Alyssa Ho, age 16
This essay and poem were written as part of the Ofrenda Community Project, a collaboration with the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County. The piece was inspired by the L.A. River Catz — cat faces painted on storm-drain covers by artist Leo Limon.
Noodles for Longevity: How Culture Shares Fortune and Luck
Whenever someone asks, “What’s your favorite holiday?” I never even take the Lunar New Year into consideration, even though it has always been the biggest tradition in my family. Maybe it’s because “holiday” sounds too Western, too “you get days off of school to celebrate this.” I mean, why else would I say Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday when on Lunar New Year, I literally get twenty-dollar bills in red envelopes? Maybe it’s because other holidays are not essential traditions for my family. As a matter of fact, we took skipping Christmas because of the pandemic pretty well.
However, I admit, for the Lunar New Year, it feels strange being unable to go to our grandparents’ house to eat their superstitious food. For a family that values hard work and ambition, it’s quite funny how our culture bows down to fortune and luck. We always eat noodles for longevity, dumplings for wealth and fish for prosperity.
We also hang the word 福 (luck) upside down on our door to invite fortune into our house. My mom says we especially need it this year because I’m applying for colleges in the fall. So in other words, my fate rests on a red piece of paper.
We honor the Chinese zodiac as well. I’ve always felt connected to the zodiac. It’s like your astrological sign, or spirit animal, or Hogwarts house, except this one is connected to my heritage, which automatically makes it superior to the rest. Thus, I thought I’d write about the crazy animals that are my family.
The Ox (牛)
Never leave the lights on.
(So he got us these sensor lights from Amazon.)
Never change the thermostat.
(So we bundle in blankets and snuggle next to the cat.)
Never waste a meal.
(Even week-old leftovers that have lost their appeal.)
Never pay someone else to fix it.
(He just needs YouTube and the right toolkit.)
Never buy furniture when it can be built in the workshop.
(We’re quite proud of his bookcases and shelf tops.)
These are certain rules they are stubborn about
but it keeps the spending low at the checkout
and although they use their hands as a stop sign
he carries in his worn palm, all our lifelines.
The Rat (鼠)
They know there is a game to be played —
a wicked one to race,
where friendships are built only to cross rivers
and promises left in the air
of an argument they can never lose
because they have wisdom up their sleeves,
lectures locked and loaded.
she will save
the last sip, the last bite,
her last effort, her last dream,
her last breath,
for her children.
The Dog (狗)
so jumbled in
that every blurry face,
and stupid pun,
have all become
my favorite things about him.
The Monkey (猴)
Their sparks don’t make a scene
but they ignite quickly,
those firecrackers. Popping
when sunsets turn red in the sky, “why?”
when glasses cover their eyes, “why?”
when good means shy, “why?”
when they never seem able to cry. “Why?”
they ask, and people think
them rather confused individuals.
It is these times I wish to speak in fireworks
rather than a flame
sputtering for the right words.