Culture Desk Staff: The Traditions That Keep Us Grounded

It’s been almost a year since the start of the pandemic in the U.S., and life has been the same ever since. Check out the traditions our staff writers follow to keep themselves sane, especially over Zoom University.

Helping out in the kitchen, having a relaxing movie night, or writing to family members. Listen to the traditions that are keeping us sane in the middle of the pandemic. (Photo by Sammy Tavassoli, Alana Beyer and Alex Tran. Staff Illustration by Alex Tran)

 

The Rhythm of Wontons

Dana Sun, Culture Editor

I’ve been wrapping wontons with my parents ever since I learned to walk. It’s usually just the three of us, standing around that wooden dining table with a pot of filling and a stack of wonton skins in the middle. We’re a family that exchanges very little words with each other. You’d think it’d be awkward for us to stand there in silence as we wrap wontons. In reality, we’ve all fallen into a unified rhythm: grab the skin, place the filling and tuck it in. That type of unspoken synchronization is better than any conversation I could ask for — it’s when I feel most connected to my parents, and any feelings of stress I have vanish.

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I hadn’t joined them in any wonton-wrapping sessions in the years since I left for college, until a week ago. Midterms season was here and I was holed up in my room, finishing up a six-hour study session. When I finally came outside, there was that familiar giant pot of filling and those stacks of wonton skins on the dining table. All I had to do was walk up to my parents — who were silently wrapping those wontons — and fall into their rhythm. In that moment, my midterms no longer existed. It was just the wontons, my parents and me.

 

Family Pen Pal

Sabrina Choudhary, Staff Writer

The NYU Public Safety officers in my residence hall always give me strange looks as I eagerly check the mail sometimes multiple times a day. I have a family friend who is an avid letter writer, and she has sent me sporadic cards for years. I was always inconsistent in replying and usually too distracted to respond. The pandemic changed that. Now, I whip out a pen as soon as I read her note. We decorate our letters with fun stickers and themed stamps. I walk to the mailbox across the street with purpose. I keep all of her letters in one desk drawer for safekeeping. 

This routine always gives me something to look forward to, since I never know exactly when the next letter will arrive. It always puts a smile on my face when one does. Now that I’m always staring at one screen or another Zoom classes, reading PDF and FaceTiming my friends old-fashioned communication has become even more special to me. It is also a stress-relieving way for me to have a way to connect with my friend that slows time down; nothing is urgent. As a bonus, it supports the postal service!

 

Friday Night Films

Felicity Huang, Staff Writer

Quarantine in March gave my family the luxury of having the time to start a new tradition — weekly movie nights. Every weekend, even as we have gotten busier, my parents still put aside their emails and conference calls and my little sister puts away her video games. Sometimes, we only had time for a short episode of Seinfeld that my parents first watched in their tiny New York City apartment. Other times, we would watch different award-winning mockumentaries assigned for my psychology class. We get to escape together, albeit temporary, to a different reality.

What I enjoyed most was not the movie itself, but rather the conversation it sparked afterward. As one can imagine, the viewpoints of two first-generation immigrants compared to their two American-born daughters differ greatly. Arguing about our film theories are a welcome distraction from the pandemic, politics and work at the dinner table. These movies have helped me learn more about my family’s perspectives on issues that we would otherwise never discuss without the aid of the film. Now that I am in college, my family continues this tradition without me, but when I go back on weekends, it’s like I never left. 

 

Home Is Where the Kitchen Is

Madison San Miguel, Staff Writer

“Todo para la familia,” translates to “everything for the family.” That is what my grandpa used to say at every family function. Even when I was younger, I was taught to put family before anything else. Food was always a big part of our traditions. I am not the greatest cook now, and could never beat my grandma’s enchiladas, but my greatest memories were, and still are, in the kitchen. Prior to the pandemic, my family and I used to make a special dish every Thanksgiving. Our last Thanksgiving together was spent making homemade tamales in our family kitchen. My grandma would make the masa herself and have my cousins and I spread the mixture on a corn husk. The tangy smell of the masa, and the mess we made with it, is a fond memory of mine. While we cooked, we’d laugh about a funny memory or something my cousin Joseph did. That is why I love sitting at the table and watching my family cook when I’m back home in Texas. It brings back the happiest moments of my past.

In New York, I have to substitute homemade tamales for Panera Bread’s macaroni and cheese a dish I don’t mind eating everyday. While I’m eating in my dorm room, I video chat with my family. A phone screen is not the same as an in-person conversation in our kitchen, but like my grandpa used to say, family is all I need to get through the toughest days, no matter where I am.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Mar. 8, 2021, e-print edition. Email Dana Sun, Sabrina Choudhary, Madison San Miguel and Felicity Huang at [email protected]

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