Ginataang Kalabasa

By Mark Gazmen

It was cultural week at school.  One of the days of cultural week was a potluck where everyone was encouraged to bring in a cultural dish to share with the class.  One of my favorite Filipino dishes that my mom makes is ginataang kalabasa, which is squash, green beans, shrimp, and pork, stewed in coconut milk.  I asked my mom is she could make it for me so I could bring it to school.  She told me, “no, your classmates will not like it.”  I asked her why, and she continued to say “your classmates will not like it because it has patis in it, the dish will smell when you bring it in the classroom.”  Patis is fish sauce.  The day of the potluck, I ended up bringing turon, which is a sweet banana dessert; a dish that my classmates would like much better according to my momma.  I remember being confused when my mom initially told me no to making ginataang kalabasa.  I questioned: who cares if the dish smells like fish sauce, will my friends think its gross, is my mom embarrassed of our food, should I be embarrassed?

My mom was possibly thinking that our culture was not presentable to everyone, and looking back on that experience, I can now pinpoint a possible explanation on my mom’s decision: cultural psychological captivity and one theme of the colonial mentality scale led my mother to believe that our culture is inferior in some ways to the norm of white culture in America (Andresen, 2013; David & Okazaki, 2006).  As explained in Andresen’s work, cultural psychological captivity is a process where negative societal ideologies and beliefs form about one’s own ethnic group in preference for the ideologies of the dominant group (2013).  It is a possibility that my mom formed negative beliefs about our food, specifically what other people outside of our culture think of it, and wanted me to bring a more “palatable” dish to class that would not deviate far from what is considered normal.  She also might have thought that if I did bring a dish that was “different,” that I would be made fun of or teased.  The one specific theme on the colonial mentality scale formed by David & Okazaki that my mom was potentially affected by was deficit perceptions of culture (2006).  This means that my mom was potentially thinking that the dessert that I brought to class was more aligned to the Western palate; not taking pride, but instead being embarrassed in the products used in the Philippines like fish sauce. 

These feelings that my mom might have been experiencing in the moment are not unique to her, as Andresen and David & Okazaki illuminate that these feelings are things that people go through when for so long, white, dominant culture has suppressed non-white culture.  White, dominant culture does not stop at suppression, but continues by forcing people of color to assimilate and take on white culture as their own in order to truly be “American.”  My mom’s actions are one example in the ways in which white, dominant culture affects the lives of people struggling with maintaining an ethnic identity while living in a space where the status quo is white culture. 

My culture is my identity, and I will not let my experience be shadowed by white dominant culture.  It is important that my experience, and the experiences of others are acknowledged to challenge white culture as the status quo.  One step toward breaking the status quo is pride, visibility and not being ashamed, so I’m going to eat my ginataang kalabasa where I want to eat it and share it with everyone, with extra patis.

Andresen, T. (2012). Knowledge construction, transformative academic knowledge, and Filipino American identity and experience, In E. Bonus, E. & D. Maramba, (Eds.) The “other“ students: Filipino Americans, education, and power. Charlotte, NC: IAP




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