Anton is a mixed, Indian-Malaysian American who graduated in the spring of 2020 from Western Washington University, where he earned a degree in biocultural anthropology. He now works in Seattle as a housing case manager. His poem is not included.
Anton: Okay, so the first two prompts were “What is your comfort food?” and then “What’s a metaphor for warmth for you?” For the food—well, for these two prompts, I put them under the category, “Where are you from?”
I was kind of struggling with, like, where to put these three questions. But I think this one makes the most sense, especially for the “Where are you from?” because—let me see . . . I’m also getting a bit tired. [Laughs] But a lot of my basis is in food, especially because my mom is a chef and because that’s one of the few ways that I have culture, is through food. So, it only made sense that the “Where are you from?” involved the food prompt.
So, I talked about two specific dishes: kari ayam, which means “chicken curry” in Malay, and also spice ghee rice, which incorporates—like how I was saying Malaysia is kind of like a salad bowl, in a way—incorporating things from India, which is ghee, and then things from China, which is rice, and then things from Malaysia, which is the various spices and aromatics that exist.
And those two dishes just combine all of those two and it’s just very harmonious—I think that’s the right word. Yeah, harmonious. And it just has a lot of significance, because my grandma makes it really well, the street vendors make it even better, and my mom makes it healthiest. But it just always smells like home. It smells like Christmas especially for me, because the pilaf is something that we have every year for Christmas, or specifically during Christmas, so the smell is just something that reminds me of home.
A metaphor for warmth, that one I had to split between two households or just two worlds, I guess, because that’s kind of, like, “where I’m from”—I’m from two different worlds. So, when I was talking about my dad, or my “American”—I put in quotes—my more “American” friends, I said that I received a lot of warmth through words of affirmations and hugs. That makes me feel very warm.
But many times, my mom, for example, doesn’t really do words of affirmations; sometimes she’ll hug, but not always. But she’ll always cook, especially things that I like. Especially when I’m coming home and haven’t been home in a while—that’s how she shows [affection], that she will cook a food that I deeply like, or desserts that I have been wanting to eat. So just having her show affection that way, by showing that she cares and wants to have me around is a sign of warmth, even if it’s not, like, the western way.
So, I guess that’s where I’m from: two different worlds, and also a salad bowl.
This one might be a good question for this. The next one is, “Why did you go to college?” Maybe it’s not, but I’ll just talk about the prompts first.
Some things that make you excited—I like the “sparks joy” one, or the “sparks joy” quote. So, I just listed a bunch of things that make me really happy. Especially living in Bellingham, I really grew to love sunsets, especially on the water. That brings me a lot of comfort and joy, especially if I’m having a really rough day. Like, I’ll stop everything; I won’t care about eating or getting homework done, I’ll immediately go to, like, the hill that has the best view of the sunset. And that always rejuvenated me.
Some other things that kind of rejuvenate me are spending time with friends, getting to catch up with old friends, spending time alone in nature. That’s something that I also learned at Western—just having my own time—like, I think it’s called forest bathing, it’s just where you spend time alone, and then just—it’s not actually bathing, but it’s just being in nature. There’s this sort of energy that you feel.
And then I transition into food naturally because that’s all I think about, being Asian. And I was like, “The first bite of a fluffy bao, my grandma’s food, and heavy rain spark joy.”
And I told myself, or I would tell my younger self “to be unapologetic about your food, because in a decade, it’s going to be trendy anyways.” Like, pho was “disgusting” for a while, and then it became trendy amongst the greater crowd. And so, like, Malaysian food will be just fine. And it is just fine now.
I’m trying to figure out if that’s exactly why I went to college, how I could connect that. Oh, it’s because of my third thing.
“What makes me curious?” Definitely spices. Spices make me curious because I can go on about the history of spices, the spice trade, how that led to intermarriages and inter-cultures, inter-religion. I like to learn about the human experience. I’m curious about that—especially a cross-cultural human experience and just understanding that holistically.
I’m curious about my parents’ upbringing. And especially recently, I like seeing how my parents’ upbringing parallels with how they are now, and how that transcended epigenetically into me, like how I became . . .
So, I guess that’s why I went to college: to learn more about the human experience. And sometimes the human experience is food; the human experience is a sunset on the water, and spending time with yourself and a fluffy bao.
. . . I like this, I’m connecting this stuff—I didn’t expect that at all! I was like, “These questions don’t match at all,” but this is cool. This is so cool. I’m enjoying this.
“Why did you choose your major or field?”
This is the one where I said I didn’t actually do, like, a metaphor that I use, like, an adjective. A metaphor for myself is that I’m learning to be more unapologetic. It’s taken me a long time of being a doormat, of apologizing for, like, my food not smelling like they wanted to, or for me practicing a culture or religion, the way that they want me to; for believing in cultural diversity and living life with your own purpose. And I’m just slowly learning to strip those away and just more deeply understand human experience, but also transform all of those, like, tears and hurts and racism and homophobia into empathy for a better world. And just letting go of, like . . . all the disgust.
And I would remind myself that no obstacle, academic—I was really smart in high school (I’ve always been smart, I guess) but I had really good grades in high school and then I went to Western and failed. Like, I dropped out my freshman year, because I did that bad. And it wasn’t until my sophomore year that I recovered and have been doing really well since.
But no obstacle—academic, spiritual, collegial, mental, physical, because I’ve had all of those plethora of times—none of those have destroyed me yet. I’m not dead from any of those. And there’s going to be plenty more of those, but just keep transforming that into something that will skyrocket you further. And I think that’s something to remind my future self, that it’s going to get—it will get worse, but so much good comes out of that.
And a lot of that comes from my major or field, like, learning about the human experience but also, I guess, sometimes I forget that includes my own [experience]. Like, I learned about cultural anthropology, but I need to focus that on my own [experience]; learned about trauma studies but need to focus that on my own anatomy, physiology. And I think that’s something that—there’s a cool connection between my major and field and my future, even if I’m not a doctor.
Veronica Anne: Yeah, thank you. How did it actually feel to think about these questions, to write about these questions, and now talk about these questions?
Anton: I didn’t see where it was going at all, but they’re pretty easy to answer. But it was pretty cool to have those three questions later, and be able to make those connections—I’m being vague right now, but it was cool to see, like, “Where are you from?” “Kari ayum and spice ghee rice.” Like, I would never have said that unless it was, like, formatted like this; and that actually makes sense, like, that’s kind of where I’m from, ‘cause that’s my foundation and my comfort. And you also grow in warmth and comfort and hardship and all that.
It also made me reflect . . . I just really like the connections, ‘cause I wasn’t expecting that at all.