I’ve coined a new phrase.
The new phrase is Unintentionally Misleading Cultural Authenticity (or UMCA, for short). Yes, that’s a lot of big words but I’ve claimed this phrase as my own. You can’t have it.
What does it mean? Well, I’ll tell you. Actually, no – let me give you an example of it.
A couple of weeks ago, we had a few friends over for a visit. My wife Maya, as always, did a terrific job setting up some appetizers and drinks as we all got caught up in everyone’s lives before the holidays.
After a few minutes of conversation, Maya went into the kitchen and brought out a new snack for us to try – they were individually wrapped pineapple cakes.
Maya said, “You all need to try these pineapple cakes. I used to eat these every year right before Chinese New Year. They’re so good and they remind me of home.”
And yes, they were good. Kind of a mushy, pineappley center surrounded by a flaky, moist crust. Perfectly delectable.
But here is where I get to the UMCA part – I bought them at Costco.
Now, in Maya’s defense, she never said that she brought them back from Taiwan the last time she was there, or had them flown in on a private charter from her favorite Pineapple Cake bakery that has been making them consistently for 50 years. But, for some guests who just sat down who now see a platter of individually packaged, exotic looking pastries, that’s the vibe that everyone seemed to be getting.
I guess it doesn’t really matter that I was the one who went to Costco, who along with the platoon sized bag of toilet paper and the barrel sized jug of peanut butter in my cart, saw the pineapple cakes and simply thought, “Hmm…these look good. I think I’ll buy a box”.
If you’re still unclear as to my personal UMCA predicament, let’s try this thought experiment, this time, with a different item purchased from Costco.
You come over to my house as a guest, and after serving a delightful meal, I bring out the dessert, the pièce de resistance.
I say, “I just can’t wait for you to try this. It brings back such fond memories of my childhood. Coming back home after playing with all my neighborhood pals, I could just smell the wafting aroma of cinnamon from the apple pie as it cooled right next to kitchen windowsill after grandma pulled it steaming hot out of the oven. Ahh…those were the days.”
I probably spoiled the story by finishing with, “By the way, if your slice isn’t hot enough, I can nuke it again for 30 seconds in the microwave.”
But let’s get back to the pineapple cakes. Did we really do anything wrong? I mean, they are actual pineapple cakes. They just happen to be from Costco.
Wait a minute. What if our friends go to Costco and see the pineapple cakes! We’ll be finished! Our ruse will be uncovered! We’ll both be looked at as pineapple cake frauds!
I need to go to our local Costco and buy up all the pineapple cakes they have – an expensive way to get rid of the evidence, for sure. Or I suppose I could just give it up now and tell our friends the truth.
Well, I guess I just did.
AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Please consider making a donation and following us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok. Information about interning, joining the staff or volunteering is here. We are supported by a grant from the California Library Commission and its Stop the Hate program. You can find more resources here.
I honestly don’t see a problem. Is it shame that you’re not buying them from an Asian grocer? I like that Costco has appropriated different products from elsewhere for my own convenience. But if shrimp cheeks and boba popsicles at Costco means acceptance of Asian culture into the mainstream, and one less person gets beaten up, it’s a net positive. And a quarter of the shoppers there are Asian anyway. They’re selling what will sell (in obscene quantities that Asians appreciate).
Now… if they suddenly start offering roast duck hanging next to the rotisserie chicken… that might be a little much.