Like a lot of immigrant families, the story of how mine got here is a little bit hazy. We know that some branches of the family have been here a long time, like a really long time, like a before the Europeans long time. But that’s not my branch and I’m not trying to get involved in politics, so I’ll stick to telling my story. My most direct ancestors arrived in the ’30s, like a lot of folks. They came from China though, by way of Japan, and they kind of just put their heads down and tried to make things work while the world around them geared up for war.
And then WWII hit the US and everything changed. You see, some of our more distant relatives were deeply woven into US culture by then. And when you’re accepted as part of the “norm,” the group that everyone’s used to, you don’t have to think about your place in society. You see yourself as the default. But my grandparents, with their smooth skin tinged yellow weren’t there. They had something to prove. They wanted to show America what they had to offer, and the War unintentionally sped up that process. Food was being rationed, and people were contributing to the war effort by planting their own victory gardens. That was all well and good for making tomato sauce, but what about the spaghetti? Well that’s where my ancestors stepped up. They said look, we’re not spaghetti but we’re close. We might not have the same texture, but we can give you betacarotene, and we’ll proudly carry the load of your tomato sauce if it means helping feed our country in a time of need. They weren’t looking for fame or notoriety, they were just looking for a way to become part of their adopted country, to give something of themselves. The way my parents tell it, suddenly people knew us: Vegetable Spaghetti.
When the war ended, they took a step back. Like the men coming back to the factories, Spaghetti Spaghetti returned to reclaim its old place on America’s dinner plate. But like the women who’d had a taste what it felt like to be Rosie the Riveter, my family knew what it was like to have purpose, and we never completely went back to how it had been before. Marriages happened. New generations added diversity and life to our crew. And when in the 1960’s people once again started thinking more about where they were getting their food, my family was still there as a wholesome veggie alternative to pasta that was increasingly processed and industrialized.
Somewhere along the line a name had changed, as immigrant names often do, and we were Spaghetti Squash. I don’t know if it was an embarrassed uncle’s desire to assimilate and make obvious our familial ties to the Squashes, who have a longer history here, or an activist cousin’s attempt to remind us all of the Native American routes somewhere back there by saying hey, we’re one of the Three Sisters. It doesn’t really matter to me. Either way I know who I am. I am a vegetable that comes from the same stuff as pumpkins, watermelons, and cucumbers. I am in the squash family. But I am also foreign. I trace my recent history to the far East. I am complex. I have an oval shape and a tough outer shell that can put people off. And yet, once you scoop out my soft stringy insides and smother me in warm tomato sauce I can feel oh so familiar. I am spaghetti squash. It’s nice to meet you.