Bento Box in the Heartland
Bento Box in the Heartland is a memoir that uniquely ties in the cultural experiences of protagonist and writer Linda Furiya with the foods of her Japanese heritage. Wedged between each chapter is a recipe of some of her favorite dishes, such as Chinese Home-Style Tofu and Japanese Pot Stickers. Heavily permeated throughout the book are perspicuous references to food and the passion she and her family has for their delicacies, which keep them grounded in their Japanese culture. Thus is the reason that her book is cutely labeled as a food memoir.
As Linda reflects upon the struggles and duality of being raised in a Japanese-American house in a small Indiana community – what she refers to as “Whitebread America” – a number of issues are raised. She challenges the idea of gender roles from an early age as her mother raises her to perform domestic tasks, such as washing dishes after dinner, a chore that her father and brothers are never directed to complete. The inevitable run-ins with racism are also written about, due to belonging to one of the only minority families in her community. Written about are events from people's intolerance and misunderstanding of her parents’ accents a to recounted story about a misogynistic war veteran with no shame in sharing his blatant objectification of Japanese women.
As the pages turn, they alternate from being charmingly sweet to serious with emotion; however, Linda’s voice is carried out fairly casual throughout the book. This memoir is purely to share individual experiences, rather than to tackle and attack systems of oppression and discrimination. The discrimination the author and those close to her encounter are due to subtle, socially permeated racism more so than direct attacks under institutionalized racism and sexism. Written safely and unprovocatively, it is an easy, light read that explores the challenges of being raised in a mélange of two cultures.