My college roommate was from China. His family escaped from there when he was a teenager. A group of us would often go to Chinatown in LA for dinner and we always had a party for Chinese New Year.
But I had a connection to China way before that:
When I was young, my mother always told me, “Eat your vegetables. There are starving children in China who would love to have that food.” To which I would respond, “Then send this crap to China.” Mom would get really mad and say, "Ooooh, just wait 'til your father gets home!" Since they were divorced, he lived elsewhere and she actually had no idea when he got home; so not much ever came of those threats.
Some of you may have heard the same “eat your vegetables” mantra from your mothers in the late 1950’s, except that they specified starving kids in Africa or Europe or India.
During the Eisenhower administration, mothers across the country received notices assigning them to be responsible for raising awareness of hunger in other, less fortunate countries. (No one was assigned to look out for hungry kids in the US).
My mother was assigned as the Los Angeles Liaison for Starving Chinese Juveniles.
This was not her only government task; she was also Regional Director in Charge of Keeping Your Hair Out of Your Face. She would always tell my sister, “You could be so pretty if you would only brush that hair back."
Mom had a few other odd guidelines for life. Besides warning me of the various ways I might put my eye out, she would tell me things like, “If you fall out of that tree and break both your legs, don’t come running to me.” She also warned me against going out of the house with dirty underwear, “in case you have an accident.” It always seemed to me that if I was riding my bike and got hit by a car, no matter how clean my underwear was just prior to that, it would not be so much right after.
And holey underwear was taboo as well. When the paramedics come to a multi-car pileup, they always say, “check everyone’s underwear. Anyone with holes in their underpants, pile them on the side of the road and call their mothers.”
But the weirdest things Mom said were “Why don’t you put on a sweater? I’m cold” and the deal about eating my vegetables for the Chinese kids. But my mom’s words took hold in me because, on a small scale I had the power comfort my mother by putting on my sweater, and, on the larger scale, I had the power to end hunger in China by eating my vegetables in Los Angeles.
And I knew my powers worked because I would put on the sweater my mom made me and she would smile warmly. So I went on wearing clean underwear to avoid accidents so that I could continue eating my vegetables in order to relieve the world’s largest continent of famine.
When I went to college and met my Chinese roommate, the first thing I said to him was, “Hey, do you recognize me.” See, I figured it must have been in all the newspapers over there. “I’m the guy that saved you from starving by eating my vegetables.”
He replied, “We were never starving.”
I immediately exclaimed, “Oh my God! It worked!”
I’ve never forgotten that humbling experience and how my mom helped me make the world a better place. What's more, all those other Chinese children I saved grew up and have created a strong economic power in the world. Yet none of them have contacted me to thank me for my contribution to their success.
In fact, The Chinese economy has grown too strong and they are taking jobs from Americans and I am now ashamed of the part I played in it. My daughter recently said she wants to be a vegetarian and I said, “Uh,uh! I’m through helping those people. Let em eat their own vegetables. We’re eating American: burgers tacos, pizza and spaghetti."
And that’s what Chinese New Year means to me.