On her way to understanding, she interviews psychiatrists and neuroscientists. She returns to her California hometown of San Jose to talk to former classmates and teachers about the parental abuse she remembers as rampant in her diverse immigrant community. Foo, whose parents are Malaysian parents, argues that this abuse is the dark side of the ‘model minority’ stereotype: ‘I am a product of place,’ she writes. “We are all victims of a dysfunctional community that was very good at smothering itself while muttering, ‘Smile through your tears. Swallow your pain.’”
On the road to healing, Foo quits her stressful job at “This American Life” and tries everything from eye movement therapy or EMDR to yin yoga, acupuncture, breathwork, sound baths, gratitude, and hallucinogens. Some chapters feel overcrowded with summarized therapeutic activities. But there are also many impactful moments, such as when Foo says to her child self during an EMDR session, “Remember that in the end you shall be loved, I promise.” And she will be. In the last part of the book, we see Foo getting married, surrounded by her chosen family, “flawed and still growing, yet full of light.”
In the essay collection YOU HAVE CHANGED: Fake Accents, Feminism, and Other Myanmar Comedies (214 pp., Catapult, $26), Pyae Moe Thet War reflects on the historical, political and social forces that have influenced her feelings about her homeland, culture, language, body and more.
On the basis of two essays, she clearly examines her emotionally charged relationship with her own name. “Myanmar families usually don’t have shared surnames,” she writes, “and we never have middle names,” a reality that confuses many Westerners. Her official name, Moe Thet War, is one whole name, not meant to be divided into parts. But people close to her call her Pyae Pyae, a name that many foreigners find difficult to pronounce correctly – first at the international school she attends in Myanmar’s then capital Yangon, then at university in the United States and graduate school. in England. As a student, she considers using a Western nickname and realizes that she herself unconsciously mispronounces Pyae Pyae to “accommodate my white teachers,” which is an intimate and powerful example of how postcolonialism and globalization are breaking identities.
Several other essays use food as a lens to examine racism, body-shaming, and societal expectations based on nationality. Is the author’s passion for western baking the result of internalized racism? Should she be ashamed that she doesn’t know how to make curries like her grandmother? How can she reconcile the fact that ‘being Myanmar means loving rice’ with the criticism and criticism she endures for eating too much of it? “Women are consistently accused of it hangry‘, she writes wryly, ‘but of course we are getting hungry. Look what you’ve made of us.”
Some essays end too neatly. A reflection on how cultural and family pressures, immigration policies and love for the home have doomed a long-distance relationship ends with, “We just couldn’t get our paperwork in order.” But these are only minor detractions from the beautiful complexity of a fresh and insightful debut.