When I was a kid, my mouth was always hot.
My parents forced me to eat spicy food that they ate with ease — Hunan and Szechuan dishes they ate their entire lives, from coating white rice with mapo tofu to mala sauce on everything. As soon as I turned 4, I was consistently exposed to some of the spiciest Chinese dishes on the planet.
I remember when my older brother laughed at me for my inability to handle spicy food — when I would run to the sink to drink water (which only made the burning sensation worse) or go hungry because I couldn’t handle the severity of the spice.
It was with extreme joy that, by the time I was 10, I mocked my mom, dad, and brother for their inability to handle spicy food. Despite all the chaos that happened at home, from unemployment to my parents’ divorce, what united our family was that I could always make them laugh.
And I consistently reminded them that they were soft, that the student had become the master.
Now, at 22, every time I have spicy food, snacks, or any dish that I ate at a young age, I’m reminded of home, even though I haven’t seen my parents in a very long time. I’m not saying that like it’s a good thing; home wasn’t always good. But I remember my family, and I remember the people God used to deliver me to where I am now, as a believer of Christ, as an inner-city teacher that does everything to do right by his kids.
The kids that I teach will do anything for hot Cheetos, Takis, hot Doritos. It doesn’t matter what reading level they’re at: I know they love spicy foods, and they’ll take the test and do the assignment in exchange for eating the snacks they like.
And every time I buy hot chips, I’m reminded of my family and how much I miss them. I’m surrounded by kids who have been through severe trauma, worse than I’ve ever been through. These kids have lost their parents to addiction. They have lost their parents to gun violence and sudden deaths. Many of them have never known their fathers, and some haven’t been raised by parents at all.
I still have two loving, living parents who want the best for me even though their parenting methods weren’t great— and that scenario is much luckier than everything my kids have been through.
I know now, as a member of the Fan family, that you cannot be a Fan without being able to stomach ghost peppers, mala sauce, and the spiciest possible sauce for your wings at every restaurant.
Spicy food was my family’s way of initiating me into the family, and into the culture. I know now, as a member of the Fan family, that you cannot be a Fan without being able to stomach ghost peppers, mala sauce, and the spiciest possible sauce for your wings at every restaurant.
Yes, spicy foods may cause heartburn, but for me, spicy food is a part of my culture, a part of who I am.
As I write this, I’m munching on extra spicy Cheetos. I think about my students, who love spicy snacks so much they’ll ransack my closet for them. I smile thinking about the kids who I wake up for on a daily basis, who I’ll love unconditionally because they’re my kids.
But I also think about my family. I think about the dinners where Asian parents bickered, argued, and even became physically confrontational about how much they wanted to pay the bill. I think about my parents, who worked all the time to put a roof above my head and food on my plate, who dropped everything at times to drive me to practices or school. I think about how I haven’t talked to them in over a week.
I think about my older brother, who I talk to every day about his mental health struggles, and how we used to share plates of tofu or beef doused with mala sauce. I think about how I have to call him tomorrow to ask him how his exam went.
And I wouldn’t have any of these reminders of my family if it wasn’t for my students’ interests, along with the spicy foods that I automatically pursue — to bring me back home. Even if it’s just for a moment.
A version of this post was previously published on Heated.Medium and is republished here with permission from the author.
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project and want to join our calls on a regular basis, please join us as a Premium Member, today.
All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS.
Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Photo credit: unsplash