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A Journey to my Chinese Heritage 

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February 11, 2021

Jennifer Shen Lee works at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Her team is responsible for integrating business requirements into the Port’s Enterprise Asset Management systems and supporting the Aviation Maintenance department’s more than 400 employees. This work ensures smooth business operations at the airport.

Growing up in a rural town in Oregon, I was aware every day that I looked different from everyone around me. My father immigrated from Taiwan and met my Caucasian mother at University. Being half Chinese, I stood out and was teased and bullied in school. Early in life, I felt very ashamed of my Chinese heritage. 

As a teenager, my world suddenly expanded and my attitude changed. My family got the opportunity to live in Hong Kong and Taipei for a year.  We boarded the plane for our new adventure at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA). Looking back, SEA Airport has been a portal to big changes in my life in so many ways. On the way, we landed in Hawaii for a three-day stay before continuing to Hong Kong on Northwest Orient Airlines.  This was a pivotal moment in my life — when we landed in Honolulu, I was amazed that EVERYONE LOOKED LIKE ME!! What a feeling to fit in for the first time in my life … and I was amazed at how beautiful they all looked. Years of shame at standing out melted away. 

Growing up, my exposure to Chinese culture was minimal. My grandparents lived far away in Hong Kong, and holidays like Lunar New Year were not celebrated or even acknowledged where we lived in Oregon. A common way to celebrate this holiday is gathering with your family, preparing and eating a feast, and honoring our ancestors. It’s also a time to prepare for fortune and good luck in the year ahead.

Food has become a touchpoint for our Chinese family traditions. My siblings and my children often celebrate the New Year by “doing dim sum.” Dim Sum is a Chinese tea brunch where ladies push around carts of steamed goodies, many of which are dumplings. In Mandarin, the word Dim Sum means “touching or pushing the heart.” I find this so appropriate as making and eating dim sum together has touched the heart of my family and brought us together. 

Dumpling

Lunar New Year this year celebrates the Ox, which is the one of the twelve animals in the Lunar Horoscope. It’s also my birth sign. Growing up, I didn’t want to be an Ox and would much rather have been a horse, a tiger, or a rabbit — something cute or beautiful.  People born in the Year of the Ox are strong, reliable, fair, and conscientious — qualities that inspire confidence from others. We are also calm, patient, methodical, and trustworthy. And although we don’t speak a lot, we can be very opinionated. We believe strongly in ourselves, but can also be stubborn, and hate to fail or be challenged. 

As I’ve matured, I’ve grown to claim and appreciate my bi-racial heritage. I embrace my Ox characteristics and the strong and stable qualities they stand for. I’m proud of who I am and who I always have been. I now have the honor of working at the airport that so long ago opened the door to a bigger world and broadened perspective. And my family and I have created our own Lunar New Year traditions to honor our heritage and ancestors, while making it our own. And to celebrate a beautiful blend of two cultures —  just like me!

In Mandarin, the Chinese New Year Greeting is 
Gong xi fa cai or “May you attain greater wealth”

  • Watch a video pronunciation guide

Shen Dumplings Recipe

Dumpling making is one of my family’s traditions that I want to share with you. 

Jaojiz or wonton wrappers (from the store)

Filling

1 lb ground pork
1 cup green onions finely chopped
1 Tbsp chopped fresh ginger
1 Tbsp chopped fresh garlic
1 cup finely chopped bok choy
1 tsp white pepper
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 egg
2 Tbsp soy sauce

Mix the filling ingredients together, just like making meatloaf.  
Put a teaspoon of the filling in the middle of the wrappers and fold. 
The folding is the trick, which is highly stylized in our family.  

  • Watch video tutorials on 10 Ways to Fold Dumplings from Red House Spice.com

Top photo credit: "Dim sum cart" by T.Tseng is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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