It's been bothering me for weeks that people take an important discussion like the one Francis and I had, then reduce it to "whether white chefs can cook ethnic food" or to conclude that at the end of the day "taste is what matters". The Marcus article was an extension and it was fun to see how people danced around the actual challenge in the article for dominant cultural food editors/writers to hit the pavement and find more voices of color. Maybe for once put a voice on the soap box even if it's threatening...
Instead, reactions became Eddie v. Marcus and comments were about Yellow v. Black or Harlemite v. Non-Harlemite. The lack of a response from any writer living in Harlem proved the entire thesis of the article. Marcus is the only voice we hear from and the situation is flawed whether Michael Symon's cackling ass thinks so or not. You simply can't have a Swedish-African-$28 Fried Chicken Selling-Chef that reduces the neighborhood to "eating, dancing, and praying" speak for the ENTIRE food scene in Harlem. He most certainly can and should be ONE of many voices, but not the only one. This is true of any person or neighborhood. It'd be offensive to have an Asiatic-Holando Transplant with a J.D.-and-an-F speak for all of the East Village. That'd never happen in the East Village, but why in Harlem? Whether I'm Chinese or not, I'm going to tell you we can't enable that because I'm absolutely right.
I don't care if NY Mag thinks Asian Hipster Chefs are the next great thing or if they want to attribute our stories to some David Chang legacy. It's all bullshit and no one will care in 3 years so I don't even know why my dumb ass engages these shit storms. I'm fucking disappointed in myself. The only conversation that matters to me is defending culture, resisting assimilation, and creating my own America... every thing else is ancillary. It's important to be conscious of what America is and isn't. I wanted to write the below for a while and people kept stopping me, but fuck it. Writing this is more productive than a lot of frustrated, not well thought out tweets. So here it is... 636 words on why you should fight every single fucking day taken out of the context of food because, clearly, the element of food and Harlem precludes anyone from being reasonable.
America is an adversarial society. Whether we want to accept it or not, the good guys don’t always win. Biggie was right, “it’s an every day struggle.” Your life begins as an American when you recognize and accept that nothing you have will be given to you; it’s taken. Notice I said “taken” and not “earned”. You can’t trust that for said amount of work you’ll get said amount of pay. It just never happens. If you want to make sure you get what you deserve: take it.
When you bring your cultural goods to market, expect someone to try and take it from you, especially the dominant culture because they can. The only way to come up is to defend the things you have and learn to take for yourself. Offense is the best defense. Look at all the inspirations we’ve had as 80s babies. Barack - took the youth vote and micro donors; Fab Five - disrespected every thing about collegiate sports, rejected white socks/short shorts, took booster money, and peace’d; Brooklyn - like BDP said, “Manhattan keeps on makin’ it, Brooklyn keeps on takin’ it.” As much as I love Francis Lam, his ideas about aspiring to “join” America lead to the loss of your culture and Indian Casinos. What if the Tea Party wins and that bullshit definition of America rules? You want to be a member then? Sometimes you shouldn’t respect the other side because it’s wrong #Newsroom. The only America that matters is yours... but you’ll have to fight for it.
I remember in 9th grade we had this exercise in class. The teacher said, “Form groups of 5. You’re all in a crashing plane and there’s one parachute. Figure out who gets it.” I didn’t want to die so I campaigned for the parachute. Every one else was embarrassed to put their life above someone else’s but I wasn’t. I believe in myself. I believe in my values and I believe that I'm more valuable to the world alive than dead. I didn’t know how to explicate that, but I wanted the parachute and was the youngest in the group so I took it. The teacher asked why they gave me the parachute and we answered “Because Eddie is the youngest in our group.” She said, “That’s the wrong answer. You should all want the parachute and if you don’t, then what’s the point?” I never forgot that lesson. Far too many of us have something to offer the world and sit idly by thinking someone will make it better for us, but they won’t. The world you want has to be taken.
I don’t care if people think I’m angry because no amount of peer pressure will force me to submit and allow another culture to consume my identity. I worked too hard unearthing myself buried under American stigma and stereotype to turn around and give it all up because someone wants me for a member. Like Groucho Marx, I’m not joining your club but not because you’ll have me. I’m not joining because assimilation is cultural and ethnic baptism: you lose every thing you came with in exchange for false moral approval. It matters that we don’t let you take over neighborhoods and displace those that made it what it is simply because you have and they do not. It matters that we don’t let people shark bite gua bao or call it Peking Duck because it’s Beijing mother fucker. Why should we let The Man romanize our shit? We were good enough when we came, we’re good enough if we leave, and we’re good enough if we stay. People are different and society should just accept it... but they won’t. You’ll have to fight for it and that’s the most important thing I can tell you.
Note: To readers who want to discount this by saying culture is fluid, you can't defend it, it's supposed to change, I ask you this: Why is it that there is copyright protection for Louis monogram but not my Mom's recipes? People draw the lines where they do because it benefits them and they CAN. I use the world "culture" and I understand it may not be the precise term. Maybe we should be talking about this through the lens of intellectual property but that's possibly too dense. This applies to every one from anywhere from Martha's Vineyard to Canal St. We all have a "way of life" and no one likes to see that taken, distorted, or expelled. The point is that if you want it to continue, you have to fight for it.