This Christmas, Marlo and I continued our tradition of going out for dim sum in the International District instead of cooking a traditional holiday meal. We like it. It's fun and I like it that my teenager is adventurous enough to try almost anything (except raw tomatoes and avocados).
I took immigration law last quarter and developed a new theory that I named the "Unified Food Theory." The theory is that one can gauge a particular sub-population's acceptance within a larger community by the level of acceptance of that population's food.
Italian - Back in the 1950's pizza parlors and Italian restaurants gained acceptance in mainstream cuisine. Indeed, pizza is now standard fare for all teenagers. Now we've even got national chains of Italian restaurants like Olive Garden and the Macaroni Grill.
Chinese - I'm not sure when Chinese food became popular in the United States, but know that the bright red sauce topping sweet and sour pork/chicken never graced Mao's table. Most Americans (except, possibly, those of Asian descent) now would probably be shocked to learn that at one time in the not so distant past, Asians were precluded from American citizenship, even if they were born here.
Japanese - During WWII, there wasn't much uproar when people of Japanese descent, including American citizens, were forced into concentration camps. I remember in the late 1980's and early 1990's when teriyaki was the new craze in Seattle, with sushi quickly following. In fact, when I moved to Tulsa in 1995, there were no teriyaki restaurants and only one sushi joint (probably a good thing in a land-locked state). Now, my child has no problem wolfing down eel rolls and it doesn't even occur to her that it is unusual.
Vietnamese - When I was in junior high and high school, we had a lot of Vietnamese immigrants at school. Unfortunately, we were not able to communicate very well. It must have been hard on them to be dropped in the middle of an American high school without knowing the language or getting much training on how to fit in. Teenagers aren't the most accepting of peoples sometimes. Now, however, we go for Pho and bubble tea (wondering if that's actually native to Vietnam) and it doesn't even occur to my child that I haven't eaten these my whole life.
In addition, consider the popularity of the Irish pub, Mexican and Greek restaurants, and the success of Trader Joe's. In Seattle's Central District and South Capital Hill area, there is an explosion of Ethiopian restaurants. These cuisines' popularity seems to coincide with a lessening acceptance of the derogatory terms to describe the originating populations (thank god).
One does wonder something though - along the lines of the chicken and the egg - do we become more accepting of these new cuisines as we accept the new people into our world, or do we become more accepting as we try a little bit of theirs? Perhaps acceptance is created one taste bud at a time.