Since we reached school age, my brother and I served as guides for our parents on all things related to American culture. Mom and Dad both immigrated from the Philippines to San Francisco in the early 70s. Aside from having to translate for them, my brother and I also gave our parents cultural lessons on how to live like a “typical” American family.
One crucial lesson came during Christmas when I was 8 years old. That year, it was my primary mission to explain that I needed Santa Claus to bring me a Barbie Townhouse. I believed I had been a good kid that year, and it was
important to get my parents’ support to ensure I got that townhouse. I had read enough books about Christmas and seen enough TV shows to know how American Christmas was supposed to work. I proceeded to give my mom her next important cultural lesson: American families must put out a plate of chocolate chip cookies and a glass of milk for Santa. Mom replied, “Chocolate chip cookies?! I don’t have time, and I don’t know how to make them!” She was too tired from her job to make them, but she promised that she’d stop by a bakery on her way home from work to get treats for Santa.
On Christmas Eve, Mom came home from work with a pink bakery box in hand. I was so excited and knew that Santa would feel grateful for the cookies. But upon moving closer to the box, I realized that it was from a bakery in Chinatown. I opened the box and, to my horror, there were a dozen freshly baked HOPIA!
Hopia is a traditional pastry found in many parts of Asia, often called “moon cakes” in America. It’s a round pastry with a golden flaky outer crust and an inner filling of sweet, mashed mung beans. I was mortified; what American dessert is filled with BEANS?!
I cried and cried during the hours leading up to bedtime, convinced that there was NO WAY Santa would bring me a Barbie Townhouse if his treats did not match anything I had seen in school books or TV. Mom only snapped back at me and insisted that these hopia were perfectly delicious and were way better than the chocolate-chip whatevers American kids gave Santa each year. She prepared the plate of hopia, along with a mug of tea for Santa. Feeling defeated and embarrassed, I went to bed knowing full well that I would not get that townhouse.
I woke up the next morning and rushed to the living room. Sure enough, under the tree was THE TOWNHOUSE. I glanced over to the plate Mom left out for Santa. The plate was nearly empty except for one remaining piece of hopia. Hopia was a perfectly fine treat for Santa Claus, and I needn’t be embarrassed of my culture’s food.
Jennifer Esperanza's Food Story