For diasporic immigrant communities, strong familial ties exist between culturally specific foods, embodied knowledge, nostalgia, and caregiving. Drawing on the significance of invisible and devalued domestic labour performed disproportionately by racialized women, I turned towards my own mum, Yam Sock Yee 任淑儀, who has spent the past twenty-five years as an unwaged homemaker.
She reflects on her ties to food and cooking with her own mother, mother-in-law, and our immediate family as she cleans ikan bilis (dried anchovies). Preparing them for a nasi lemak dish, the fish are softened in water before she carefully uses a toothpick to separate the flesh from the entrails, head, and backbone—parts that add an undesirable bitterness and prickliness to the eating experience.
Her actions are mundane and meticulous; a part of countless hours spent making particular Cantonese and Singaporean dishes. The expertise, care, and high standards embedded into all my mum does is both wildly aspirational and unattainable. Inherited from the matriarchs in her life and the forging of her own identity as one, I honour their power with a recognition and sorrow that much of their cultural knowledge and habits dilute with me, just as I try to grasp hard on to certain parts of their being.
I gratefully acknowledge support from the British Columbia Arts Council. As part of the grant, a collaborator fee was paid to Sock Yee—a modest tribute to all the unwaged expertise, time, and labour she has carried out especially since relinquishing her career outside of the home when we immigrated to Canada in 1995.