AAPI Heritage Month: "In My Culture Food is a Love Language"

Thank you for celebrating AAPI Heritage Month with us. Our last story comes from Mei Louie, who works as champion engagement coordinator, connecting chefs and celebrities to the mission of No Kid Hungry. She shared what makes her proud of her Asian roots and how they inspire the drive to work on ending childhood hunger. 

I am a second-generation Chinese American and a product of where I was born and raised, where I currently reside, my parents, and the community by my side. My mom immigrated from Taiwan to America when she was 16 years old. My dad was born and raised in Los Angeles. His parents, my grandparents immigrated from China and worked extremely hard to make a living and raise four kids in this country.  My parents raised my sister and I in Alameda, Calif., an island city within the Bay Area.

Starting in kindergarten, I expressed to my mom that I didn’t like my given name - Kierstyn. My mom introduced me to the name “Mei-Mei” which translates to little sister in Chinese. It stuck with me ever since (I go by Mei now). This holds so much meaning to me as it's an everyday representation of my culture I continue to carry with me, regardless of the wrong pronunciations and rare perplexed comments I receive, it's a part of my identity. 

mom and two daughters

I always pay homage to my upbringing as it fostered my values of diversity and embracing different cultures other than my own. These roots correlate directly to my passion for serving and helping others. All of the schools I attended consisted of students of all different backgrounds, mainly people of color. 

In Asian culture, food is a love language. In grade school, I would always arrive at class with a full stomach and a packed lunch. But I observed this was not the case for my classmates and many of them got in a separate line for free or reduced priced school lunch. I remember sharing my snacks and sometimes splitting my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with my classmates if they didn’t have anything to eat. Throughout high school to college, I was a part of community service clubs where we would volunteer at homeless shelters and prepare and serve hot meals or help pack boxes at local food banks. 

My parents have always instilled in me to treat others with kindness and respect no matter what they look like, and to always stand up for what is right. I reflect on how my culture and this personal upbringing is linked to my commitment to serve. My culture is more focused on the collective rather than the individual. We are not meant to go through life and hard times alone. 

I experienced my parents getting divorced at a young age. Though in separate households, my parents always provided for my sister and I’s basic needs and more. This experience has made me empathize with others' life experiences. My own experience helped me appreciate being cared for. Even though my parents were separated, they both did the best they could with what they had to provide for us. I had food on the table every day and my parents made sure I always had food to bring to school. I ultimately was given the resources I needed to succeed and do my best in my classes.

No one in this country should have to go hungry, especially kids. Hunger and being food insecure is something we can fix. It cannot happen overnight, in a year, or even a decade. We need to continue to think globally and act locally and must continue to mobilize and organize together within our communities and personal circles. 

photo of little girl

I am gratified to be surrounded and working alongside my colleagues here at Share Our Strength and team No Kid Hungry who share the same values, to make the world a better place for our country’s kids and families, and for the generations to come. With them and my local community, I promise to continue to use my strengths and passion to empower and uplift vulnerable communities, and do whatever I can in my power to ensure that they have the resources and support they need to thrive and reach their fullest potential.

In the words of actress Sandra Oh, “It’s an honor just to be Asian”. Not only during the month of May, but everyday, I celebrate my Asian culture and roots. My culture and values from my parents have made me the woman I am today, and all that I aspire for my community. With the Asian hate we have been experiencing lately, it only drives me more to combat the hate and show up for myself, my Asian community, and other communities of color who are going through similar injustices. This AAPI Heritage month, I want to tribute both sides of my grandparents and continue to honor their legacies.