Ashley Xie: Mish-mashing culture and being a reincarnation of her grandma

This is part of our 5-part series where we share stories from LA-based community members and leaders on reconnecting with and reimagining their identities. We hope these stories ignite some deeper conversations for you, too, because we believe that this journey of self-discovery makes us stronger and fuller as individuals and community members. 


Ashley Xie
Co-founder of Rooted Fare 

How would you say your heritage affects your life? 

I think being a Chinese American definitely affects who I am and what I do. I think it's been a journey ever since I've started as a child and then grown up, just learning to embrace more and more of my heritage. And then finally, I'm at a place right now where it's involved with the every day, because that's what Rooted Fare is. It’s all about celebrating your Chinese American-ness, your roots, and we get to do it through food, which is amazing!

Complete the sentence: Connecting with my Chinese American heritage [blank].

Connecting with my Chinese American heritage has allowed me to pursue a career that I really love. Because ever since I was a kid, I felt like for some reason, my future job would be really important. That following what I wanted to do was really important. Not just being a professor or doctor or lawyer, but something that I really am passionate about.

And food is one of them. And I get to mish-mash it with our culture and make really delicious things for people. And when they taste it, it might bring them back to their childhood. Or it might take someone who is not familiar with the food or culture to somewhere new. And I think that's very special.

Was there a moment for you that made you start to consciously think about your relationship with your heritage?

When I was a kid, I went to Chinese school, and obviously, when I was small, I did not like it there. It just felt so brutal to go to school after school and learn so much and keep on learning and do so much homework all the time.

But I remember when I was a kid, I think in second or third grade, there was someone who came from China, and I was the only person who could speak Mandarin. So I was able to help her. And maybe when I was a kid, I didn't realize that because I was able to go to Chinese school, it made me able to help someone else.

Now looking back, language has been really important in my life. I'm a second-generation Chinese American, so all of my aunts and uncles didn't know how to speak English. It was always me that was able to help them and guide them through phone calls with the government or help answer questions for them and translate.

Was there ever a time that you felt negatively about your heritage? 

Yes, of course I felt negatively about my heritage. I remember when I was a kid, I just didn't embrace at all who I was. I wanted to be like an All-American kid, playing with Barbies and painting my nails. And my mom said I couldn't so I would secretly do it and hope that she didn't see. But then feeling really guilty, so on the day of that night, I would just scratch it off. I think there was some resentment that built up over time, where I didn't want to go with my family to go eat Chinese food or not wanting to show what I had for lunch or even not eating it and going to get an American lunch instead.

Where do you think that comes from?

I wonder if it's just the media, because, as a kid, I loved watching Disney Channel, and Lizzie McGuire and Hannah Montana. So that's what I wanted to be too. And seeing them and seeing myself was obviously very different. 

Was there a time that you felt proud of your heritage? 

During college, I had a very diverse group of friends, and occasionally we would have potlucks and everyone would cook a dish. They're from different cultures too, so in the end, it'd be a very cool potluck with different foods. We get to enjoy how they grew up eating it or attempting to because we didn't really know how to cook back then. 

How do you feel about the attempt to get it right?

I did like doing it because I've always loved cooking. So it was really fun when my friend and I drove 40 minutes out to the nearest Asian store back in college and we'd go shopping and then cook together. But I also remember moments where we burn the food but we still eat it and it's gross and not really what how our mom cooked it, but it's okay because there's still that moment where we cook together and we're experiencing it together. 

Do you have a personal, familial, or cultural history that sticks with you?

When I was a kid, my mom had a Chinese restaurant, and inside were all of my aunts and uncles, and she and I got to see them cook. I felt like that drew my fascination with food. Looking back right now, I think that's what built my foundation and love for food and serving other people. 

I remember they would tell me all the time how I would stand on a stool and roll out the dumpling dough until my hands were red and raw, but I still wanted to try and do it with them. My uncle loves to tell me that when I was a kid, he wanted to learn English. Because My mom taught music as her profession, I would tell him, “Yeah, I'll teach you how to speak English for $40 an hour,” which was really funny. 

I never knew my grandma from my mom's side, but they always tell me that she was the best cook. It's kind of crazy to think about that because the way that my mom and aunts cook are already the best to me. So how is it even possible to be better than that? 

I feel like sometimes I try to connect with my grandma because of how she was so good at making things and entering competitions and winning them. And one of the recipes that we have right now, the crunchy black sesame butter, is based on tang yuan. That's a cool connection that in hindsight is clear, but not during the process. 

Can you say more about trying to connect to your grandma?

I don't know if this is weird to say, but sometimes I think that I'm a reincarnation of her, even though I have no idea who she is just because she's so well known for her food and she was a nice person.

Have you tried digging into who your grandma is? 

I tried to ask my parents and my aunts about who she was like. But they're always regretful that they never kept her things. So when she passed away, they ended up not keeping all the awards and the physical things that she had or pictures. So it's only every now and then on WeChat where I'll see a really old picture or something. 

What are your dreams for our community?

My dream for my community is that we stick together. We root for each other. We support each other. We find time to connect with each other. And just, you know, be happy together. 

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published