Arts & Culture: Diversity Dialogue

Cultural Diversity and Inclusion in the Arts in New York State’s Southern Tier

MoonCakes

Today I am in heaven for a moment.  I received a care package, a gift from an old dear friend who knows I could not get the contents anywhere near here.

I guess what it is by the shape of the packege, a squarish rectangle, and the date, the timing… I can’t be sure, could it, could it be that time of year again? She has wrapped the box twice.

The outer layer is an inverted whole foods paper bag, the next layer is a red and white plastic bag that confirms my anticipation. It is from Fung Wong’s Bakery, which makes the best mooncakes in Chinatown.

Tears arise as I type this, but  when unwrapping the package, it was my mouth that watered. My four cakes are lotus seed, wintermelon and black bean, with and without the golden orbs of egg yokes in their centers. The Moon Festival began on 9/14 , my friend writes.

The Mid-Autumn Festival, also called the Moon Festival, has been celebrated for centuries. Traditionally, on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month in observance of the bountiful autumn harvest, Chinese families gather for a day to relax and eat moon cakes.

The plastic shopping bag is handsome, red and white with gold. The box is beautiful, red with yellow and gold which shines and in the center a dragon and phoenix with clouds… In short, it is a treat for the eyes, and I am feasting before I’ve opened the box.

The four cakes are embossed, rounded-edge squares and a circle, Each cake has a character embossed/enscribed on its gold-brown top. By chance, the one I choose to slice a bit from first, is my favorite, black bean. The taste is not like beans at all, nor sugary, but dense sweet foodiness, a desert food; the hearty aspect of delicacy, a filling treat.

There is no Moon Festival in Corning for me to attend, but the art on the plastic shopping bag and the art on the box are transporting. I think of my other home with gratitude, how this delicious pastry and my friend taught and brought me another tradition, mythology and inspiration.

I’ve written poems about mooncakes. In one legend they were used to smuggle messages in time of war.  Mooncakes – which the Mongols did not eat – were the perfect vehicle for hiding and passing along plans for the Chinese rebellion in the 14th century.

This pastry led me to create, taught me about others, and its packaging provides me with iconic art and design.

These mooncakes are my sign of hope, continuance and tasty joy.

 

Moon Cake Box from Fung Wong Bakery

Moon Cake Box from Fung Wong Bakery

 

 

Sliced Black Bean Mooncake and others

Sliced Black Bean Mooncake and others

 

 

 

About Akua Lezli Hope

Akua Lezli Hope uses sound, words, fiber, glass, metal, and wire to create poems, patterns, stories, music, sculpture, adornments, and peace. She wrote her first speculative poems in the sixth grade and has been in print every year, except one, since 1974 with over 400 poems published. Her collections and chapbooks include Embouchure: Poems on Jazz and Other Musics (ArtFarm Press, 1995; Writer’s Digest book award winner), Them Gone (The Word Works, 2018), Otherwheres: Speculative Poetry (ArtFarm Press, 2020; a 2021 Elgin Award winner), and Stratospherics (a micro-chapbook of scifaiku available from the Quarantine Public Library). A Cave Canem fellow, her honors include the NEA, two NYFAs, an SFPA award, and multiple Rhysling and Pushcart Prize nominations. She has won Rattle’s Poets Respond twice and launched Speculative Sundays, an online poetry reading series. Her work has also been published in numerous literary magazines and national anthologies, including: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, The 100 Best African American Poems (Sourcebooks MediaFusion, 2010); Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora (Warner Aspect, 2000), Asimov’s Science Fiction, Gyroscope Review, Pensive: A Global Journal of Spirituality & the Arts, Strange Horizons, Star*Line, SciFaikuest, Eye to the Telescope, The New Verse News, Breath & Shadow, The Crafty Poet II: A Portable Workshop (Terrapin Books, 2016), The Cossack Review, Silver Blade Magazine, Stone Canoe, and Three Coyotes. She is the editor of the record-breaking sea-themed issue of Eye To The Telescope #42, and of NOMBONO: An Anthology of Speculative Poetry by BIPOC Creators, the first of its kind, from Sundress Publications (2021). A third-generation New Yorker and an avid hand papermaker and crochet designer, she exhibits her artwork regularly. She sings songs from her favorite anime in Japanese, practices her soprano saxophone, and prays for the cessation of suffering for all sentience from the ancestral land of the Seneca, the Southern Finger Lakes region of New York State.

2 comments on “MoonCakes

  1. Connie Sullivan-Blum
    September 24, 2008

    I love this entry! It amazes me how something so fundamental to life – food – can create a bridge between cultures and spark creativity.

    Once, while teaching an individualized study on Anthropology, I decided to take my student on small, local field trips. I wanted her to apply the concepts of Anthropology not just pass some tests. On one of our trips, I took her to the Japanese box lunch restaurant in Corning for some sushi. I watched her turn green as she tried to eat it. I had to let her stop and admired her effort. It made me realize that simple things like one’s taste in food are developed by exposure. (When I was a child and turned my nose up at new foods, my mother used to say, “You don’t know what good is.”)

    Food is art. Like other art forms, we learn what’s good and what we enjoy only through exposure. This idea takes me back to Akua’s last entry about the mobile library. My own exposure (such as it is) to diverse people, ideas, art forms and foods began when my older sister met me once a week at the public library in our town. Over the years through the love and nurture and sometimes confrontation of many people I have come to enjoy the richness of diverse art, people who are different from me, and lots of wonderful foods. I think Mooncakes are the meaning of life.

  2. akualezli
    September 24, 2008

    Yes, there is art for every sense: for eyes, for ears, for palate, for nose…
    There is delight when all are satisfied, or excited. Thanks for your
    insights and warm thoughts.

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