We’re eating potato latkes, brisket, turkey and gumbo with a side of mac ‘n cheese Xmas day at my daughter-in-law’s parents’ house. It’s our multi-racial family celebration –Jewish, black, Asian relatives gather ‘round the table for blessings and songs, spinning dreidels. With full bellies we stagger into the living room for board games and dancing to rappers, 60s rockers and a bit of jazz.
We’re not a Norman Rockwell portrait of post-war Los Angeles. We’re at the intersection of the new American family blended with my family from Eastern Europe, the Creole, Louisiana-born great grandmother to my grandsons, the auntie from Korea and whatever else fits in the “melting pot” of a large extended family.
Food is a friendly way of sharing cultures. I’ve hosted Passover meals and my grandson’s baptism luncheon. Religious beliefs are just as important as race and ethnicity when it comes to establishing one’s identity. My black daughter-in-law and I go all over the map when we chat about our different holidays and raising children in a country where there’s still a racial divide. When she and my son were expecting their first child I wanted to bond with her so she’d know I’d be a perfect grandmother. I invited her to brunch on a Sunday afternoon. I took her to Leimert Park, an old black neighborhood in South Los Angeles with African shops, men playing drums on the sidewalk and soul food in the local restaurant. We strolled for about 20 minutes then she turned to me and said, “I never come to this neighborhood. Can we go to Canter’s, that Jewish restaurant on Fairfax and eat bagels?”
Like I said, my understanding about race and ethnicity are best served at the dinner table.