Tea Leaves

Relationship: Child of im/migrant

From as early as I can remember, my mom’s always been a tea fanatic. She's always insisted that I, her first generation Chinese-American daughter, be able to make and serve tea correctly. Every time we went out for dim sum, she made sure to review proper "tea etiquette". I never really understood why it was so important until a few years ago, when we received a huge cardboard box in the mail filled with packages of dried tea leaves from my grandmother back in China. “Why does grandma have to ship tea? Can’t we just buy it here?” I asked in Chinese, rummaging through the box. “No silly, this is special tea. It’s from the relatives in the village.” My parents both grew up in small villages in the mountains of the Guangzhou province, places I’ve hiked up to in hopes that I better connect with my roots. There, the tea plant is handpicked and parched over a huge fire. In order to protect their bare hands, they use massive durable gloves. I figure that’s why tea is, in essence, so valuable to the Cantonese culture. In my traditional household, most of our diet reflects that of which my parents both grew up with as well. Yes, we have rice everyday and no, we usually don’t have butter or cheese in our fridge. Tea, however, is now a more mainstream yet traditional product that allows my family to keep in touch in the slightest to tea culture in China’s southern coast. But moreover, it serves as a subconscious reminder every single day of what it means to be Chinese. 

Year: 1999

– Jennifer Lee

Relationship:  Child of im/migrant Child of im/migrant