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Journalist Simran Sethi's Complicated Relationship With AAPI Heritage Month

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. And to celebrate, we thought it would be nice to check in with some recent guests about what this month and their heritage means to them. Kicking us off is food journalist Simran Sethi. She hosts "The Slow Melt" podcast. This past Valentine's Day, she walked us through tasting chocolate like a pro. For Sethi, AAPI month is complicated.

SIMRAN SETHI: I have such a mixed relationship with Asian American Pacific Islander Month, only because, for so much of my life, being - immigrating to the United States and being raised in the South, it wasn't recognized. And then even with the designation of Asian, it's huge. You know, we're far from monolithic. It's like our languages, histories, religions, cultures, foods, features, lived experiences are all different.

MARTIN: And honoring that difference has been a central part of Sethi's career as a food writer.

SETHI: I am from Punjab, the breadbasket of India. And the reason I have done all the work I've done around chocolate is not for the end substance, but it's for the people who tend to that crop, who support that crop, who labor so mightily to sustain this glorious food. They make next to nothing. They're preserving, like, the most amazing flavors of this substance that we use to celebrate with to show our love to each other. And that is at the core of all of my work. And the reason that it connects to chocolate is because of that connection to farming. Like, that's who my people are. That's who I am. And that's what I want to share with the world.

MARTIN: Despite her mixed feelings about the AAPI label, Sethi marvels at how it's allowed her to leave behind cultural tensions and connect with other South Asians.

SETHI: What I really strive to do, because in particular of the strife that exists between India and Pakistan, like, really work hard to remember that we were once one - right? - and that our faith doesn't separate us, that this border doesn't separate us, that we can, you know, we can keep returning to each other. And in many ways, what doesn't happen on the subcontinent, you know, between, like, India and Pakistan, here, we find that connection with each other because here, we become Asians, Asian Americans, South Asian Americans, right? Like, that we're able to kind of connect to each other in a way that we maybe couldn't even do in our home place.

MARTIN: And she says that's what she's focusing on this month - honoring the vastness of the community.

SETHI: What I am celebrating this month as we see this rise in the targeted abuse and violence directed against Asian peoples, and when I'm looking at the COVID numbers soaring in my home place of India and South Asia, that I feel like what I'm really holding onto in this month is that, you know, we are surviving. And we're doing our very best to thrive, and that if we can start to turn toward each other, even though we're not a monolith - like, there's so much brilliance and joy and beauty and creativity in our peoples - plural, you know - and if we could just start embracing each other and recognize how we are really people of the global majority, you know, when we're here in the United States. We're often so siloed as quote-unquote "minorities." And I think this is a way for us to remind ourselves who we are.

MARTIN: That is food journalist Simran Sethi. She hosts "The Slow Melt" podcast and is the author of "Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss Of Foods We Love." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.