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March 10, 2011 - Regina Gonzalez
The 2003 novel, Crescent, by Diana Abu-Jaber follows the life of an Iraqi immigrant named Sirine. Sirine’s mother is American, and her father is Iraqi. They both died in Africa while working for the Red Cross when Sirine was only nine-years-old. After their deaths, her uncle took her in and raised her. Now, she is thirty-nine and a master chef at Nadia’s Café in Los Angles. The café serves “real true Arab food.” Sirine has never been outside the US, is not a Muslim and doesn’t speak Arabic, but she still feels connected to her cultural identity as an Iraqi woman. This is why food in Crescent represents a link to culture.
In today’s day and age it isn’t rare to see someone who is out of touch with their culture. I know a lot of people who either don’t know their backgrounds or have no interaction with them. Cooking traditional food is a perfect way to get to know one’s culture. That is just what Sirine does in the novel. Her parents are no longer with her. She’s never been to Iraq, and she doesn’t speak the language. She has every reason to be disconnected from her roots, but she is, instead, curious about them. Although her parents have passed and she lives in America now, she still chooses to cook the food of her ethnic background. She was taught by her parents to make baklava (layers of filo pastry filled chopped nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey), and she stays connected to them and the Middle East through preparing it. In the novel, she describes making baklava as a dance her parents did. Before they died they gave her a part in their dance and now she chooses to continue that dance. The baklava is a symbol for their unity through culture as well. It is something that is unique to their background.
Food is distinct. Every culture, every region has a very specific menu so to speak. I’m half Irish and half Cuban. I’ve never been to either of those countries, and although my father is an immigrant, I have a very Americanized life. However, when I’m cooking one of the few Cuban dishes I know how to make or baking soda bread according to my Grandmother’s recipe, I feel connected. That’s why Crescent sends a message everyone can relate to. Everyone has a culture, and every culture has its food. Whether it be soul food from the South or hot pots from China, cooking can be used as a tool to get in touch with your background and find identity within that culture.
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