I stare at the random assortment of things that clutter our kitchen island and keep me from an open space for making dumplings. Mail, school permission slips, drawings made by our six-year-old, plants that need water, and the weight of my own exhaustion pull at my attention, begging me not to shove them aside into one heap. I set the papers and clutter in another spot close to our coffee maker and gently move the plants aside.
Filling, water-gluing, wrapping, and setting dumplings down in neat rows, while teaching little hands how to follow along, needs wide open space.
It’s already taken three trips to three different grocery stores to find the simple ingredients I need to make the mandu I grew up with. It is worth it, but it grieves me that it takes a lot more gas, time, energy, and money for some of us to keep, learn, rebuild, decolonize, and pass on the details of our ethnic heritage to our children.
I grew up watching and helping my mom make gun mandu (fried Korean dumplings). They are a family favorite. Like love notes patiently put together and hand-addressed, these dumplings are full of the flavors of my Korean heritage, and more specifically, of my umma — her stories hand-wrapped, fried in oil, and stuffed into our mouths with nourishing love. My mom would always take the first few, make sure they were cool enough, then walk around the kitchen, and shove them into our faces.
When I was younger in my faith, I thought my relationship with God was confined to reading the Bible and other specific activities deemed “official” by those who I believed knew more than me. They did know more about some things. But as I’m learning through the slow “years that ask questions and years that answer,” as Zora Neale Hurston perfectly penned in Their Eyes were Watching God, and my own spiritual midlife of sorts, there’s much more depth to intimacy with God than I ever imagined. I thought having a “quiet time” was more important than passing down the sense-oriented details of my heritage, but I was wrong. They are both important, and they work together because through them God expresses love with a depth and width we were born hungry for.
The work of tending to the inheritance we’ve been given in our ethnic heritage is something we are all created for.
I love the way John describes the community of believers in his vision of heaven. He specifically takes note of the diversity in what he sees:
“After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9).
His Holy Spirit-inspired writing calls direct attention to the diversity of skin color and language, and I feel hope for how our ethnic heritage will carry on beyond brokenness, working towards our collective redemption.
The word heritage comes from the word inheritance. An inheritance is a gift of importance — something to be treasured, not discarded or silenced. It is something to be tended to and kept with care. This doesn’t mean we have to keep every single, man-made cultural tradition. However, it does mean that we’ve been given unique treasures in our ethnic heritage that reflect the heart of God. When I think about the fact that God will keep our ethnicities visible in heaven, I understand how sacred the work of tending to and mending the expressions of our ethnic heritage is.
There’s holiness wrapped up into the folds of our ethnic heritage. The details of it are intentional gifts from God. But it also means that the work we have to do to keep some of those details alive, like ordering books by people like us or driving all over town and using up more than half a day for an ingredient list of five things, is also sacred. It’s work that’s full of joy, grief, and an aching weariness combined.
My daughter holds the flour covered dumpling wrapper in her small hand, lining the edges with water. Her face holds the wonder of being able to use her hands to create. Making mandu feels like sculpting, origami, finger-painting, and finding treasure all at once. I tell her about how her halmoni used to like to fold her dumplings a certain way, and how her Californian papa liked dipping his fried mandu in salsa. I remind her to look for holes along the edges where the wrapper hasn’t stuck. I feel God’s nearness as real as the hot oil dancing in the pan where I reach for the first finished dumpling and set it aside to cool, before stuffing it into my daughter’s mouth.
How do you see God in the details of your ethnic heritage?
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