BY SANDY CHEN
Halfway through my double period English class, the bell rung. Classmates beside me take out their phones from backpacks, pencil cases, pockets, and coats. Some to play games, some to explore social media. I wander around the room, waiting for the four minute break to pass by. My teacher, Mr. Chu, grabs a stack of paper and approaches the unfilled seat next to me.
“Do you know how to play Mahjong?” he asks.
I always knew what the game mahjong was, but like my sister, I didn’t know how to play. Mr. Chu asked me to shuffle up paper on the desk, mix them like I was playing mahjong. I followed what he asked me to do.
This occurred in October 2019. Before Mr. Chu asked me that question, I didn't really realize that I was ignorant to any aspect of Asian culture—no games, no history, nothing.
During middle school, my mother would bring my sister and I to 8th Avenue, where a relative lived. In his house, there was a fine wood table with a seaweed colored cloth, all in the middle of the living room. I would spend the day with my sister playing games on my phone in the relatives’ room. My mother and my uncles and aunts would be in the living room playing mahjong. They would be laughing, frustrated, and excited while speaking Fujianese and playing mahjong. I didn’t understand mahjong and I had forgotten the dialect at a younger age. I didn’t understand the fun they had or what they were talking about back in China.
In the spring of 2020, the coronavirus pandemic struck New York, and virtual learning gave me lots of leisure time to explore subjects I was naive to. Scrolling through Instagram, I
found the youth organization Asian Advocates. Without hesitation, I applied for their social
media/business coordinator position. From there, I began a new journey of exploration.
Through my ongoing position in Asian Advocates, I was able to understand what cultural
appropriation meant, concepts of yellow fever, acknowledge the numerous hate crimes that have happened, interview misrepresented Asian politicians, and most of all, find virtual friends around the planet that all share the goal of amplifying Asian voices.
Flash forward to today, mahjong has become the center of my family life. I learned the game during the summer of 2020 when my family was united due to improved pandemic circumstances. My sister, grandparents, and I were obligated to move upstairs in the house due to the pandemic taking another launch in New York, so we were separated from my parents who still had to work. Two generations, four people in total, all knew the game mahjong. We started to enjoy the fun the simple mahjong tiles brought on the nights of weekends and school breaks. Mahjong continued through times we cherished and times we felt melancholic.
My family culture would be incomplete without the seven letter word: mahjong, and my
knowledge about culture would be incomplete without Asian Advocates.