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Q&A with Sarno Brothers of Whole Foods Market

Brothers Chad and Derek Sarno are whizzes in the kitchen and have a wicked sense of humor (plus, they might just be ninjas). Both have chopped, sautéed, and led the way as Whole Foods Market’s culinary educators, and Chad has a new cookbook out (Crazy Sexy Kitchen, with Kris Carr), but the busy brothers just couldn’t resist taking on another plant-based project––this time together. Wicked Healthy Food is a blog offering plant-strong recipes that are accessible even to the cooking-challenged and enticing enough for the veg-curious. Chad took a little time out of his hectic schedule to answer a few of our most pressing questions––mainly, where can we find the most wickedly healthy food?

VegNews: You and Derek recently teamed up to start Wicked Healthy Food; tell us about Wicked Healthy’s inception.
Chad Sarno: As brothers, we have always pushed each other to do better as only brothers can do. It started out as just a fun thing to do, and the simple ‘say how it is’ approach has been very well received––cutting out all the nonsense around healthy eating and keeping it real honest and basic. Both of us come from different culinary angles and styles as far as food, so it only made sense to team up and combine resources. Although we have different backgrounds and cuisine, we both feel strongly that enjoying plants as the center of any meal is the only way to go to be Wicked Healthy.

VN: Your first connection with health and diet came after you realized dairy may have been behind your childhood asthma––can you talk more about how you and Derek made the transition to plant-based living?
CS:
 Yes, having that first hand experience was the ‘a-ha’ moment for me and no-brainer connection between food and health. For both of us, we have been cooking all our lives and through the years our individual work has shed light on how important food is to being properly nourished. It’s amazing that we have this wonderful gift of common sense and yet, when it comes to our health, we refuse to use it. Wicked Healthy has the mission to demystify healthy eating by showing that simply getting in the kitchen is the foundation of knowledge we all need for a solid healthy path.

VN: There’s a lot of talk recently about superfoods. Do you and Derek have a contender to throw into the ring that you think everyone should add to their shopping list?
CS:
 Sriracha hot sauce is a superfood. Why? Because the simple condiment allows people to eat things they might not normally eat. We’ve recently been making our own fresh and it’s awesome; we’ll be featuring some recipes on the blog soon, for sure. As far as eating healthier, this superfood allows you to eat all the best foods with little to no salt, and it only takes a small amount. Derek is obsessed with it. I love it (and love spice in general). Giving your dishes that kick not only allows you to cut back on salt, fat, and sugars, but can also put simple rice and beans over the top.

VN: What’s your day-to-day like, balancing Whole Foods, Wicked Healthy, and other projects? And Derek’s?
CS: We both love to make a difference in people’s lives no matter what we are doing. Whole Foods Market is such an amazing company to work for; we’re both very thankful for the opportunities it presents us, and being surrounded by such conscious leaders in the industry is truly a blessing. We are driven by passion and being of service with everything we do. One good thing about being brothers is we both keep each other in check whether we like it or not and it’s not uncommon for us to wrestle over who’s right or wrong or who’s the better cook. We both travel two to three weeks a month with our current jobs, for training, public events, and working with venders. Finding our personal balance is always a challenge with being on the road so much––giving time for gratitude and stillness is essential.

VN: What are some upcoming projects you two have on your plates?
CS: Supper clubs, culinary trainings, and books. We recently started doing super secret underground supper clubs in a number of cities, which is an opportunity to showcase Wicked Healthy. Trainings and weekend events have also been in discussion and planning stages, and will give our community the opportunity to cook together and get inspired in the kitchen, Wicked Healthy-style. We are in the beginning process of a cookbook as well, which will showcase both our styles in the kitchen.

VN: As a fellow Austinite, I just have to ask: can you let us in on the best-kept secret veg dishes in Austin (or just places with great food)?
CS: We are a bit biased; so our first choice would be Whole Foods Market. As far as Austin’s veggie food scene, it seems like it has been slowly growing over the years but still has lots of room to continue to grow. An all-vegan, sit-down, date-night kinda restaurant would do stellar in the city. Pho Dan off of Braker Lane is the bomb for veggie phở, offering a veggie broth, which not all places do. Korea House and China Cafe are also great options. The food truck scene is rocking, and it’s also easy to eat tacos three meals a day in Austin––just about everywhere you can get excellent veggie tacos.

Be sure to check out Chad and Derek’s blog Wicked Healthy Food for some of the latest recipes brewing in their kitchen. Or stop by their Facebook for some daily recipes and inspiration in support of your Wicked Healthy life.

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9 Simple Substitutions for Common Food Allergies

Food allergies are the worst. For some, it could be a deadly anaphylactic reaction; while for others, it’s a bad stomachache that makes Timmy’s birthday cake unpalatable. Soy, wheat, peanuts, and tree nuts are among the most common food allergies, but coconut and citrus fruits make their mark (in the form of hives) too. While food allergies have been on the rise in recent years, the silver lining is that more people are aware of allergens, and there’s a bounty of substitutes just waiting to be tossed, baked, and blended into your treats. With these readily available alternatives, you can have your soy-, gluten-, peanut-, tree nut-, citrus-, and coconut-free cake and eat it too.

Citrus
Citrus allergies can be quite sour. Though not as widely discussed as other allergens, citrus fruits, such as lemon, lime, grapefruit, and orange, cause about three percent of adolescents, and many adults, discomfort. With so many drinks topped with lime or zested with orange, we feel for those who spend Saturday nights seeking a citrus-free adult beverage. Vegan White Russians and other creamy cocktails are a safe bet, as are grape, pear, or watermelon-based drinks––none of which are citrus fruits. Strawberry, raspberry, and apples are also in the clear; so give this Apple Cider Sangria recipe a try for your next book club meeting.

Coconut
Coconut, with its thick and creamy consistency, is a vegan staple often used to replace dairy. It’s the base of ice creams, curries, and sweet drinks everywhere, and while there are plenty of cruelty-free alternatives (rice, oat, or soymilk or even mashed up soaked cashews) that can easily be called in to take the place of coconut in recipes, some of us just want a coconut-free dish without the research and math that goes along with substitutes. If coconut allergies have kept you from digging into ice cream or curry, check out this raw Vegan Vanilla Ice Cream that uses a cashew base, or nosh on some lentil curry that is totally coconut-free.

Peanut
Peanut allergies are one of the most common food allergies today. With an occurrence of nearly one in every 50 children and one out of every 200 adults, peanut-heavy cuisines, such as Thai food, and childhood favorite peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are off limits. These allergens are often the cause of anaphylaxis, a severe condition where patients’ throats swell, closing off airways. Thankfully there are plenty of seeds––sesame, pumpkin, and hemp to name a few––that have a nutty flavor and are offered in butter-form. We can’t get over this divine and simple DIY Pumpkin (Pie) Seed Butter. Forget PB&J: pumpkin seed butter is like magic on toast.

Tree nut
Tree nuts are another common trigger that affect nearly 1.8 million Americans. While cashews, hazelnuts, pine nuts, and macadamia nuts are among those that should be avoided, there are a bevy of nut-like choices available to the tree-nut intolerant. Sunflower seeds lower risk of heart disease and make a great substitute for tree nuts with the added benefit of anti-inflammatory properties. Next time you’re in need of a healthy meal, feeling a little puffy, or just in the mood for delicious noodles, toss some pasta with Miso Sunflower Seed Sauce or go ahead and dip your spring rolls in it.

Soy
Beloved by many vegans, soy is also a source of much heartache––or at least stomachache––for those allergic and intolerant. Soy allergies are not as common in adults as they are in children; almost 300,000 people younger than 18 show signs of a soy allergy. But regardless of age, it poses a real problem when it comes to pizza as many come covered in soy cheese. The first dairy-free cheese, made of fermented tofu, is said to have originated in Asia in the 1500s. Luckily, vegan cheese isn’t what it used to be, and has grown beyond just soy. Kathy Patalsky’sPesto Cashew Ricotta Pizza is a perfect example of how delicious soy-free cheese can be.

Wheat
Wheat is a major problem not only for those with celiac disease (gluten intolerance) but also people with wheat allergies (they’re two different ailments). Wheat may well be the most prevalent grain; it’s found in everyday staples such as bread, pasta, and seitan, as well as in obscure places like caramel coloring and soy sauce. Reading labels and having a keen eye is key to managing this allergy. Replace traditional flour with tapioca or rice flour in your baked goods, or pop this Chocolate Swirl Banana Bread into the oven and take it easy because life without wheat is good.

In case you’re still thinking about that allergen-free cake we promised, here’s one sure to win you and your friends over. With these simple swaps, you needn’t fret another moment about missing out on good eats because of food allergies.

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DIY Upcycle Projects for Earth Day

If you’re feeling crafty and looking to spend Earth Day (April 22nd) upcycling goods you probably already have on hand, then we’ve got just the thing for you. Whether it’s a vintage necklace pulled together with just three easy steps, a modern wine rack whipped up in minutes, or a chic mirror made with plastic spoons, here are 13 awesome projects using materials you were thinking about throwing out.

1. Button Bowl
Everyone has drawers full of buttons: stragglers that fall off your favorite sweater or those extras that come in small plastic baggies that you’ll never use. Why not glue a few together to create a beautiful artisan bowl (to hold the buttons of future purchases).

2. Button Necklace
What’s that? You have even more buttons lying around? Try this simple wearable project in the form of a button necklace. Why wait to replace missing buttons when you can display them as a cute DIY accessory? Don’t have a glue gun? No problem, try thiswired version.

3. Calendar Envelopes
With each new year comes a new pile of outdated calendars. The glossy paper and high quality photos keep you from throwing them out, but instead of collecting dust why not share the beautiful images with friends and family? Just a few quick folds and slivers of tape, and you can turn each page into a custom envelope.

4. Canned Wine Rack
If there’s one thing we can’t live without here at the VNHQ, it’s coffee. And while it’s great that we’re awake and ready for any editorial problems that come our way, we just can’t help but feel bad about all the coffee tins we leave empty week after week. That’s where this incredibly easy wine rack comes in. Plus, wine comes in at a close second to coffee in our hearts.

5. Cardboard Laptop Stand
Maybe everyone isn’t as lucky as we are with all the neat new products shipped to our office, but there’s no doubt that everyone has cardboard boxes lying around. What better way to reduce waste than to reuse it to prop up your laptop? Doable for even the craft-challenged, there’s no need to drop a bunch of cash on an expensive stand with this quick project.

6. Cork Bath Mat
We admit you’ll notice a trend in these projects––we looked up several ways to repurpose party leftovers––and this bath mat made of wine corks may just be our favorite. A simple glue-and-go activity, it’s almost as much of a good time as drinking all the wine bottles needed to make this chic bathroom accessory.

7. Corona Drinking Glasses
There’s nothing worse than having to throw away bottle after bottle after a fun Saturday night, but with this slightly mad-scientist project involving household chemicals and glass, you can turn those empty Coronas into reusable drink ware. Fill your cabinets with these homemade cups and save money while reducing waste.

8. Drawer Bulletin Board
If you’re like us and can’t resist a certain large Swedish furniture store, you probably have a closet full of broken or un-built dressers. Clear out that closet and use those drawers to make a cute bulletin board––maybe even pin up those ridiculous doodled instructions that came with the 64-piece dresser.

9. Magazine Trash Can
While we know you archive each issue of VegNews, sometimes other magazines clutter your house and wreak havoc on your halls, so instead of putting them in the bin, make one out of the rolled up pages. Colorful and handy, these trash cans are as much a housekeeping perk as a work of art.

10. Pop Tab Lamp Shade
Whether sourced from beer cans or cans of soda (we’re not judging), pop tabs are ubiquitous. We remember the days when they were made into necklaces, but we’ve never seen pop tabs used in such an innovative way as this lamp shade. Paint the tabs to make a colorful pattern or leave them as is for a sleek, industrial look.

11. Plastic Spoon Mirror
As the temperatures rise, so do the number of Sunday picnics and that means the return of those white plastic utensils heaped in trash bins in the park. Why throw them away when you can just add glue and transform them into this fabulous mirror to spruce up any wall––just don’t forget to wash them before using.

12. Six-Pack Utensil Holder
There are very few things wrong with seasonal beers other than the urge to purchase them all, but along with the fun that comes with six packs, there’s also the cardboard holder that quickly fills up garbage cans. Adorn your BYOB picnic spread with a jazzyutensil holder courtesy of an upcycled carrier.

13. T-shirt Rug
We share your pain of dressers full of worn out T-shirts. Use them to create a unique braided rug and forget all about those terrible baby doll tees that should have stayed in the 90s. With just a couple simple twists, you can have new floor décor or for a no sew, fringe rug, try this one.

If you’ve glued, braided, and folded your way through all of these upcycling projects and are hankering for more, check out the Mecca of DIY recycling inspiration: Phoenix Commotion is a Texas construction company that builds low-cost houses using upcycled materials found on the side of the road, recovered from left over construction projects, and salvaged from trash piles. Happy Earth Day!

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13 New and Unique Ways to Eat PB&J

Celebrate National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day (April 2) with innovative recipes that go beyond bread.

Things that trigger vivid memories of childhood: bowl cuts, swing sets, velcro shoes, and peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. We remember plenty of days spent swinging away, the wind blowing through our perfectly straight-edged bangs, our velcro-ed feet kicking gleefully in the air, and our chipmunk cheeks smeared with PB&J. While those were indeed the days, who says adults can’t enjoy the childhood staple? Here are 13 dishes bringing peanut butter and jelly back––though we’d advise leaving the bowl cut in the past.

Blondies
Blondies are brownies minus the cocoa powder; the decadent dessert bars use brown sugar in place of the traditional brownie’s cocoa and we like it. Take the already unconventional a step further by whipping up a batch of these Gooey Peanut Butter and Jelly Blondies for your next picnic. Plus, they’re made with garbanzo beans so those with gluten intolerance can enjoy worry-free.

Breakfast Pizza
If you picked up our March + April 2013 issue, you know how much we love breakfast pizza. What could possibly elevate breakfast pizza to the next level? You guessed it, everyone’s favorite sweet combination of peanut butter and jelly. Pop this healthy protein-packed Peanut Butter, Jam, and Banana Breakfast Pizza in the oven to kick any morning off right.

Chocolate Cups
One of the many reasons we love PB&J so much is that it’s appropriate for any meal. With breakfast covered, how about indulging in a bite-sized chocolatey snack? Topped with a sprinkling of sea salt, these Chocolate Peanut Butter and Jelly Cups are more than your typical store-bought candy. Wait, it gets better; there’s no baking involved and they’re simple to make.

Fudge
We know what you’re thinking: I’ve got these delicious PB&J chocolate cups, wouldn’t fudge be just too much chocolate? While we don’t think there’s such thing as too much chocolate, for those concerned we have good news: the Peanut Butter and Jelly Fudgeis rich, decadent, and free of chocolate––not to mention there are only six ingredients.

Ice Cream Bars
As the temperature outside begins to rise, we’re reminiscent of days spent lounging in the grass noshing on a PB&J, so imagine our excitement when we saw that our beloved sandwich could be made in ice cream bar form. What better way to ring in warm spring days? Oh, and did we mention that they’re raw? Consider our minds officially blown.

Linzer Cookies
Be still our hearts, these adorable peanut butter and jelly heart-shaped linzer cookies beg to be eaten. Dusted to perfection with powdered sugar, the cookies sandwich a swath of raspberry jam between peanut buttery goodness. While it suggests a card accompany these sweets with the message, “We go together like peanut butter and jelly,” we’d be too busy eating the cookies to read it.

Mousse Bars
No need to worry about anything sticking to the roof of your mouth with this light and fluffy peanut butter and strawberry jam dessert. With the slightly tart but delightfully sweet strawberry layered between smooth peanut butter and salty chopped peanuts, the PB&J mousse bar is frankly irresistible and, by the way, sugar-, soy-, and gluten-free.

Muffins
Sometimes pizza for breakfast just isn’t what you’re in the mood for, and what you need is a more traditional grab-and-go start to your day. That’s where peanut butter and jelly-filled muffins come in. Made with bananas, rice milk, and flaxseed, Robin Asbell’s Elvis-style muffins from Big Vegan are the way to go for breakfast, lunch, or a mid-afternoon snack.

Oatmeal Pancakes
It’s no secret that a dollop of peanut butter, and perhaps a surreptitious scoop of jelly for the adventurist, can brighten up any dull bowl of oatmeal, but we bet you didn’t think of serving up the morning staple in a decadent yet healthy stack of pancakes. With oatmeal as the inspiration for the pancake batter, we think these PB&J Oatcakes are perfect for Flapjack Fridays.

Popcorn Balls
Move over boring movie snacks, popcorn is about to get a whole lot better. Veggie Gal’s Peanut Butter and Jelly Popcorn Balls are a melty mix of peanut butter, jelly, brown rice syrup, vanilla, and a pinch of salt for good measure. Sweet and sticky in all the right places, debut these sure-to-be-a-hit munchies at your next movie night––just make sure to have plenty of napkins on hand.

Popsicles
While the mere mention of a sugary peanut butter and jelly ice pop makes our mouth water, we can’t believe how pretty these popsicles are; brightly colored jelly frozen beneath a layer of rich, cool peanut butter––the only thing missing from the Peanut Butter and Jellies is the man in the white paper hat and his ice cream truck.

Smoothie
Sometimes we’re running a little late and can’t be bothered to prep, mix, and bake our way to a full stomach. Luckily, the household blender lends itself well to whipping up delicious meals in seconds, and this Peanut Butter and Jelly Smoothie is just that––a satisfying blend of nutty almond milk and the natural sweetness of dates and blueberries ready after one quick whirl. There’s plenty of omega-3s and antioxidants to go around.

Stuffed French Toast
Oh la la! French toast buried beneath a mound of luscious peanut butter and jelly’s fancy French cousin strawberry compote has arrived. Not only are the slices of baguette toasted to golden perfection, but they’re also filled with caramelized bananas and dairy-free cream cheese. Roll up the sleeves of your silk pajamas and get ready to daintily dig in on your next trés chic Sunday morning brunch.

For those of you hankering for a PB&J throwback but just don’t have time to turn on the oven or pull out the blender, we present to you Van Gogh’s peanut butter and jelly flavored vodka. We’d like to make a toast (smothered in peanut butter and jelly), and wish you a sweet National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day.

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Congratulations, Mr. Hyphen 2013

Hyphen Juice in hand, fans of the Mr. Hyphen pagent gathered in San Francisco’s Brava Theater to cheer on the four sexy contestants as they sang, danced, and wooed their way into the judge’s hearts.

Miguel N. Abad, Niño-Pierre Galang, Tim Huey, and Sean Miura entertained the crowd with their wit, charm, and swagger, and perhaps it was the magical, potent Hyphen Juice (read: vodka), but there was most definitely a unicorn sighting.

The evening provided plenty of laughs, powerful spoken word performances, and a chance to come together to celebrate the work of these four fantastic community organizers. Alas, though all of the finalists are absolutely fabulous, a winner had to be crowned.

In the final surprise round of the competition, Miguel, Niño, Tim, and Sean had 5 minutes to style themselves and present their outfit on stage. Sean — dressed in a camouflage tee, sky blue jacket, and khakis with a coat hanger dangling from his pocket — stepped up to the plate and hit a home run when he broke down his style choice for the audience: the hanger was a message for those working toward social justice and equality to “hang in there”, the camo was symbolic encouragement to “fight on,” and the blue jacket was to let everyone in the community know that “the sky is the limit.” Boom.

And with that, L.A.’s Sean Miura was crowned Mr. Hyphen 2013 and won $1000 for his charity of choice, Tuesday Night Project — an organization dedicated to the cultivation of the Asian American art scene in Los Angeles.

To see photos from the 7th annual Mr. Hyphen competition, click here. And be sure to check out the other great organizations repped by Miguel (ASPIRE: Asian Students Promoting Immigrant Rights through Education), Niño (Mabuhay Health Center), and Tim (Asian Law Caucus).

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Q&A with Mr. Hyphen Finalist

Born in the Philippines and raised in the Bay Area, Miguel is the Student Life Program Director at College Track in Bayview-Hunters Point, San Francisco. A proud graduate of the City College of San Francisco and the University of California, Los Angeles, he also serves on the Educator Action Group for Educators for Fair Consideration (E4FC) to increase support for undocumented students. Miguel’s mission is to serve the youth most impacted by the opportunity gap and help guide young people in taking the responsibility of creating a more equitable society.

Hyphen: Why did you want to get involved with Mr. Hyphen?

Miguel: I felt that I could utilize whatever attention I may garner from Mr. Hyphen in order to promote and bring visibility to the issues and topics that are important to me — whether it be education, youth, immigration or Bayview-Hunters Point. I also feel like being part of this year’s festivities is going to be both fun and a humbling experience. I’ve been able to meet and speak to most of the other contestants, and it has been so encouraging to see the crucial, inspiring work that these Asian brothers have devoted their life’s blood to. And as many of the young people like to tell me every day, “Why not? YOLO!”

Describe a typical day for you.

During the day, I am bouncing around the city meeting with program and community partners. From 4 to 7 pm, I am usually at my program site with College Track, where I supervise and coordinate art and music programs, yoga classes, and leadership workshops. In addition, I reach out to young people about various employment and internship opportunities available to them in San Francisco. I also do my best to practice my own personal wellness by playing pick-up basketball games at the YMCA and reading.

What spurred you to pursue work in educational equality?

I grew up in a home where my parents didn’t have the privilege of obtaining a college education. Of all my best childhood friends, I was one of the few who was able to have that privilege. I feel that it is my duty to promote and support young people in achieving their educational and life goals. Everyday, in the faces of the youth I serve, I also see the faces of my childhood friends who didn’t make it. Through my work, I want to honor the past, the dreams, and the memories of those who weren’t able to access a higher education. I do the majority of my work in the Bayview-Hunters Point community of San Francisco, which is one of the most historically and culturally rich communities in the city. The success of Bayview and the young people in this community will have very real implications on the future of San Francisco, which cannot be overlooked or ignored.

If you could give a message to today’s youth — what would it be?

Adults don’t hold all the answers. The main thing I continually remind the young people I work with is that they have loud, powerful, valuable and important voices. There are many ways to express those voices, whether it’s through community service, leadership, school, work or a job. The first step is to set your voice free.

What upcoming projects do you have on your plate/are most excited about?

Recently, I began to get involved with an organization based in Oakland known as Brothers on the Rise. While the organization is small, they are providing crucial early engagement for boys of color. They provide programming at elementary and middle schools in the bay area focused on helping boys of color develop life skills that promote health and success through leadership, enrichment opportunities as well as counseling. Secondly, I began my journey at College Track about four years ago, and the young people who joined the program during that time are now high school seniors. Together, we’ve gone through a long and arduous journey. Despite the odds stacked against them going into high school, the resilience and tenacity that each of these seniors has displayed continually reaffirms my faith in our young people. All 40 have received acceptances to colleges and universities all over the state and country. I have no doubt that they’re going to contribute positive change to this world and at the same time rep their families and communities.

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Dr. Thuy Linh Tu Visits UT-Austin for Center for Asian American Studies Event

Dr. Thuy Linh Tu Visits UT-Austin for Center for Asian American Studies Event
By Melissa Nguyen

Dr. Thuy Linh Tu, author of The Beautiful Generation: Asian Americans and the Cultural Economy of Fashion (Duke University Press, 2010) and Associate Professor of Social and Cultural Studies at NYU, gave a talk sponsored by the Center for Asian American Studies, American Studies, and School of Human Ecology on the role of Asian Americans in the fashion industry.

Historically, Asian Americans have been relegated to low-wage “unskilled labor” positions in the industry such as cutters and sewers. But in the last 20 years, Asian Americans have emerged onto the creative scene with eminent names such as Philip Lam, Thakoon Panichgul, Doo-Ri Chung and Jason Wu, who designed the white chiffon gown Michelle Obama wore at her husband’s presidential inauguration. So just how did the image of Asian Americans in the fashion industry go from behind-the-scenes garment workers to nationally televised chic designers?

Tu noticed during the 1990’s boutification of New York City, boutification meaning the emergence of small designer owned shops, that Asian Americans made up the majority of owners and roughly 40% of the students in top NYC design schools such as Parsons and the Fashion Institute. Children of sewing worker families, these designers were moving beyond labor intensive production and toward the creative entrepreneurship end of fashion. Many had learned to cut and sew at home from their parents and Tu’s interviewees claimed, “it was in their blood.” As one trained in the social sciences, however, Tu refused to accept “naturalizing a set of social influences” as an explanation.

While the majority of garment sewing is still done by Asian Americans and Latinos, the emergence of Asian American designers fostered a new type of interaction between manufacturers and creators: an “architecture intimacy” beyond just an economic relationship. Through language and rituals of kinship, designers and sewers engaged in informal exchanges that reveal a mutual sense of family obligation in which designers wanted to assist sewers by giving them a steady stream of work and sewers wanted to help designers succeed with quicker turn-around and occasional gifts of free or discounted fabric left over from other projects. Tu noted the benefits this “gift economy” granted to Asian American designers seeking to make their way in a highly competitive career.

While the gift economy is rather unique to Asian Americans in the fashion industry—most likely because Asian Americans now own many garment factories—Tu was quick to strike down any stereotypical familial obligation reasoning for the informal exchange. Instead, the “architecture intimacy” shared between the sewers and designers is perhaps a rebuttal to the historical exclusion of minority groups from the visible, creative realm of the fashion industry; ironically, Asian chic, the appropriation of Asian culture by Western designers, has been a staple of New York fashion for decades.

It is not true that the sharing of resources through the gift economy was always a win-win situation for all involved, however. Tu observed that as with any sort of exchange, there is give and take and there is conflict. For the designers, this produced some power struggles in which sewers assumed the status of elder “aunties” or “uncles” with the designers finding themselves in a parent-child like dynamic. One of Tu’s interviewees rehashed an exchange where an aunty was telling her how the design should be, taking over and overruling the designer’s wishes. In this situation, it is hard to really tell who is actually “designing” the dress. In the case of sewers, it may be difficult to voice needs such as wages or perhaps more time to work on a particular garment. The relationship, and thus, the expectations of both parties are ambiguous and perhaps tougher to resolve outside the realms of more straightforward business transactions.

Tu observed that while most other designers consciously place distance between themselves and the “unskilled laborers” to define and distinguish their role in the creative process, Asian Americans capitalize on language of kinship and build social relationships with their sewers. This alliance is an essential part of what has allowed many Asian American designers to thrive in an industry as gendered and radicalized as fashion (1).

As Tu emphasized in her talk: culture has the ability to domesticate difference. So what is the future of the fashion industry? Can we expect this gift economy to continue? Perhaps not, said Tu. Given the economic meltdown following 9/11, many of the NYC boutiques have shut down and production has slowed. Tu is asked by an attendee of the talk: Will there be a resurgence in the near future? “Not likely,” she answered, “informal relations like this falter with pressures of social circumstances.” Though Asian American designers, such as Jason Wu, continue to garner acclaim, perhaps the architecture intimacy between designers and sewers is less common. Though fashion is a glamour industry where not much thought is given to the origins of a beautiful dress, Tu’s talk and new book details the negotiations beyond business transactions that go into creating a garment. And as one last nail in the NYC-cultivated gift economy coffin, an audience member raised his hand to ask Dr. Tu who designed her shoes. They’re French, she lamented.

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1. http://www.hyphenmagazine.com/blog/archive/2011/02/beautiful-generation-asian-americans-and-culturaleconomy-fashion

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laguardia to orlando international

i flew to orlando out of LGA this past weekend.

when we first took off, i heard a woman coughing violently. as a sickly child myself, always one with the sniffles, runny nose, sneezes, coughing, allergies, overactive imagination, excessive paranoia etc., i didn’t think much of it. after we were airborne and the flight attendants rushed to the woman, 3 rows behind me, then i and the rest of the plane wondered what was up.

the attendant came on the loud speaker to ask if there was a doctor on board. we all craned our necks pretending to be concerned for the elderly woman’s health, but our real concern was whether it was serious enough that we’d have to make an emergency landing. that would have put a dent in our schedules; how inconvenient for us if she happened to die on this flight.

when the attendant asked if there was a doctor on board, i heard my father’s voice for the past 24 years telling me that i should have been a doctor. and when that question was poised to the 80 or so of us, i believed his words. for that brief second, i felt the prestige and weight of that question. had i done just a few things differently in my life, maybe i could have stood up at that moment and in a deep, haughty voice risen from the hollow barrel of my 32A chest, i could have answered, yes. i am a doctor. and whose life shall i be saving today?

i was so caught up in the moment that i half rose out of my seat. i quickly sat back down and asked myself what i would have done had i followed through with my actions and stood up? when the entire plane turned to me, what would i say? would i have gone into detail about how my parents birthed me for the sole reason of being the parents of a doctor? that at age 7, my dad gave me an embarrassingly accurate illustrated pamphlet of the naked human body and told me to just ignore that area and that area and that and that but to go ahead and commit to memory everything else?

would i go on to tell the wide-eyed passengers that i entered college pre-med only to come home a year later with the sentiments that i had chosen a more noble path in life: the liberal arts! and that though i was not a doctor and could no more diagnose this woman’s ailment than identify a gonad (it was included in the that area of the pamphlet), that if they needed a thorough and well-written piece on how the woman’s cough made me feel then i was their woman! or should they need me to knit a fashionable and functional tourniquet, i’m theirs?

in the end, i quietly sat in my middle seat jammed between two old people in swishy jogging pants and mickey mouse sweatshirts and allowed the thoughts of what could have been escape through my ears. i stuffed my wavering confidence under the seat in front of me, my anxieties about the future in the overhead compartment above me, and told myself i made the right decisions in life. that there’s merit and prestige in what i do. that my craft takes skill.

after a glass of water and a few moments with a breathing mask, the woman was fine and the rest of the flight was quiet. the nose of the plane dipped onto the runway of orlando international two hours later and everyone went their separate ways, on time for their next trip.

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The Boat

An alley fed into the busy street with vendors soliciting the same fruits that littered the ground. Hundreds of motorcycles jutted from all directions, their drivers’ hands pressed firmly against the horn. Sun damaged faces speckled the crowd, dodging the motorbikes fearlessly as they crossed. A mixture of smoke from the exhausts and dirt, dislodged by the heavy traffic, floated through the air. Most wore cotton masks over their nose and mouth. Mr. Tran stood tallest of the group of four, smiling with his thick, dark hair combed to the side and his arm draped over the thin shoulders of a woman. His right hand rested on the top of a little boy’s head whose hair mirrored his. In the front was a little girl wearing sandals and laughing at whatever was said moments before. To their left, a group of children sat barefoot folding large sheets of newspaper into various shapes: a spider, a boat, a crane. Behind them stood a soldier in uniform, a gun dangling beneath his arm.

Mr. Tran traced the image of his wife with his thumb as he stared at the black and white photograph, its edges torn with a crease running diagonally across the center. The roaring sounds of the motorcycles speeding by and the continuous honking of the drivers heard in Mr. Tran’s head minutes ago were drowned out by a laughing crowd coming from the TV.

“Why don’t we get a frame for that picture? We can put it here in the living room.”  Twenty years had passed since the picture was taken, and Mr. Tran’s daughter now stood taller than him.

“If it is here, I can only look at it when I am here.” Mr. Tran’s Vietnamese was light, song-like. He slipped the picture into the front pocket of his shirt and stood up to clear the table.

“Don’t forget to pack for the cruise.” She told him in English.

“I’ll stay home. We can return it and save the money.”

“We can’t return the ticket, and it’s for your birthday. It’ll be fun. Everyone has fun on a cruise.” She kissed his cheek quickly and left the apartment. Mr. Tran’s son and daughter preferred American food to his steamed fish and rice. Every night he made enough for the three of them, but the children usually ate at a friend’s house or at a restaurant, and Mr. Tran would eat the leftovers the next day. Putting away the food, he raised his voice so he could be heard over the TV, “Pizza, con.”  The metal frame of the futon squeaked as Mr. Tran’s son stood up and walked to the oven. Slipping on mismatched oven mitts, he grabbed the pizza and sat back down in front of the TV.  Mr. Tran turned off the oven and finished cleaning. He sat down at the table and pulled the photograph from his pocket. He yawned, but because there was only one bedroom in the apartment that his children shared, his twin-sized bed was in the corner of the living room, and he would have to wait until his son was finished watching television to go to sleep.

An alarm sounded. Confused, Mr. Tran threw aside the blanket that covered him and felt around for the light. It flickered three times, alternating between blinding white and complete darkness, before staying lit accompanied by a dull hum. He opened the cabin door only slightly in case it was noisy in the hallway. He was always quiet and mindful of his movements at night, even after twelve years of sleeping alone. He had slept only a couple of hours; it was late when he boarded the boat, and he had been too tired to unpack his things or walk around. There were a few people standing in the hall, while others poked their heads out of cabin doors searching for the cause of the siren.

“Safety drill. There’s always one on the first night,” said a large, blonde man pulling out a box of cigarettes while leaning against the wall of the hallway. “Everyone’s got to go outside and learn how to put on life jackets and shit.”

Mr. Tran shut the door, making sure to turn and hold the handle to minimize the sound. A large gap between the door and the cabin floor allowed a square of light into the darkened room. Mr. Tran was too tired to investigate anymore about the alarm and went back to sleep.

It wasn’t a big boat. There were three decks: the lowest housed windowless rooms with bunk beds shoved against one wall, the middle deck was the promenade with one restaurant and a showroom doused in red velvet, and the top deck, cluttered with colorful plastic lounge chairs, was open to the salty sea air. Mr. Tran had unpacked his suitcase early this morning, neatly folding each of his three shirts and two pants into the top drawer of the wooden dresser, leaving the bottom drawer, the one with its handle still attached, for his wife. With a slight limp that betrayed his otherwise youthful stature, Mr. Tran strolled the upper deck with his hands clasped behind his back, his eyes wide with intrigue. When the noise of the growing crowd became too much, he walked down the stairs to the promenade. The double doors of the showroom stood open. The silence of the empty room was inviting. Diamonds of light refracted by the glass chandelier danced on the velvet backs of the endless rows of chairs. Mr. Tran sat, marveling at the wide stage ten feet in front of him. The smell of wet cloth rose from the seats beside him. He wondered how everything was held in place. The cloth on the chairs looked seamless, the chandelier showed no visible hinges, and the stage, with its matching velvet curtains bunched on the sides, revealed a dull black screen. He stood up. The chair cushion resumed its puffed, rounded shape. Curious to know what went on behind the screen, Mr. Tran walked behind the stage. The light was reduced to a thin sliver making it difficult to see anything more than darkness.  He took a step forward, and then another, and another. He aligned his right foot with the faint line that was left of the light, ready to explore the back of the stage further, when suddenly the line disappeared.

Mr. Tran was left in utter darkness. The strong smell of gasoline flooded his nostrils and burned his eyes. The air was unbearably hot; his arms and shoulders felt slick with sweat as they pushed up against the people beside him. Loud rumbling noises from the engine drowned out the younger children’s cries and sounds of retching. He hoped that one of those cries was that of his daughter. His wife and two children had left with the first group twenty minutes before the men could leave.  As he waited for the signal for the men to make way to the boat, he lit incense, held the thin bundle between his rough palms, and knelt on the ground to pray. When he had finally arrived at the boat, there was nobody in sight but the three men of the work crew. His family had already been taken below.

“I would like to be seated next to my wife,” he had said. Mr. Tran’s Vietnamese was heavy with the southern pronunciation. The crew man’s eyebrow twitched at his request, but his face remained expressionless.

“A funny man, I’m sure the people below have saved you a prime spot and will appreciate your jokes,” he flicked his cigarette into the water. “Shut up and get down there or I’ll leave you for the damn Việt cộng to find.”
The under carriage of the boat where he now sat was crammed full of people, lifting his arm was impossible, let alone trying to sort through the others to find his family. He thought of yelling for them, but the engine’s roar would drown out his cries. Not knowing whether they had made it to the boat without raising suspicion or being captured, Mr. Tran wept. He thought of his mother and father who were too elderly to attempt the trip, of his stubborn brother who refused to leave and would stay and fight, and of his home which he had no choice but to flee. He thought of his three year old daughter and seven year old son. He hoped they would have the opportunity to go to school and become proper doctors educated by the American school system or wherever it is that the boat would bring them far away from his country. But, it was no longer his country, not the country he had known as a child, where he had bought Matchbox cars with his lì xì money every Lunar New Year and played in the streets, dirty and barefoot but content. It was no longer the country where at sixteen he tutored adults and children alike, spending all his earnings on science books, and it was absolutely no longer the country where he had practiced medicine, delivering babies and providing home-made remedies for the local villagers when their backs and legs ached from a long day of selling fruit or collecting rice from the flooded fields. The crowd shifted as the boat leaned to the left. More retching and cries could be heard clearer than before. The engines had suddenly cut off. Sounds of running and commotion leaked through the floorboards above Mr. Tran’s head. An urgent scream pierced through the darkness and created an uproar. Suddenly, everyone was screaming and rocking back and forth trying to free themselves.

A cold hand wrapped around Mr. Tran’s upper arm, startling him.

“Sir, are you lost? The show doesn’t start for another thirty minutes.” The man wore a red jacket with gold frills on the shoulders and stared at Mr. Tran. Mr. Tran looked around, expecting to see the frantic crowd he had heard just seconds ago, but only saw a handful of brightly dressed passengers sitting near the stage, laughing and holding large, colorful drinks with paper umbrellas cocked to the side. He had been sitting against the back wall behind the stage. As he braced himself to stand up, the man asked, “Do you speak English? Where is your family?”

Standing upright, Mr. Tran answered in slow, careful English, “My son and daughter are inHouston. I would like to wait for the show.” The man stepped aside as Mr. Tran walked to the first row of chairs and sat down. The chair hissed, puffing out air from beneath it as he crossed his legs.

The show was spectacular with all the glittering colored costumes and dancing. Mr. Tran was sad his wife had missed it. She would have liked it, he knew. He filed out of the room and followed the crowd up to the deck. There wasn’t too much to do on the deck. It was a wide open space encased by metal railings that reached about waist high. The wooden floorboards had hopscotch blocks painted on them, though the paint was chipping, so eight looked like a three, the nine a seven. Mr. Tran lowered himself into a red plastic lounge chair next to a woman and her son. The mother had straw blonde hair. Her skin, dark and wrinkled, glistened with oil. Smacking her gum, she held a long, hot pink acrylic nail that matched her two-piece, against the boy’s chin scolding him about his schooling.

“Joseph, you need to get your shit together. I don’t wake up at five to go to work every morning so you can sit around and do nothing.” She turned and glimpsed at Mr. Tran before speaking in a lower voice, “You got to stay on top of things in school, otherwise all the little foreign kids will take over everything like their parents are doing now. Do you know who I have to listen to everyday?” She blinked twice before continuing, “It’s bad enough they can’t speak English right. And what’s this I hear about you skipping English class? You’re American; how hard can it be? You speak English don’t you? Don’t you?”

The question rang in his ears. Mr. Tran lowered his eyes. He did not want to be called on by the teacher. Last time he was asked to state his name in a complete sentence and he did, only he arranged the words of his sentence as was correct in Vietnamese: name of mine is and he finished the sentence by stating his last name first, followed by his middle and first name: Tran, Van Dung, as was custom in Vietnam. The teacher laughed, but the classroom was quiet.

“My name is Tran. I am fromVietnam,” the instructor guided, but Tran was his surname, not his first.

His classmates were all refuges fromVietnam. Among them sat doctors, professors, once prosperous business owners, and lawyers; but now, they all stared forward, listening as they were being told how to state their name. He had taken additional lessons as suggested by the teacher, but he still felt his progress was poor. His written work came back with angry red slashes on every line. InVietnam, he had tutored those who didn’t understand biology or chemistry, but here no one offered to help him. After the lesson, a graded assignment was returned to each student. Mr. Tran had used his daughter’s old English textbook to help with the sentences.

“Good Job, Tran. This is a big improvement.” On top of the paper, sixty percent was written and below it, in the same red pen, were the slashes. They ran through the letters that Mr. Tran had spent hours writing on scratch paper and overpowered the neat, careful penmanship so that at quick glance all that could be seen was red. The sound of paper shuffling and books closing filled the room as the students began to leave. Mr. Tran walked to the door.

“Good bye, Tran. I will see you next week.” His teacher waved.

“Good bye. Thank you.” Mr. Tran left, but didn’t return the following week.

Cold drops fell against his tanned forehead. The clouds were large and full, rolling across the darkened sky. The others on the deck were snatching up discarded garments and towels, leaving behind candy wrappers and beer cans that were no doubt snuck on board in their luggage, wedged between a weekend’s worth of underwear and cigarettes. Mr. Tran slowly stood up from the lounge chair which began to shake as the winds picked up. It was about five in the evening. The restaurant would serve dinner soon.

It was a large open room with old wooden floors that might have belonged to a grand ballroom once, but was now scuffed and partially water damaged. Round tables with white tablecloths were crammed close together, almost touching, in no particular lay out. Tables were crowded with people seeking refuge from the escalating storm. Mr. Tran scanned the room for two empty chairs. As was habit, he would save a seat for his wife. There was vacancy at a table where a shirtless corpulent man sat with his round arm and fat fingers resting in a much younger woman’s lap. The woman’s eyelids were heavily colored blue and her lopsided painted grin revealed two jagged incisors with more than half of each tooth missing. Mr. Tran pulled out the metal chair from beneath the table and sat down. The topless man smiled at Mr. Tran, beads of sweat collecting in the cleft of his fat lips.

“Hello there!” He spoke with a booming voice, the sweat drops quivering.

“Hello, friend.” Mr. Tran’s voice was much quieter, but equally friendly.

“I’m Georgie, and this is my girl, Ashley.” He pointed with his sausage-like thumb.

“My name is Tran Van Dung.”

“That’s a mouthful. How come y’all gotta have such complicated names? I’ll call you Sam. Remember that ok? You’re Sam, now.”

Mr. Tran did not understand who else it was that Georgie was referring to with his phrase “you all”. Perhaps he meant all the patrons on the boat. As Mr. Tran unfolded his napkin, the boat began to shake. The room hushed in an instant and the hum of the vibrating china took over. There were no windows in the restaurant, but the rapid thuds of falling raindrops indicated the storm had become violent. The custard colored napkin slipped from Mr. Tran’s lap as the boat rocked with the storm. Georgie’s freckled arms and stomach rippled with the rocking, while Ashley’s breasts threatened to show themselves from under her low cut swimsuit. The bow of the boat dipped deep and was pushed up quickly by the oscillating wave. The glassware atop the tables slid over the edge orchestrating the sound of shattering glass followed by high pitch clinks as the silverware followed suit.

Glass littered the floor. Display stands fell heavily, scattering their contents which were then crushed noisily beneath booted feet. Bags were swept off the shelf in one quick, vicious movement. Buttons on the cash register squealed as one of the men beat on it trying to pry it open. The open register button was clearly labeled, just south of where the man was pounding, but he was in too much of a hurry to notice. The barrel of the gun was cold against Mr. Tran’s weather-beaten skin. If he looked down, he could see it protruding from under his chin, the gun bearer’s gloved fingers wrapped tightly around the end. That evening, before coming to the gas station to start the night shift, he had asked his daughter to cover for him. He had not been feeling well. His chest felt tight, and it was laborious to breath. But she insisted she was busy. There was to be a rally that night, she told him, to draw attention to the growing Asian American community. She left the house carrying a sign, her fingers red from the paint. He would have liked to ask his son if he was too busy to cover his shift, but he was rarely home. He had met a girl at school with blonde hair and green eyes and had then dyed his hair blonde and wore blue contacts, disguising his own dark eyes. But now, the cold metal digging into the soft flesh above his throat, he was glad his children were too busy to have come. The man at the register opened the drawer and was pulling out the day’s earnings. Twenty-nine dollars and thirty-eight cents: two cases of beer, two Cokes, one Sprite, an orange Fanta, and a pack of Wrigley’s winter mint gum.

“What about him?” The one with the gun asked.

“Just leave him, he probably don’t even speak English.”

The three men ran out the door laughing, kicking flattened chip bags and soda cans as they went. They had shot through all the glass so only the metal frame was left. As they drove off, the one with the gun stuck his hand out the window and pointed. Mr. Tran held his breath. The sound of the shots pierced the still air and made contact with the metal pump. The smell of gasoline drifted in through the empty window panes.

The fried catfish sat idly on the plastic tray, but the steamed broccoli and small salad plates were cleared. It wasn’t that Mr. Tran didn’t like fish, he just preferred it steamed. Because the restaurant was a mess after the turbulence of the storm, dinner was handed out on trays at the bar. Walking back to his room, Mr. Tran had come across Georgie. He and Ashley, cigarette in hand, were sitting in the hallway eating. Georgie balanced three catfish fillets on top of one another and finished each with just three bites. Mr. Tran slowed his steps in case there was to be an exchange of greetings, but they didn’t notice him. Ashley had looked up from her plate, but it was only to blow smoke out of the corner of her fire-engine red lips. Now, back in his room, Mr. Tran washed his brown, spotted face, paying particular attention to clean the corners of his aging eyes that tended to leak throughout the day. He gargled water to rinse out his mouth and used the small soap bar provided to scrub his nails. His day clothes were folded and put away in the top drawer. He wore only his under shorts and a thin white tee shirt that had a pink stain on the bottom left. As he sat on the bottom bunk bed gazing at the creased black and white photograph, the smell of burning incense wafted into the room.

Motorcycles, approaching from all directions, blared their horns as they weaved in and out of traffic, dodging people carrying colorful fruits and the vendors who sold them. Mr. Tran stood by the window in the storefront, his arms crossed behind his back, smoke from newly lit incense rose from the altar behind him. Mrs. Pham placed a small plate of fruit by the picture of her father.

“It’s good he’s not here to see this, the way the country is changing.” She scooped up the gray ash that had fallen on the table and straightened the bowl of rice, a food offering to the spirits.  Mr. Tran continued to stare out the window. His family was outside the store. His daughter ran in circles in her pink sandals while Mrs. Pham’s daughter chased after her. “Do they know they are leaving?” She moved toward the door as she spoke. Her Vietnamese was slow, every word drawn out.

“Only my wife. The children know nothing.” Mr. Tran watched his daughter squeal with delight every time she slipped through Phuong’s fingers.

“Come, take a picture with your family. A keepsake, so you don’t forget home.” She pushed open the door. Mr. Tran nodded and stepped outside. The air was thick with debris and hot against his skin. He stepped beside his wife and pulled his son closer. Mr. Tran called for his youngest who came running and stopped abruptly before the group, kicking up dirt from the road. It floated in a cloud around them. Mrs. Pham held up a small, simple camera and counted, “một, hai, ba!” Phuong, at her mother’s side, stuck out her tongue at the little girl in front as the camera clicked. The small sliver of pink flesh was the last thing Mr. Tran saw before the busy street melted away to a million glimmering dots.

Mr. Tran brought his hands to his face to try to clear the flash from his eyes. He blinked and lifted his arm hoping to feel the weight and warmth of his wife against it but was met with only the cold, stale air of the cabin. The smell of incense still hung in the air, stronger. He breathed in deeply letting the smell and warmth fill him. Closing his eyes, he was ready for the vivid memories that always came so abruptly to take him back to his family. But nothing could be heard except the dull hum of the light. No motorcycles. No fruit vendors. No little girls laughing. Only the smell of incense. His eyes opened. A faint haze drifted in beneath the door. He breathed in again. It was the scent that stuck to the walls of his apartment, to the clothes of his children. He opened the door and followed the haze across the hall.

The door to the room was slightly ajar. The handle of a wooden broom leaned against the door frame, keeping it from closing completely. Inside, a man with thinning, dark hair and round gold-rimmed glasses sat picking the fried batter off the catfish. Mr. Tran knocked softly.

“Let me finish,” he waved his hand. “I will clean,” he took a bite of the bare fish. “I will clean.”

“Sorry, but are you Vietnamese?” Mr. Tran spoke the common Vietnamese phrase with his southern Vietnamese accent. The Os were flatter, the Is more like Ys. The man looked up, startled.

Hesitantly, in Vietnamese, he answered, “I am. What do you need?”

“Nothing, nothing. I smelled nhang. May I light one for my wife?”

The man pulled a stick from the pile on the dresser that had been made into a makeshift altar. He handed it to Mr. Tran along with a lighter. Mr. Tran lit the incense, placed it between his palms and brought his clasped hands to his forehead. He bowed his head and lowered his hands three times and then planted the lit incense into a small pot. It glowed for the people memorialized in the photographs on the altar. “Are you going toFloridatoo?” He asked.

“I work on the boat. I have been to Floridamany times. Every week I go to Florida,” the man opened a small glass jar that was sitting beside his bed and poured the contents onto his fish. The smell of fish sauce accompanied by lime, garlic, and shreds of carrot filled the room and made Mr. Tran’s mouth water. “The fried fish is no good, but a lot of nước mắm makes it edible,” he wiped his mouth with the custard colored napkin from the dining room.

“I wish I had brought nhang and nước mắm. My daughter said they would not allow either.

“Maybe on the big boats they wouldn’t. This isn’t a big boat.HoustontoFlorida,FloridatoHouston. That’s all. Every week.”

“My name is Dung.” Mr. Tran held out his hand.

“Hai. My name is Hai. I came over about a year ago. Sponsors brought my wife and son toTexas.”

“I have a son too and a daughter.”

“A good boy, he is learning English so he can go to school, take care of his parents.” Hai set the tray and its empty plates on the sink, “Everything tastes the same here. There’s no variety of seasonings like in Vietnam.”

“My wife would make me bánh mì chả muối tiêu. The salt and pepper here is not the same. The flavor is not as complex, but if you put the right proportions of each it’s close enough.”

“When did she pass?”

“ ’80, five years after we came over. My children say she died of an infection, but I know it was because she didn’t want to leave. Her parents were buried there,” Mr. Tran picked up his photograph from the dresser where he had set it while lighting the incense. “If it was an infection, the American doctors could have fixed it,” he showed Hai the picture.

“Is that the photo developing store on đường số sáu?” Hai smiled.

“Yes! You know it? Is it still there? Mrs. Pham and her daughter, Phuong?” Mr. Tran sat down next to Hai and looked longingly at the photograph.

“The store changed owners many times. It sold shoes, then toys, then books. It is now an office. They sell paper. Mrs. Pham died many years ago, and her daughter is inEurope, I think.” Hai handed the picture back to Mr. Tran, “Everything is different now. The street hasn’t looked like that for a very long time.”

“Everything is different now.” Mr. Tran echoed, staring at the people in the photo.

“You have been gone a long time.Vietnamis not the same as it was before the fall or even five years ago. It is always changing. Fast, but not likeAmerica.Americais so big,” he rubbed his knee. “And so fast.” The ship rocked forward and came to a stop. The engines quieted. The tray slid from the sink, but Hai was quick enough to catch it before it could fall.

“Welcome toFlorida,” he said. Mr. Tran stood up slowly from the bed, his hand clutching the picture. “You have a few hours to seeFloridabefore it gets too dark.”

“Will you come? Maybe we can find some decent food, canh chua, cá kho tộ?”

“That does sound delicious. I will meet you outside on the dock after you get dressed.” Hai opened the cabin door picking up the broom that had fallen when Mr. Tran entered.

Mr. Tran shuffled out and across the hall. He turned, “I will introduce my daughter to your son. She is a good girl. And my son too. They can help him with English.” Hai nodded and shut the door. Opening his cabin door, Mr. Tran was greeted by his reflection in a small, cloudy mirror against the back wall. He had forgotten he was wearing only his under shorts and shirt. He was not embarrassed, however, because it was normal for Vietnamese men in Vietnamto walk the length of the neighborhood with nothing more. Hai understood.
Mr. Tran dressed carefully, buttoning every button slowly and pulling at the creases in his shirt, the photograph in his front pocket. He walked off the ramp and onto the dock where Hai was chatting with a man dressed in bright floral patterns. A large camera hung around his neck, the strap covering the name on his cruise line name tag.

“Welcome toFlorida! A picture?” the man said to Mr. Tran, holding the large, black box against his face. Mr. Tran moved next to Hai and smiled. The camera clicked and a photograph slid out from beneath it. The floral-shirted man waved the photograph around, blew on it, and handed it to Mr. Tran. The two men stood, slightly hunched, next to each other, their matching black hair thinning in different places. Hai’s gold-rimmed glasses sat high on his cheekbones as he smiled beside Mr. Tran. Mr. Tran’s hands were clasped behind his back. Brightly dressed people holding large colorful drinks sipped and laughed in the background and behind them, the boat.

Mr. Tran patted Hai’s shoulder. He slipped the photograph into his front pocket and walked toward the high, white arch at the end of the dock. In green block letters, painted in the center was “Welcome”.

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