As part of the 2021 Dear Poet project, students around the country and the world wrote letters to Marilyn Chin in response to a video of her reading her poem “The Floral Apron” aloud. Marilyn Chin wrote letters back to nine of these students; their letters and her replies are included below.
Marilyn Chin also wrote a response to all of the participants of this year's Dear Poet project.
Dear Young Readers:
Thank you for your enthusiastic letters in response to “The Floral Apron!” I wrote this poem over 25 years ago and have received hundreds of lovely letters from students all over the world, sharing stories about their mothers’ and grandmothers’ delicious recipes that connect them to their familial and ancestral cultural heritage.
This year, students from all over America expressed their delicious memories. Jaris who is “half Persian and half Polish” shared his love for“eggplant stew, tahdig with cherries and pierogies.” Micah from Florida loves to eat “Adobo, Sinigang and Lechon Kawali.” Karen from Manhattan misses her grandmother dearly, recalling her making Tang Yuan and glutinous rice balls. Myra from Minnesota offers “Dan Dan Mien.” We are so blessed to be living in dynamic, pluralistic, multicultural society…where each of us can contribute rich ingredients to the delicious mix.
The iconic image of mother in the kitchen wearing a floral apron and preparing the favorite delicious foods of our childhood evokes a universal message of love and compassion. There is nothing more wonderful on this earth than sharing a warm meal with family and friends.
We must also remember that on the flip side of a warm meal is hunger. The squid, “lined up on the block,” “soft as a child’s nose,” is a disturbing image alluding to our forebearers’ sacrifice. They loved us, nourished us, struggled to bring us to this abundant moment. There are children in the world who still suffer food insecurity. We must never take our delightful life for granted.
Thank you for your brilliant and insightful letters, dearest young readers! Best wishes for a wondrously delicious and exciting future!
Chancellor Marilyn Chin
Marilyn Chin reads "The Floral Apron" for Dear Poet 2021.
Dear Ms. Chin,
Hello! My name is Javid. This year our English class took part in the Dear Poet 2021 project, and we all wrote letters to one of the poets included in the project. After hearing and then (re)-reading your poem “The Floral Apron,” which was the first poem we listened to, I realized that it was a poem which spoke to me much more than I thought it would. The way you used searing imagery throughout the poem and the way you tied it into your thematics really encapsulated me as I experienced the poem a first, second, and third time.
The way you decide on a plot, theme, or message for a poem and then use literary devices to adorn these themes and messages really shows in this poem, and is one of the parts of it that really drew me to it. In “Floral Apron,” you use imagery beautifully in the second stanza as the tribe elder cuts into the squid — the way you describe the squid’s body being bloodless and soft, like cartilage, with the remaining ink oozing out, really brings me into the moment when I read it — it is as if I can feel myself being cut into, it seems so realistic. Then in the final stanza you return to the squid and how it has taught you to honor and respect your traditions, your heritage, and also the lessons you learned in childhood. I really am in awe of the way poets are able to take their ideas and the messages they want to share and put it into such well-crafted and thought-out poems that can flow so smoothly and freely, with imagery and metaphor which stands out yet also fits into the poem, and still the message is clearly shown and shared to all readers.
I was wondering how you decided to focus on a culinary aspect of tradition. I know that food can be a big part of keeping traditions and heritage alive - being half Persian and half Polish-American, many of my dinners at home are dishes like eggplant stew, tahdig with cherries, and pierogies. Was this decision to use this culinary aspect tied to the way you used imagery in the second stanza and the thematic recapitulation in the last stanza? I am just really interested in the process you used to write this poem, whether you wrote it start to finish, in bits and pieces, in one go… I have gone through the creative process before, writing short stories and essays for class and short pieces of music extracurricularly, and I have always written linearly, from beginning to end, usually in sporadic but productive bursts of inspiration. Did you feel any indecision about certain features of the poem, and did you keep these things in? I would love to hear the creative process of a writer much, much, more experienced than me.
I just wanted to let you know how much I loved your poem! I will be honest, I was worried that I would not be able to find a poem I really connected to, or which “clicked” for me when I heard it, but once I heard this one for the first time I knew it was the one I wanted to write about. I look forward to hearing your response and in the meantime I will definitely be reading your other poems! Thank you for taking the time to read my letter, and have a great day!
My Polish, Persian friend! Egg plant stew, tahdig with cherries, Piergogies,” all sound delicious! They also make vivid images and intriguing sounds that roll off the tongue. It’s important to honor both sides of your heritage! I never tire of writing ethnic food poems! So glad to hear that you are inspired to try a variety of genres and are writing prose and poetry and music! As for my process. The muse is wondrously mysterious. Sometimes I write the first draft, in a linear fashion, from beginning to end. Sometimes things appear in fragments. For “The Floral Apron” I remember that the image of my grandmother preparing squid in her aromatic kitchen came to me while I was daydreaming about home. I wrote a few notes in my journal. During the editing process, the squid became the controlling metaphor. Then, I remembered granny’s floral apron…I kept focused on the squid and the floral apron and the rest is magic. I am an “Imagist” poet afterall!
Write on! Young artist! Be courageous and happy!
Chancellor Marilyn Chin
Dear Ms. Chin,
My name is Aidan, and I am a high school freshman from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Although my favorite genre isn’t poetry, I really enjoyed your poem “The Floral Apron” because it makes me ponder and ask myself, even though I was born in America and have embraced an American identity, am I embracing my Asian cultural heritage? My grandparents came to the US to look after my twin brother and I shortly after we were born. They have lived with our family ever since. They have been a big part of raising me into who I am today. The aroma of ginger and scallion and the smell of sizzling squid from your poem sounded so familiar to me. Nevertheless I speak English at school and learn about American history and culture. I sometimes feel as if my Chinese identity didn’t matter, after all, I'm living in America. However, your poem, “The Floral Apron” has truly reminded me of the importance of my Chinese heritage.
As a teenage boy, it was so important to fit in at school and on the sports team. I was trying to make myself not look like a math boy, or a piano boy, although those are what I am good at and enjoy. I didn’t care to learn Chinese because all my friends from Chinese families like me all speak English, however my parents really wanted me to at the very least understand and speak Chinese. My dilemma was if it is necessary to preserve my cultural heritage and keep it as part of my identity. However, as you state, “we would never forget that primal lesson...how to honor the village, the tribe, the floral apron.” This line allows me to acknowledge my roots but also forge my own unique identity, instead of merely assimilating with Western culture. This has given me a new appreciation for my ancestral history and how I should embrace all aspects of my identity.
The way you described the cutting up of the squid and choosing squid as the food was quite interesting to me. It was especially so, when you compared the squid to a child’s nose. I believe that you compared it to a child’s nose was to convey sympathy yet cruelness, to show a contrast between aisan and american cooking. Food is something that represents someone’s culture and ethnicity and squid isn’t a type of food that American eat. Are you trying to convey to the reader that the elder symbolizes the traditional asian culture way while the narrator has adapted to American culture?
As I was reading the poem, another line that resonated to me was “Then, she, an elder of the tribe, without formal headdress, without elegance, designed to teach the younger about Asian Plight” Since I was little, my grandmother not only nurtured me but also taught me life lessons that are still ingrained in me today. She taught me to have patience and would always repeat to me, “It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.” She also taught me the morals of forbearance and forgiveness, “Those who cannot forgive others break the bridge which they themselves must pass”, she can always find old chinese sayings and proverbs and explain the value to me.
I was intrigued when you chose patience, courage, and forbearance as the three virtues we should value in your last paragraph. I learned that traditional virtues of Chinese culture came from Confucianism: “rén 仁”, Benevolence or humaneness, “yì 义”, righteousness, “lǐ 礼”, propriety, “zhì 智” , wisdom and “xìn 信”, trustworthiness. Confucius advocated two fundamentals of humanity: forbearance and etiquette. Do you think this is why our elders have taught us about the three traits you mention in your poem?
After reading your poem, it allowed me to appreciate and grasp a deeper understanding of my own identity. Influenced by two different viewpoints and cultures, that sometimes conflict, I have the freedom to embrace, develop and grow my own identity.
Hi Aidan: I was very moved by your letter! I marveled at your very sophisticated discussion on “The Floral Apron,” a nice surprise by a young Freshman student from Wisconsin! I have some good friends in Wisconsin.
So humorous too! You call yourself “Math boy, piano boy.” Might we add “Poetry dude” as well? “Twin brothers” symbolize double happiness. I bet that your family is very proud of you!
I am so pleased that you are delving into your Chinese roots! Yes, we must cherish the delicious recipes from the ancients. Thanks for teasing out the Confucian virtues. Let’s add one more to the list: “Nai Xin” 耐心 , which means “patience.” Clearly, you have plenty of patience, given your love of studying math and piano.
Good luck, young virtuoso. Have a wonderful, delicious journey!
With fondness and best wishes,
Chancellor Marilyn Chin
Dear Marilyn Chin,
Hi, my name is Mahima, and I am a 9th grader at Troy High school in Troy Michigan. My English teacher is having us do the Dear Poet Project, and as I was looking through poems I stumbled upon your poem, “The Floral Apron.” This poem really stood out to me because its theme relates to staying connected with your roots even if you live far away. As an Asian Indian living in the US, I could relate to your poem in several ways.
Firstly, I noticed that in the beginning of your poem there are a lot of shifts in tone. For example, the poem starts off with “The woman wore a floral apron around her neck, / that woman from my mother’s village” (1-2). It has a gentle and admirative tone as you seem to observe her and her actions. Then, in the second stanza you say, “pierced the blade into the first. / There was no resistance, / no blood, only cartilage / soft as a child’s nose. A last iota of ink made us wince. (8-12). Now the tone is more barbaric as you rawly describe her procedure of making the squid. I immediately noticed how the sudden shift in tone emphasized how important and serious the woman's procedure is. I liked how you used tone to convey a deeper meaning since if you kept the tone the same it might have not had a similar effect. I really enjoyed all the detailed imagery like the ‘no blood’ and ‘last iota of ink made us wince’ because it sets the tone even more with the raw descriptions.
Secondly, another reason this poem stood out to me is because I have many moments of where I relate to this. The last stanza really stood out to me when you wrote, “And although we have traveled far / we would never forget that primal lesson / —on patience, courage, forbearance, / on how to love squid despite squid, / how to honor the village, the tribe, / that floral apron. (19-24). I was born in india and moved to the United States when I was barely 2. I go back to visit every few years and every time ago it's like I get reconnected with my heritage more. And one main thing that always stuck with me is my grandmother's lessons and stories about our heritage. As a child I used to hate Indian clothing. It made me feel very uncomfortable and for some reason I was ashamed to wear it especially when no one else was wearing it. But when I visited India when I was around 7, my grandmother showed me her old Indian dresses that she wore when she was younger and their significance. She also taught me history of Indian clothing and how silk is so valuable because of its history, and all the silk sarees and salwar kameezzes I had are so special. Suddenly I started loving and appreciating Indian clothing, even if it wasn’t made from silk. I realized that it represented my wonderful culture, and I learned a valuable lesson about my identity. I would say that this is a very similar experience to you accepting food from your family's native land as you are also accepting part of your cultural heritage, like I did.
Lastly, I had some questions about things I noticed. So, I can see that the floral apron is a symbol, but what does it actually symbolize? For example, you say, “The woman wore a floral apron around her neck,” (1) and then you say, “She wiped her hand on the apron” (7) So how exactly do these two connect, and if they do what does it mean? And another question I have for you is why you chose this specific experience to represent staying in touch with your heritage. Was this a recurring event or maybe you were in awe of the elder lady in the floral apron? Also, I was confused on the deeper meaning of the lines, “Then, she, an elder of the tribe, / without formal headdress, without elegance,” (15-16) What does without elegance and formal headdress trying to symbolize here? I found it very detailed and interesting but couldn’t get my head around what it's supposed to mean.
Thank you for writing this beautiful poem on culture and heritage. I could relate to it so much and it brought back some good memories too. It was such a well crafted poem which I enjoy reading and absorbing its deeper meaning.
Thank you for your kind letter. You are a deep reader and thinker and I appreciate your thoughtful comments on “The Floral Apron.”
Thank you for noticing the “shifts of tone.” The squid conjures up mixed feelings. It could be “raw” and it could be cooked and delicious. It’s a metaphor for both culinary history and historical suffering of a people. The metaphor is made to do multiple things.
We must value the matriarch’s teachings. Your grandmother’s silk sarees is an art that has been passed on for thousands of years. Try your best to ask her questions about your heritage; visit her as often as you can. She is the link to a glorious past.
Your question about “the headdress.” Yes, I guess that began as a personal observation. My Granny had a friend who used to take off her head scarf and put on a hairnet when she’s cooking. It’s a sign that we come to the kitchen in bare-headed equanimity and that we are divine in our own right.
Please keep reading poetry, Mahima! You hit on some very profound points.
Sincerely, and with peace and love,
Chancellor Marilyn Chin
Dear Chancellor Marilyn Chin,
I am an 11th grader from Minnesota. Your poem, “The Floral Apron,” resonated with me deeply. What inspired you to write this? Any personal experiences?
For me personally, as a fellow Chinese American, your words made me think about how I have been raised. While my mother does not literally wear a “floral apron,” she has raised me to have parts of her childhood and youth instilled in me. I don’t recall ever being apprehensive towards this, perhaps because I just grew up whole-heartedly loving the different cultures I am surrounded with, or perhaps not really realizing there was any difference. I want to ask you: having been born in Hong Kong but raised in the US, have you ever struggled to reconcile the intersection of different cultures or torn between these? Is this perhaps some inspiration you have had for your poems?
I love your descriptive imagery throughout the poem. The beginning starts with visual imagery - describing her “floral apron,” “a sharp cleaver,” “‘six tiny squid / lined up so perfectly on the block’” (1-6) - and later moves to senses like touch and smell. In my opinion, the clincher is the final stanza, where you implicitly describe feelings beyond those seen, touched, or smelled: the feeling of “patience, courage, forbearance” and of course, “love” and “honor” (23-26). The abstract ideas of love for one’s culture are instilled by preparing the squid.
Your transition from concrete diction to abstract is mirrored by the evolving mood that reveals the narrator’s changing attitude to their cultural identity. I like how your poem starts with some apprehension to the floral aproned woman - as seen by the woman holding a “sharp cleaver” and the children “winc[ing].” Your tonal shift on line 13 marks the start of what I believe to be acceptance. I think that when the children “absolved her for that moment’s / barbarism,” you mark a bridge between their old thoughts of craziness and their start of appreciation, showing that reconciliation between different cultures is possible!
I also noticed that food is a motif in many of your poems; I believe it represents and is a strong part of Asian cultural identity. In this poem, the act of preparing the squid is a lesson the woman wants to teach to the next generation. The squid are like a keepsake the next generations can have to remember their family’s history. Are there any dishes that you associate with your Asian culture? For me, it’s Tomato Egg Stir Fry and Dan Dan Mian.
A key takeaway from the poem for me is whether or not the families have “traveled far,” or the woman dons her “formal headdress, without elegance,” one thing remain constant throughout the “Asian plight” (18-30): Asian cultural identity will be passed on, no matter the changing landscape; especially when assimilation can be present, it is important to not lose this aspect.
To conclude, I want to thank you for your wisdom in navigating cultural identity. In an interview with Jennifer Wong, you said, “I am an ‘American poet!’...I celebrate my Americanness. I celebrate by Chinese-ness. I celebrate my transnational identity.” This message I believe adds on to the meaning of “The Floral Apron.” Not only should we tolerate and accept our different cultures, we should indeed “celebrate” and cherish our identity!
How nice to receive an enthusiastic letter from Minnesota, the land of Prince and Fargo! Thank you for your thorough and brilliant reading of “The Floral Apron.” And for perusing some of my interviews on the web. You are a very resourceful thinker and writer.
I love your statement that the poem “reconciles the intersection of different cultures or torn between these…”Yes, you are right, this push and pull gave me inspiration through the years. I live in California, which is a very diverse world. We must honor our “differences” as well as celebrate our common humanity.
Yes, of course, I love writing about Chinese food. I was raised in the back of an immigrant Chinese restaurant, therefore, writing about delicious squid or Dan Dan Mien (your favorite) are as natural to me as Wordsworth writing about daffodils.
Yes, the ancient recipes are a connection to heritage and history. We must never forget where we came from and how our forebearers struggled to bring us this happy and comfortable life.
Read on, brilliant sister!
Chancellor Marilyn Chin
Dear Marilyn Chin,
Your poem connected with me in many ways. When I was 8 years old I moved to the United States from the United Arab Emirates, and life in America was really strange to me. Even the small differences such as being off on Sundays was a big shock to me. I didn’t understand how I would preserve my culture when everything around me was changing. After reading your poem, I realized many things can connect us back to our culture and that moving doesn’t change who we are. What defines us is what we choose to remember and there is always going to be something that symbolizes our culture even if we don’t particularly enjoy it. One of the biggest aspects of my life that carried over was food. I didn’t realize how much food helped me stay connected to my past. Your poem highlights the true power of food and made me realize how important food is to culture and tradition, especially the line:
“How to love squid despite squid, how to honor the village, the tribe, the floral apron.”
Although I haven’t been back to my home in many years I feel that I have honored where I have come from. I have learned to love who I am as well as who I am becoming. In your poem, I interpreted the line, “How to love squid despite squid” as you telling the reader that you can not like a certain food but love the idea of it and the connection you feel to it. Although this may not have intended to be interpreted this way, I feel like it displays a big message which directly relates to my life. Your poem made me realize that you can learn to love something despite not being close to it. As you said, “Although we have traveled far we would never forget that primal lesson on patience, courage, forbearance.” This encompasses my journey of moving to a different country, no matter how far I go; I will always remember my roots.
Thank you for your lovely letter and for your generous reading of “The Floral Apron.” It’s a long way from the United Arab Emirates to Kansas City, MO! I remember eating very delicious barbeque chicken in KC. I am very moved by your story about how difficult it was for you to assimilate into American culture.
I immigrated to Portland, Oregon when I was seven and I remember how difficult it was for me to fit in. We are blessed to be members of a very diverse nation: you and I help make America an amazing, multi-faceted, rainbow-colored world by adding our personal and familial histories to the mix.
I loved your comment: “No matter how far I go, I will always remember my roots.” Yes, basically, this is what “The Floral Apron” is about. We must celebrate our mother’s culture and our mother’s mother’s culture-- passed down to us for many generations. Whoever wore that floral apron has rich stories to tell and deep wisdom to impart. We must “always remember our roots.”
Be courageous and happy, dear young reader!
With fondness and best wishes,
Chancellor Marilyn Chin
Dear Ms. Chin,
Hello, my name is Amy, and I am an eighth grader from Syracuse, New York. Your poem “The Floral Apron” was absolutely phenomenal. I have never connected with a poem so deeply. This poem gave me a sense of safety and made me recall so many memories that I didn’t even know existed in my mind.
When you write about the aroma of ginger and scallion, I can’t help but think of my own core memories and the other fragrances that can fill a kitchen in an instant. I remember everything always being set up so precisely across three different tables at my grandma’s house, just like “the six tiny squids lined up so perfectly on the block,” ready to be chopped, whipped, fried, and sauteed into masterpieces, infused with the most wonderful flavors, and recipes that would be taught through generations. It was more than 5 years ago, but I remember being utterly disgusted and terrified when my grandma would chop into a squid or pull the tails off shrimps. I always believed that they were still alive, and just like the woman in the floral apron, there was no resistance and no hesitation, but I still forgave her for “killing” them because the food that would follow was like no other.
I was wondering, what inspired this poem? Was there a memory that stood behind the creation of this masterpiece? As I mentioned earlier, this poem does seem as though it was from a personal experience, and you do mention a woman from your mother’s village. Is this possibly a memory of hers, which was a story then told to you?
Although this poem does seem very sentimental, as I neared the end, I realized it was much more than just a memory. It’s not a secret that we are facing a pandemic because of the Coronavirus, and many people believed that it was brought to the US by Asians. Because of this stereotype, there have been many terrible crimes in which Asian-Americans have been assaulted by people who believe in this stereotype. I am an Asian-American myself but have not experienced anything this terrible, and I hope you haven’t either. The end of your poem fuels me with a slight disappointment, not in your poem, of course, but by the fact that many parents and elders are forced to have a conversation with children surrounding racism and stereotypes in order for them to be safe in the world and understand why people can be so ruthless with their words and actions. My parents didn’t have this talk with me, I only learned about racism and stereotypes and all of the terrible events happening from the news that would play quietly in the background during dinner. I was wondering, did a mother figure in your life have this talk with you? Have you had to talk to a child about this subject before?
I am so grateful I was able to discover you and your poems, thank you so much for writing poems that I feel I can relate to in one way or another. I will forever be a reader of yours, and I do hope that one day I might be able to connect with someone the way you connect with readers through your magnificent poems.
Thank you for your enthusiastic letter. And for sharing your personal experience about observing your grandmother cutting squid and “pulling tails off shrimp.” We both felt squeamish when we encountered these acts but were immediately placated when we enjoyed the delicious final outcome!
Yes, this is a very personal and yet universal poem. You and I both have had the experience of enjoying the aroma of our mothers and grandmothers’ cooking and their accompanying tales and teachings around the dining table.
Yes, squid represents animal sacrifice. I often say a little gratitude prayer before I eat the animals, who so kindly give their lives to nourish us. They also represent the violent histories and remind us of our comfortable present.
Best wishes to you, young reader! Have a delicious and wondrous journey.
Chancellor Marilyn Chin
Dear Marilyn Chin,
My name is Karen, and I’m a ninth-grader at New Explorations into Science, Technology and Math in Manhattan, NY. Both of my parents and their family emigrated from China to the United States, which makes me a second generation immigrant. I felt especially moved when reading your poem, “The Floral Apron” because it made me appreciate more that my family exposed me to Chinese culture growing up.
While reading your poem, I thought of a specific memory I had with my grandma who I haven’t seen in a long time because of COVID-19. The lines in your poem, “designed to teach the younger//about the Asian plight,” made me reminisce about the time my grandma taught me how to make tang yuan. I’m not sure if you are familiar with them but it is essentially a traditional Chinese dessert that is made of glutinous rice flour. Somehow, reading your poem made me feel like it was me sitting at the table watching my grandma making glutinous rice balls. I cherished this memory because I knew it was a skill that’s been passed on in her family for generations. I felt honored to continue the tradition and culture.
The lines in your poem, “‘What shall we cook tonight?’” and “Suddenly, the aroma of ginger and scallion fogged our senses”, were so sentimental to me because I find it beautiful how the woman in the floral apron and my grandma both express their love in the same way. Similar to your story, my grandma immigrated to the United States in the 1990s; She came not knowing a word in English. After more than 30 years of living in America, she still only knows the basic greetings such as “hello”, “bye bye”, and “thank you”. However, I’ve never looked down on her because of her inability to speak English. In fact, I think her inability to assimilate is a work of art, rich and complex, crafted over centuries. It is a story of her country, culture, history and what is everything special about China. I adore the lines, “and although we have traveled far//we would never forget that primal lesson//on patience, courage, forbearance”. I think it accurately sums up my main takeaways about honoring your heritage even when you’re thousands of miles away from your homeland.
I know poetry can be extremely abstract and fairly long, I sometimes find it hard to digest all of the writing. However, your poem was a perfect length for a reader such as myself. I like how you were able to cover so many different topics such as ancestry, tradition, immigration, cultural identity, and etc in less than 25 lines. A big reason I enjoyed reading this poem so much is it is one of the few poems that I completely understood and could even relate to.
I have a couple of questions about your immigration journey. What was the driving or pulling force for your family’s decision to immigrate. What was the hardest part of immigrating to a new country? Did you ever regret leaving your homeland?
Finally, I would like to thank you for writing this heartfelt poem. It really reminded me to appreciate my heritage and culture even in the midst of all the Anti-Asian hate crimes going on.
Thank you for your generous reading of “The Floral Apron.” Your analysis is spot on.
Your grandmother’s “glutenous rice balls” sound delicious! I hope that you will be able to visit with her often, after this terrible pandemic subsides.
To answer your questions: I was born in Hong Kong in 1955 during a tumultuous time. My family were migrants from Mainland China and escaped after the revolution.
Therefore, I do not regret leaving Hong Kong, because America gave girls more opportunities.
I am making a living as a poet! How great is that! I am a grateful immigrant.
However, having said that, I understand your fears-- I, too, am concerned about the recent racism and violence against Asians. Hopefully, that will pass. We must take care of each other during difficult times.
Meanwhile, I love your energy and positive attitude. Please read more poems, even “the long” poems! Ha, ha! I’ll remember your plea and try to write some “shorter poems” for poetry lovers everywhere.
Chancellor Marilyn Chin
Dear Ms. Marilyn Chin,
My name is Bridget, a current junior in Roland Park Country school in Baltimore, Maryland.
I was drawn by the cooking squid story you presented in this poem that connected to your family and the behind identity. As an international student, I came to America without my parents’ and friends’ accompanies. One of the most difficult things for me in the first two years was facing a completely different culture in daily life. Although we have completely different experiences about how we get used to another country and our memories about the past, I can see a strong connection between the feelings you put in your poem, The Floral Apron, and my story of studying in America.
Cooking and food are also meaningful for me when I live in another country. I can remember that before I started my journey in America, my parents pushed me to learn how to cook Chinese meals. They believed once I learned how to cook and feed myself, I was able to be independent and take care of myself living on the other side of the earth. Thinking about my high school life so far, I’m glad that I spent time cooking. Every time I had traditional Chinese food, tasted like meals in my hometown, I felt less missed about my family and my home. Is Chinese food also meaningful to you so you use cooking as the setup in this poem? I see having traditional Chinese food a valuable connection for me relating to my memories and feelings.
I cannot agree more with the “primal lesson” you mentioned in your poem: “patience”, “courage”, and “forbearance”. There were many moments for me that I wanted to give up or felt really upset living in a place that I knew no one and barely understood its culture based on our language and thinking mode barriers. However, I learned that even in the dark time, there are still light paths and joys around me that helped me overcome my difficulties. Like the squid you depicted, that spills ink but gives you favorable aroma. I think the title of your poem, The Floral Apron, is interesting and can give readers their own spaces to give hypothesis about the content about the rest of your poem. After reading several times about this poem, I gradually have a sense that the floral apron symbolizes your mother who used to cook for you. Am I right? Also, in the last sentence of your poem, you said “honoring the floral apron”. Is that the promise you keep for yourself and your mother to overcome every difficulty and be strong to face any challenges in life with another culture?
Thank you for your poem. A lot of memories just prompted out in my head after reading this poem. It gives me courage to be brave in facing upcoming difficulties and struggles with another culture because I know that aroma comes after the dark.
Thank you for your heartfelt letter. I know that it must be difficult to be an international student… you are thrust into a new school and culture without the support of your loving family. You sound a little sad and homesick.
I am glad that my poem “The Floral Apron” gave you the “courage to be brave in facing upcoming difficulties.” I assure you that the bad times will pass. I love your phrase, “ I know that aroma comes after dark,” which is a very beautiful and hopeful passage. I hope that you have met new friends and have been sharing delicious meals and stories… and that you will be reunited with your family very soon.
Meanwhile, have a great time in Baltimore. Be joyful! With best wishes,
Chancellor Marilyn Chin
Dear Marilyn Chin,
I’m Jeuxrell, an 18 year old girl from Florida. I was born to Filipino parents, and raised in America. For me, I saw the poem as a testament to mothers, or even not just mothers, people that cook and take care of younger generations.
The poem, especially the part about wincing when cutting up a squid, reminded me of my mom and her mom. Quite literally, actually, my grandma would ask my mom to help hold down the chicken before cutting its neck. Grandma would ask her to help hold down the animals a lot, and my mom would help her cook these animals too.
Thinking about it, it reminds me of how my mom passed these things down to me, ways to cook Adobo or Sinigang, or Lechon Kawali. My mom spoke to me, lecturing me about her “Asian plight” as well, saying she walked miles to school in teared shoes, would skip meals to keep working and earn money for college, or when a man she loved got another woman pregnant and left my mom. She would talk to me a lot about her patience and forbearance, her perseverance, all while cooking my favorite Filipino dish, Dinuguan.
Reading your poem reminded me of my mom, who almost never teaches me how to cook nowadays, never talks to me about the past so much anymore. Maybe I’ll ask her to tell me about the Philippines and how she grew up again, when I get home.
I enjoyed your poem, sincerely,
Thank you for your enthusiastic letter. Yes, “The Floral Apron” is a “testament to mothers!’
“Adobo, Sinigang, Lechon Kawali, Dinuguan” all sound so delicious. We never tire of Asian food imagery. Just the rich sounds make my mouth water.
So glad that your mother has passed on the stories and recipes of her past. They are the link between you and the Phillippines. Do not be afraid to ask her more questions about your heritage and try to visit the Phillippines in the future. The great sights, smells, sounds and tastes will lift your spirits and vivify your senses.
Chancellor Marilyn Chin