“Okay, I’ve finally decided,” I announced, my family gathered around the dining room table with wide attentive eyes staring back at me. “I’m going to New York City!” Instantly, my mother burst into relieved tears, this was the news she was hoping for since she realized that I had applied to schools all over the country. New York was definitely the prefered alternative to me moving halfway across the country to Texas.
By this time, I was raised mostly as a Dominican teenager in the US, except I wasn’t a typical Dominican– nor did I identify with solely that part of my heritage. Dominican was only one out of the four different nationalities I belonged to, making the question ‘where are you from?’ a lot more complex than it needed to be. Although the Chinese in me only held a quarter out of the pi chart that made up my nationality, I refused to let it dissipate in the swarm of Latina that invaded my blood. My father, who is half Chinese, never really taught much of Asian culture because he was not exposed to it either. It was more my curiosity that drove my interest in learning Mandarin and where my Asian counterpart originated from.
It was from this moment in time that I decided I was going to learn of my heritage once I moved out of my parents home. My first interest was in mooncakes, and where they originated from. Since I was young, I begged my father to buy the tasty treat for to me to eat. It seemed a way for me to feel like I was connecting with my Chinese side in some way. However, I never knew where the mooncakes came from. With this I decided to find out for myself; taking to Google, I was directed to chinahighlights.com. My grandfather grew up in Zhenjiang, China before he came to New York City at the age of 18 and met my Grandmother. Because of this, I learned that the mid-autumn festival is called ‘thanking peace’ in Zhenjiang. Mooncakes were made as sacrificial offerings to the moon along with other various fruits. I was curious as to why this was, commencing the next few hours of research.
According to chinahighlights, the Yuan Dynasty is the reason that mooncakes are traditionally eaten during the mid-autumn festival. The website states that this is due to the Mongols wanting to warn the Han army of an uprising during the mid-autumn festival. The Mongols strategically places papers inside of the mooncakes stating when the uprising would be taking place and sold the cakes to the Han people. This way the Han people could know of the uprising in secret. “From then on, people ate mooncakes every Mid-Autumn festival to commemorate the uprising[…]” [chinahighlights].
This story led me to the Legend of the Moon, which was told on moonfestival.org. According to moonfestival, there was a husband, Hou Yi, who was summoned by the emperor to kill one of the ten Suns that was burning the Earth. As a reward, Yi was given a pill that would grant immortality, but instead of taking the pill, he hid it away in his home. His wife Chang-O discovered the pill and took it, realizing she could fly. Angry, Yi and Chang-O flew up into the sky arguing until Yi had to return to Earth due to the wind. Chang-O landed on the moon and commanded a hare to pound the earth to create another pill so she visit her beloved husband. But Yi made palace in the Sun, meaning he was not on Earth anymore. Because of this, Chang-O and Yi can only visit each other in the sky once a year, on the fifteenth day– creating the mid-autumn festival. There is also an alternating story, seen on travelguidechina.org, that states when Hou Yi brought the elixir home, a rival named Peng Meng saw this and demanded his wife to give him the elixir for immortality. Instead of handing over the elixir, Yi’s wife, who is named Chang E in this story, took the elixir for herself and flew up into the sky. When Hou Yi returned home to realize what had happened to his wife, he grieved and called her name into the sky where he saw Change E in the moon. To pay his respects, Yi made mooncakes as an offering to Chang E who was now a goddess. Traditionally, the people of China began making mooncakes to commemorate Change E for her bravery.
After learning the history of the mooncake and what it meant to Chinese culture, I felt that I was now ready to officially appreciate the beloved pastry. So this year, on February 15th, I went to the Lung Moon Bakery in Chinatown with my boyfriend and we both bought a mooncake to take part in Chinese tradition. And I must say, it was delicious.