“Fresh longanisa!” A bright voice whistled from the kitchen into the living room. The Asian American Center was brimming with clusters of buzzing guests, captivated by the table’s arrangement of various meals atop banana leaves. Flowing in and out of the rooms were the mouth watering scents of frying oil and crackling pork. The soundscape of the space was that of my Lola’s (grandmother’s) house: filled with Stevie Wonder harmonies of serendipitous troupes and crunches and munches of enthralled guests. For most people on campus, this Saturday afternoon was like any other. For our club– the Filipinx Student Union– and its guests, this Saturday was a special occasion to come together as a community to bring to Tufts a piece of home, a beloved Filipino tradition: kamayan.
Kamayan translates as “with hands” and describes the Filipino tradition of eating food off banana leaves with one’s hands. Although Spanish colonizers enforced the practice of using utensils, present-day Filipinos continue to practice Kamayan to reconnect with their historical roots and pay homage to their ancestors. The cultural practice serves as a tactile way to keep in touch with their identities despite the impacts of colonization.
Florence Almeda (A’22), co-president of the Filipinx Student Union, complimented the loving work put into the process of preparing the food, from the wet hands that wrapped the egg rolls to the burning fingertips that transferred meat from plate to pile. “People were more than happy to help out in any way they could to make this event a success and to me, that is what makes FSU so special.” And the love and care put into cooking the food was palpable. The perfectly crunchy shells of the lumpia egg rolls inspired “oohs” and “ahhs” among the visitors. Among the many foods served was one of my favorite dishes, chicken adobo, which featured a flowy dance between soy sauce and vinegar. Feeding myself handfuls of rice and adobo brought me back to my childhood, when a bowl of adobo over rice was my dad’s way of saying “welcome home.”
Reflecting on her experience, René LaPointe Jameson (A’22) praised FSU’s creation of a “beautiful space for a variety of people to come together over food and learn about another culture.” FSU transformed the AAC’s ordinary, impersonal meeting room into an intimate family room. Looking around me, I watched toppled huddles of laughing fools, all debating about which Filipino traditional dish is superior. I saw warm embraces shared between friends old and new, each showing gratitude for the new experience they participated in. Heartwarmingly smiling eyes, unapologetically dirty fingers. Warmth, hospitality, family. For an evening, the AAC felt like a home away from home. This is what kamayan means to me.
Photo credits: Gabe Reyes (A’22) and Sofia Chon (A’22)