May 2, 2024

AAPI Heritage Month: Recipes for Culture, Connection, and Education

By Transcend

Have you ever experienced a dish that connects you straight to your family history?

This May, as we celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we’re taking a delicious journey through family recipes and the surprising connections they hold. Food can be a powerful language that goes beyond words. It carries stories of our ancestors, traditions passed down through generations, and a deep connection to our heritage.

Dig in to an amazing diversity of recipes from AAPI Transcend staff members and their reflections on how food can teach us about ourselves and each other, so that we can better support all students.

Monica Lee, Portfolio director, institute

“The recipe I’m sharing is my Grammy’s Hom Don Jing Ger Yook, which she learned and adapted from her family who brought the recipe to the United States from the Guangdong province of Canton. I am half Chinese, and half white, and I am a 6th generation Chinese American on my Grammy’s side, and a 3rd generation Chinese American on my Grandad’s side. Although I did not grow up speaking Cantonese or routinely celebrating Chinese holidays, one of the ways my family held onto our heritage was through food. Cooking and eating traditional food with my family always felt sacred to me. This was one of the few ways I got to indulge in the joys of being Chinese. As a child I wouldn’t dare share these recipes with friends, or bring the leftovers in my lunch pail out of fear that someone might “yuck my yum” and create shame around one of the only connections I had to my Asian heritage. Now, as an adult, I have made a conscious effort to celebrate my heritage, and learn more about my culture. I now experience joy in not only cooking and eating traditional Chinese food with my own family, but also sharing these recipes with friends and new family. I relish having my husband take bites of mooncakes on the Lunar New Year, and love sharing my Grammy’s recipes with friends eager to try something new in the kitchen.

As an educator, I see many parallels between education innovation and a great recipe. When we prepare this meal together, communication among all involved parties (the chefs, sous chefs, and eager eaters) is essential. We value the diverse flavors, techniques, and processes involved, creating a sense of safety, security, and joy throughout the kitchen. Above all, there’s an infectious excitement about the end result, along with a yearning to further improve the recipe. Education innovation, much like cooking cherished family recipes, thrives on collaboration, diversity, joy, and a dedication to continuous improvement.”

Anirban Bhattacharyya, School Design Partner

“This Indian dish has many names in many regions and languages: khichdi, khichadi, khichdee, khichadi, khisiri, khechidi, khechudi, kisuri, khichari, kitcheree, kitchree, and more. In Bengali, it is known as khichuri (although I bet there are different pronunciations and spellings within Bengali communities as well). All of the names and variations describe a staple in the Indian diet: a creamy mixture of rice and lentils cooked in aromatic spices and served piping hot. Growing up we ate khichuri on rainy days, a tradition that my parents brought to this country from India. We would sometimes eat them with pan fried potatoes or, if my mom was too busy, Lays potato chips. And when I got older I started adding various hot sauces to it as well (we always had a bottle of Louisiana Hot Sauce in the fridge). Khichuri and similar “home” dishes are not typically seen on menus at Indian restaurants in the US. So these are the types of dishes I crave the most since I don’t live near my mom. There is just something about the way my mom makes it that a recipe can’t capture.”

Indi Ekanayake, School Design Partner

“In spite of decades as part of this group, I’m still trying to figure out what the AAPI experience is all about! Maybe it’s the realization, contrary to the model minority or perpetual foreigner myths, that members of our community are capable of an infinite range of accomplishments and ways of being. Maybe it’s the awareness that AAPI students and educators deserve to feel a strong sense of inclusion and acceptance. Maybe this is represented in the surprise and delight of an unexpected curry leaf or squeeze of lime in your fried rice.

In any case, I’m excited for what’s on the horizon, particularly as I watch my own AAPI student grow up and take control of her future.”

Elaine Hou, School Design Partner

“Red bean buns are a favorite Chinese dessert of mine, though they weren’t always. As a child growing up in Queens. NY, I remember my mom insisting that I bring red bean buns to school for my birthday, even though all I wanted to do was bring munchkin donuts or sugary sweet cupcakes like everyone else. I longed to fit in and feel fully American, not realizing the challenges this longing would bring. I still remember timidly telling my classmates that the bun filling was something similar to chocolate and hoping they would accept this as completely normal and like every other birthday treat they had before. When kids started spitting out their first bites of the sweet red buns while my teacher silently looked on, I was mortified. I grieved the loss of a dream where I could just fit in, and also began to question what it means to belong and who gets to decide who belongs. That was the first step of a long journey towards finding and creating a life recipe for being fully seen and fully seeing others, to confidently take up space in my hybrid identity as Chinese-American, and reject ‘either-or’ ways of thinking that industrialized school spaces often demand. To me, sweet red bean buns are a symbol of that journey to embrace the ‘both-and’ of healing and innovation in school design.

My own daughter now embarks on a different journey than my own—she absolutely loves all kinds of Chinese buns and looks forward to inviting friends to enjoy dim sum with us. These intergenerational shifts and new possibilities for belonging are as sweet as the bun’s rich, delightful red bean paste filling—which thankfully, is nothing like chocolate but a unique sweetness all its own.”

Samina Noorani Kingsley, school design partner

“Ingredients of this recipe are like the parts that formed me: turmeric, chilies, kokum, lentils, onions, tomatoes, cumin, water, ginger, garlic, coriander, and so much more. Each family has their own variations. I anchor in the spirit of I am built by the lives and learnings of my ancestors and live for the benefit of my descendants.”

Bonus: Transcend Co-CEO Aylon Samouha making a twist on his grandmother’s rice


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