Recently, a group of friends and I laughed and all shared our “lunchbox moments.” For the uninitiated, the “lunchbox moment” is a ubiquitous experience for Asian American schoolchildren: the first time our parents pack for us delicious jiaozis and dandanmian to eat for lunch, only to have our classmates sneer, “Gross, what is that?” and, “Is that dog?” Mortified, we threw our lunch boxes away and asked our parents that night to prepare us things like PB&J to bring to school.
I don’t think the author of the article last week featuring opinions on bubble tea ever had such a moment. It could be argued that she didn’t know the sensitivity behind highlighting a case where a student threw up from ethnic foods. But that’s what privilege is. To not have that lunchbox moment. To not have to think about how your culture’s food is portrayed. Finding all ethnic food to be delicious or even somewhat palatable is not a requirement. I’m sure the experiences of the student that drank boba tea and vomited did happen and are valid. To share that experience as representative of a general opinion, however, is being color-blind to a subject that isn’t.
Equally infuriating is reducing cultural food to a new “fad” that white people are enjoying. Bubble tea is not a fad. I grew up in one of the major Chinatowns of NYC where there was a bubble tea stop every block and a half. I remember my first time having it: my mother took me to a place and ordered a taro milk tea for me. When I asked her if she was going to have one, she replied “No, it’s too sweet. It’s for Americans.”
This is one of the defining aspects of bubble tea and ties in closely with how it has become a cultural phenomenon amongst Asian Americans. It’s a drink that we remember growing up on, but one that the generation before us wasn’t too fond of. It’s a drink too Asian for our white friends, and too white for our Asian parents. It’s a drink that we found our reflections in — torn between our Asian upbringing and our American schooling.
It’s almost become a nuisance for me, as it seems as though it’s all any of my Asian American friends can talk about. On social media, they share memes and jokes about their obsession with bubble tea, which makes it more curious that not a single East Asian person was interviewed, even though plenty (including myself) had expressed interest in talking to the author about their thoughts on bubble tea.