Racist Sandwich is thrilled to welcome our newest member, Stephanie Kuo, who will be joining us as a producer. She and Juan Ramirez will co-produce season two of our show, as well as occasionally host episodes. We can’t wait to work with her and to learn from her.
Stephanie is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and Columbia’s School of Journalism. She has won awards from the New York State Associated Press Broadcasters Association, the Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Association and the Public Radio News Directors Inc. She has been in public radio for five years and currently works as a reporter, producer and newscaster for KERA in Dallas, Texas. Before going to KERA in 2015, she spent three years in New York, working as an editor and producer at WFUV in the Bronx, and reporting on hunger, homelessness and the impacts of development. Stephanie is originally from Plano, Texas.
In your application, you wrote, “talking about the relationship between race, culture and food is my life's passion. So is eating.” What is it about this topic that interests you?
My parents are Chinese-Taiwanese immigrants, who came to a part of Texas that didn’t necessarily have the most vibrant Asian-American community in the 90s. I went to school with few others who looked like me and was definitely teased for bringing tea-soaked eggs for lunch -- among other things. On top of that, my dad, who worked in petroleum engineering, really made it a point to assimilate and “Americanize” for the sake of professional and financial mobility. Being Chinese and being “American” was a delicate balance for my family, and that ultimately compelled me to shun and bury a lot of myself and my culture. It’s not a unique experience, but it’s resulted in 20 or so years worth of healing and reconciling I still have to do. That process started for me when I moved out of Texas to New York and was finally on my own. I no longer had parents to be my cultural shepherds, so I actively sought food as a way “back in,” so to speak. It was easier than relearning Mandarin, cheaper than traveling Asia and the closest thing I had to being at home with my parents. I had to learn a lot about the food I ate every day growing up: where to find it, what it’s called, how to cook it. I realized I knew so little, and I missed out on so much my culture has to offer because I was afraid of being taunted and othered. It wasn’t until my mid-20s that I really began to wear my culture with pride, that saying “I’m Chinese” to new people didn’t make me sweat. And I owe a lot of that to food and how it helped pave my path back to ethnic, racial and cultural acceptance. Food is so much more than sustenance. It’s political, it’s cultural, it’s personal, and I want to learn about how others experience the things they eat.
What is one topic you are looking forward to exploring this season on Racist Sandwich?
This list is rather long because I have so many questions about how race, culture and food intermingle -- so much so that I’m not even able to adequately articulate some of these questions. They’re all just idea bubbles floating in space. But something I’m interested in exploring is when descendants of immigrants are expected to be authorities on their own culture -- when sometimes, they’re not. For example, I don’t know everything about being Chinese and I feel a lot of shame when non-Chinese people ask me something that stumps me. “Aren’t you Chinese? Don’t you know this?” is a response I’ve gotten on several occasions, and it doesn’t occur to many that not being an expert can be the painful product of cultural and racial struggle in this country.
Gentrification is also important to me -- especially how it affects longtime cultural roots in a community. How has economic development and demographic shifts affected enclaves like San Francisco’s Chinatown, the International District in Seattle or the Latino communities in West Dallas? But also...can gentrification work in reverse? Can we explore the implications of gentrifying when the gentrifiers aren’t white? Is that still gentrification?
Finally, I want to elevate lesser-known people, places, things and ideas. For example, the Barrio Chino in Mexico City and La Chinesca in Mexicali are not only fascinating lessons in the Chinese diaspora, but they’re also the consequence of Chinese exclusion and racism in the U.S.
What are some of your favorite food spots in Dallas?
If you want good Asian food, you’ll have to leave Dallas proper and head to the suburbs! That’s why you’ll find me in Plano a lot. It’s not only where I grew up, but it’s also going through a huge boom because of an influx of corporate headquarters and immigrants from China. I wrote a story for the Dallas Observer about how all of that has created these visible Asian food communities all across town, where people can eat and shop all in one place. The old Chinatown in Richardson, Texas, is where I go to get soup dumplings and really dumplings of any kind.
When I’m not eating Asian food (which I admit is rare), I’m at Spiral Diner in Oak Cliff, which serves up gloriously decadent vegan diner food, or I’m exploring East Dallas and Lower Greenville. There’s everything from pork belly poutine, giant popsicles and macarons to tsukemen ramen and New York-style pizza there. Dallas has a fast-growing restaurant scene, and it can be hard to keep up.
What is one thing about you that people are surprised to learn?
I don’t like dessert! I don’t have a sweet tooth, so I’d much rather snack on chips than cookies. And for once, I’d like it if our office celebrated birthdays with pizza instead of cake. People are also really surprised to learn that I was born in Singapore, spent several years in Jakarta, Indonesia, and could speak Indonesian fluently. No, I can’t anymore.