Banana Bread and Lemon Glaze
By Nayeon Park
A short story about code switching and living between two worlds.
I am both a lemon and a banana. A lemon is citrusy and sharp, while a banana is soft and sweet. When I speak Korean, my tongue stays behind my teeth, articulating edged consonants. I must do this when I ask my mom what is for dinner tonight. “Sampgyupsal and Gge-nip,” my mom says among the clattering of plates and chopsticks. I then go to my brother, who has called America home his whole life, to see what he thinks of pork-belly and roasted garlic at 8pm. My tongue suddenly softens up, creeping out of my mouth to touch my lips.
“Yeah, that sounds good,” he murmurs.
I open the door to his room wider: “Did you want a bowl of rice with that?”
At that question, he furrows his eyebrows in disgust: “No, also make sure there is a fork available.” I shake my head slightly and laugh at the irony. How could someone with such dexterity with a gaming keyboard still not understand how to use chopsticks? But I keep my thoughts to myself. After all, though I am an expert at the art of chopsticks, I still convulse at the smell of string beans and fermented soy paste.
My father always teases me, claiming that I am a banana—yellow on the outside, white on the inside. Almost every Korean kid in America has heard this common and relatable joke, this playful jab at their identity which implies that although I am Korean, I often have Americanized mannerisms and speak in a perfect, English tongue. However, I would also describe myself as a lemon—the same both inside and out. What my father doesn’t see are my friend’s bugged out eyes when I mention that I was born in Jeonju, South Korea. They are fascinated by the fact that I am bilingual and ask about how Korea was when I lived there. I am then treated a bit differently—not necessarily in a bad way, but as though they finally understand why I have a “very slight accent” or “an unusually strong work ethic.”
Another term to describe this fruity phenomenon is code-switching. I’ve trained myself to switch seamlessly, both in speaking and in mannerisms. My code-switching dexterity means the range of my voice undulates at Olive Garden. While I speak a dainty and quiet Korean to my aunt about how salty and fatty the chicken alfredo is, I suddenly change into a deeper and bolder English when the waiter asks how the food is. “Absolutely delicious! We love it,” I say in a loud, saccharine voice. My aunt glances at me, finding my double-identity both dumb-founding and hilarious. We laugh together as we both agree; raspberry sorbet for dessert is truly delicious, or masshi-suh as we say.
Throughout my life, two versions of myself flow from one to another. Many people often say that they feel conflict with their two cultures—their parents’ country versus the one that they are currently immersed in. To them, I would like to introduce banana bread with a lemon glaze. I learned that if you eat a banana under the hot summer sun, you might experience a heavy stomach. To alleviate that discomfort, a dash of lemon juice will soothe it right up. From the outside, it may seem like my two cultures are separate from one another, but I see it differently; I am able to live in both worlds, aware of the beautiful contrast of each culture, and, sometimes, finding brilliant harmonies between the two. I pride myself in the ability to tell my grandma about my Olive Garden dinner, someone who lives thousands of miles away and does not speak a lick of English. My cousins text me, and it is obvious they are a little envious. They, too, wish that they had sampled the amazing raspberry sorbet I ate with our aunt. And it’s in moments like these that I am proud to be both a lemon and a banana.
I wanted to write about a saying that was both familiar to myself and other Korean-American teenagers that grew up with the light-hearted nagging from our parents when they would call us a banana: “Asian” on the outside, yet “white” on the inside. Though from an outsider perspective this saying might seem a bit insensitive or offensive, I have grown up hearing it as a gentle reminder to appreciate the two lifestyles I have. One connects me to my family and ancestors, and one allows me to thrive in this country and set an example for my future loved ones. I love my upbringing and I wanted to highlight it in this piece.
Nayeon Park is a junior in high school who creates works of writing and art inspired by the cultures she has experienced growing up surrounded by immigrants, people in the arts, family, and diversity within NYC.