with the coronavirus.
“Mom, you should probably speak more English when you’re in public now,” I told her later that day.
She stared at me for a second. Then, in crisp Mandarin, she told me to help her with the dumplings. She turned around and, resolution set in her brow, kept kneading. I joined her. For the first time since I was seven, I found myself rolling flour circles, ragged from years without practice. This time, I stood taller than my mother, and this time, a tacit message passed between us. The world had degraded into elementary school, but I wouldn’t degrade with it, because I was twice as old, twice as tall, twice as bold as before. I don’t think I’d win if I came face-to-face with that man again. But if there is one battle I have waged and won, it is the one with my past self. It’s not enough, nor is it close to enough, but it is a start. A fragrant, pork-stuffed start.