Bento box in the heartland

The other day I learned about the book “Bento Box in the Heartland: My Japanese Girlhood in Whitebread America” and decided to get it at the library. It’s a “food memoir” written by Linda Furiya, about her time growing up in rural Indiana where her family was the only Japanese one in town. She ends each chapter with her favourite Japanese recipes that she has mentioned in the text.

Furiya mostly writes about herself in relationship to her parents – complex people who didn’t know how to ease the difficulty for Linda of being a first-generation American. She tells of her struggles to feel like she really belonged, and of the joys and disappointments, pride and anguish she felt growing up, especially in relation to her culture and its contrast with the norms of American society.

Here in Canada, I have heard that growing up as a first generation Canadian is sometimes difficult for children. They’re caught between the ‘old ways’ of their parents’ culture, and the new ways of the society in which their parents have chosen to live. Children become cultural interpreters as well as language translators for their parents. They are forced to explain their own cultural ways (or, sometimes, hide them) to their friends.

In this book Furiya talks about these kinds of challenges and more, and weaves a beautiful and compelling story. I see it as a love letter to her parents. They had their foibles and flaws, yes, but they helped make her what she is today. She learned how to be proud of being Japanese; it wasn’t always an easy thing to do.

A recommended read, especially if you like learning about other cultures. A further bonus is the book’s recipes, if you would appreciate an excuse to try to make Japanese food!

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