I play American Mahjongg (as opposed to Chinese Mahjongg, or simply mahjongg) with a few women in our community once a week. On a recent mahjongg (MJ) day, after about 3 games, I was complaining to my fellow MJ girls about the big bag of potatoes that Raj had picked up from Costco. We are two people, and don’t consume a lot of potatoes. I asked Linda, who loves the puff pastry with the samosa filling I make if she’d like to make some with me to use up the potatoes. The other two perked up from their intent staring at the tiles to say “well what about us?”
And so, the mahjongg was abandoned, and we came back to my house to quickly make 3 batches of yummy, warm North Indian samosa filling wrapped in puff pastry sheets and baked to a golden crisp. I made the filling, while each of them rolled out a pastry sheet, one placed the filling and wrapped them, and one of them took pride in “forking” the edges and being the best “forker”. This group is a bit rowdy, and not at all prudish, so we usually have a ton of fun with some bawdiness thrown in for good measure.
This is what America IS and being American means. I interact with a group of women—via my weekly mahjongg games, and monthly book club discussions—women who have varying cultural and ethnic backgrounds—American, Jewish American, African American, Pakistani,Korean—it’s almost a mini world. Getting together once a week to play a game that originated in China. In the southeastern state of Florida. Eating crackers, and French brie. And sometimes spontaneously abandoning the mahjongg game to make Indian samosas.
I also belonged to a book club in which we only read books of non-American cultures and that was aptly called “Crossing Cultures”.
I am an immigrant in this country of immigrants. I can’t imagine my life without the enriching, nourishing, and soul-sustaining experiences that every immigrant adds to mine. Be it the ones whose ancestors came on the Mayflower, or on the slave ships, or on more recent flights from all over the world.
And the way I connect with anyone is through food. Be it cooking for someone, or sharing a meal with someone, I think food is the greatest common denominator. Seriously, who can be cross at someone when they’re eating a delicious meal?
I have found, since my early days in this country as a green, fresh off the boat immigrant, that through food, I could easily start a conversation; relate to someone; and sow the seeds for a long friendship.
From office potlucks where I made new friends through an ethnic food, to lunches I packed for my young children that included desi favorites like chutney sandwiches and lemon rice that attracted kids and adults alike, to my current adult friendships through book club and mahjong, a delicious samosa, or poori, or a simple vegetable rice, has paved the way for long lasting memories, and friendships.
On this 4thof July, when immigration and immigrants are hot topics, painful ones at that, I raise a toast with spicy Indian lemon pickle to this country of immigrants. Melting pot or salad bowl, assimilated or just landed, born here or naturalized, immigrants make this country. Happy 4thof July!
This is how WE play mahjongg. How about you?