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The Ofrenda Community Project, Audrey’s Reflection

Silken red string and sunshine

Audrey's noodles for the ofrenda

A collaboration between the Museum & WriteGirl

Community voices within Museum exhibits bring added value, perspectives, and spirit. In partnership with WriteGirl, a creative writing and mentoring organization that promotes creativity and critical thinking, the Community Engagement team at the Museum created The Ofrenda Community Project.  Participants received at-home storytelling kits anchored in the ofrenda or altar located in the Becoming Los Angeles exhibition. WriteGirl youth selected an inspiration object in the ofrenda that they felt drawn to and created a memory map based on that object to explore connections and meaning in their personal experiences.  They then crafted their own object to add to the ofrenda and developed a creative writing piece derived from the memory map activity.

Audrey’s inspiration object was the Chinese Hanging Bells, pictured below. Bells are an embodiment of Chinese culture and science, and a testament to the wisdom of Chinese people.

Chinese Bells in Ofrenda


MEET AUDREY, 16 YEARS OLD FROM ARCADIA, CALIFORNIA

Audrey headshot

Audrey is currently a junior attending Arcadia High School. Audrey has been a member of the L.A.-based writing organization, WriteGirl, for a year now, and has been able to dive into writing during quarantine. As a lover of both reading and writing, she recently completed her Girl Scout Gold Award Project by conducting a series of youth writing workshops with her local library, and creating a resource website for other young writers called Sprouting Ink. In her spare time, Audrey enjoys playing board games with her family, chatting for hours at a time with her friends, obsessing over Chinese dramas, and reading books. Currently, Audrey is focusing more on her schoolwork in preparation for college, but is taking every chance she can to explore more types of creative writing and hone her craft.

SILKEN RED STRING AND SUNSHINE

long noodles: longevity

It’s Chinese New Year and we ring in new beginnings with smiles as my grandma lifts noodles up, up, up, as high as her head. Deeply inhale the kitchen, her kitchen, scents wafting with the hope she will live as long as these golden noodles symbolize. The cameras go off and one day this spontaneous picture of (grandmother), face split into a rare smile, will be worth our collective weight in the egg rolls only she seems able to perfect. Watching the incense smoke rise, we follow Gong (grandfather) to pray to our ancestors for protection and many more new years and birthdays with 紅包’s (hohng bah-OW), eagerly chattering about how much our youngest cousins have grown and how my dad plans to grow his beard until Christmas to be Santa.

dragon beard candy: street market royalty

Midnight, and our little enclave of 西安 (shee-AHN) is afire with warm dragon’s breath and the scent of sugar and scorpion skewers. Our eyes gobble new delicacies as puffs of cotton candy float past our heads and sesame permeates the night. The tents are alive and at the center we see two men push and pull at dragon beard candy, 拉 , 拉, 拉 (lah, lah, lah). It tastes sweetly nutty, my mom tells me, and I can only imagine how many gods must sleep on these pillows of candy floss, watching as the blown sugar animals play in these streets.

jelly cups: bamboo friends

We’ve bought the same jelly cups from Costco for as long as I can remember. On forest green lunch tables, we unzip our lunch bags and look around at everyone else’s, despite the fact that there is, but a few feet away, a sign that says, “DON’T SHARE YOUR FOOD.” That would go against our nature and the bustling economy of lunch time. My best friend produces a jar of brown seeds with a seam etched through the middle of the tiny droplets. Golden medallion wish seeds spill into her palm, and at fifty seeds we will free our friend and become the fun-loving Pokémon we were last year. Except we won’t, because by that time we’ll be much more interested in gossiping on the jungle gym and figuring out how to swing three people on two swings. Someone at some point called the invasive plants by our waiting bench, “moon flowers” and to this day I don’t know their name.

one yuan popsicles: The Great Wall of China

When my parents wanted us to see how far our roots go down, we traveled to China, the land of umbrella hats and one yuan popsicles. We drank in the brief moments of damp shade in the dragon’s every turn. The people of the Middle Kingdom did not always love their wall. It’s no wonder people can see it from space—many people sacrificed their lives to build it. There are bodies in the brick, driven to the ground, labor and hopes edifying through the ages. We sweat on their sweat and we suck on popsicle sticks long after the cool relief is gone. We chase my brother’s back—it seems that he has always been one step ahead. I may be older, but I always wanted to be a one yuan popsicle: sweet, sought-after, sticky. Perhaps I’ve read too many books, but I have always craved the thought of leaving a legacy. It never occurred to me that all that was ever left of the popsicles was a wooden stick. Is that all I aspire to become?

xiao long bao: waiting with koi

I loved jacaranda trees before I knew their name. A part of me fancies that this part of Arcadia is mine, and mine alone. The purple of their petals though, I can’t be sure. Is my favorite color less mine if it was my mom’s first? We sit on concrete benches, and I pretend there’s koi in the stream by the sparse bunches of bamboo. We wait for hours in front of Din Tai Fung—I’ve spent a number of weeks watching the people on display pinching meat into dough through grubby windows. My sister got a concussion here once, on the handicap rails. And the back table was always ours, though I miss the days when I didn’t know how much the bill the adults fought for was – the 小龍包 (shee-OW lohng bah-OW) tasted better that way. The restaurant, with their koi and dumplings, left that building behind and with it, me and my glasses of condensation, paper umbrellas, and chopstick guides.

osmanthus wine: starless nights

I’ve eaten 饅頭 (mahn TOW), but it tastes best at four in the morning with osmanthus wine, peach blossoms in my hair, and a basket full of ripe 批杷 (pee PAH). I cry chrysanthemum petals as I learn how to fall into these starless nights, curled up in the snug corner of my mom’s mattress, eyes transfixed on the Chinese drama. I smile for their happiness, admire their jade pins, and envy the way their hearts crack and shatter into shards of colored glass. I plunge into their stories with reckless abandon until it’s over, when the reality ends and bends and I can only wish in my moonlit bedroom with the ashes of an eternal, ten mile love poem. A world, a redemption, lies in the strings of the 古箏 (goo juhng) and 二胡 (ehr HOO) brimming with untamed rebellion and forgetful lotus water. I will never understand how they can make ink flow like deliberate, roaring rivers, to be drunk on eloquent Chinese, famished for the illustrious ambrosia on bamboo scrolls and unfinished 國畫 (GOO-aw HOO-aw). I promise myself that one day I will be married in red.

instant ramen: stormy days

It is a shame that not all days are made of silken red string, embroidered with mandarin ducks and sunshine. Rain clouds press behind my eyes. I sit there for some while, a nearby glass half-full. My mom used to have a small blue china cup but I can’t recall where she left it. Thirsty, I lick the briny broth from my chopsticks. Sonder* tastes of tender steam and MSG broth. Petrichor* reeks of fresh breath and formless strokes of gray, blankets feeling more like my forgotten homemade forts – safety hazards of precarious pillows and strategically placed mattresses that I used to hide out in at times like these. Tear-stained windows remind me of slipping memory, and I get lost in the noodles. I grasp them with my chopsticks and they whisper, 加油!(tsee-au yoh) as I smile, content, into the soup. My ancestors toast a round of tea and their overturned cups (washed for free in the rain!) chime in the wind.

Glossary:

紅包      hóng bāos  /hohng bah-OW/  – red envelopes
西安      Xi’an  /shee-AHN/  – a city in China
拉           lā  /lah/ – pull
小龍包  xiǎo lóng bāo  /shee-OW lohng bah-OW/  – pork dumplings with soup inside
饅頭       mán tou  /mahn TOW/  – steamed bread
批杷       pí pá  /pee PAH/  – loquat, a small round fruit
古箏       gǔ zhēng  /goo juhng/  – a type of zither with 21, 25, or 26 strings that are plucked
二胡       èr hú  /ehr HOO/ – a two-stringed bowed instrument, sometimes called the Chinese violin
國畫       guó huà  /GOO-aw HOO-aw/ – a traditional chinese painting
加油       jiā yóu  /tsee-au yoh /  – add oil (a cheer)

Sonder* - The realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own
Petrichor* - A pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather

Audrey DOCUMENTs THE making of HEr ofrenda object 

Audrey with her ofrenda story kit

Me, excited and a bit in disbelief, after opening the ofrenda project box. I love mail!

Audrey making her object for the ofrenda

The carnage and my sister and I left on the dinner table after Night 1 of crafting. (Turns out Model Magic actually dries overnight.)

Audrey's final object

My take on a bowl of instant ramen (with WAY more vegetables than I’d ever actually put in).

Woman pulling noodles at restaurant

Mà pulling up a chopstick-ful of noodles.

Audrey WriteGirl

Gong, my siblings, and I with our red envelopes last Chinese New Year.

Two people picking chiles front plant

A picture of Mà and Gong together picking chiles. They both have amazing green thumbs (which I, unfortunately, didn’t inherit) and do this kind of thing all the time.

Family of five posing in photo

A picture of my family at the new Din Tai Fung restaurant to celebrate my brother and I’s golf tournament championship.

1 of 1

Me, excited and a bit in disbelief, after opening the ofrenda project box. I love mail!

The carnage and my sister and I left on the dinner table after Night 1 of crafting. (Turns out Model Magic actually dries overnight.)

My take on a bowl of instant ramen (with WAY more vegetables than I’d ever actually put in).

Mà pulling up a chopstick-ful of noodles.

Gong, my siblings, and I with our red envelopes last Chinese New Year.

A picture of Mà and Gong together picking chiles. They both have amazing green thumbs (which I, unfortunately, didn’t inherit) and do this kind of thing all the time.

A picture of my family at the new Din Tai Fung restaurant to celebrate my brother and I’s golf tournament championship.