I wrote this piece four years ago, a day after my mom’s birthday. This being the third anniversary of her passing, it feels appropriate to run it again:
“I love you.”
Three simple words that express deep, caring feelings for loved ones.
Three words that hold a great deal of impact and meaning in just eight letters.
Three words I lived without for most of my life.
Growing up, “I love you” just wasn’t part of my family’s vocabulary. I don’t think I can name an instance when anyone in my family said these words to one another. Talking with my Asi
ans friends, it seems like a common Asian thing.
It’s not that we don’t love one another, we just never express it. My parents weren’t the hugs-and-kisses type or the type that said the L-word. No, the thing they always said to me was, “Are you hungry?”
When I came home from school, it would be the first thing they would ask. Coming back from a late night with friends, my mom would wake up and groggily ask me if I was hungry. Coming back from dinner, they’d ask me if I had enough to eat.
And it wasn’t just them. My aunt would do the same whenever I went over to hang out with my cousins. It would be the first question any one of my brothers and sisters would ask whenever I visited their houses.
I remember one day I was in a particularly bad mood when my mom asked me that question.
I said, “Why do you keep asking me that? You know I’m not hungry!”
She seemed taken aback. She just turned back toward the kitchen and told me she was just wondering.
I stormed out of the house and drove off to wherever it was I was headed. But during my drive I realized that it wasn’t just another question – She was wondering about my personal well-being. At that point, I realized that my family expresses love through food.
By asking, “Are you hungry?” they’re really saying, “I love you.”
So whenever I go home and my mom asks me those three loving words, I answer with five of my own.
“Sure, what do you have?”