AAPI Heritage Month: Chiling Therrien Remembers her Cultural Voice through Family Meals

Chiling Therrien (right) poses in traditional Taiwanese dress with her family for their annual family photo.

In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we asked our Finance and Administrative Manager, Chiling Therrien, to share her story with us. 

In 2016, I moved to the USA as a new immigrant from Taiwan, filled with hope and aspirations for a brighter future and pursuing my bachelor’s degree. Yet, the journey wasn’t without its challenges. Navigating the complexities of settling into a new country, I encountered numerous obstacles—language barriers, cultural differences, and the daunting task of building a career. Adding to the complexity, I didn’t have much working experience in the USA because I was first here as a student, and then after graduating from university, I chose to be a stay-at-home mother to take care of my newborn daughter while working on changing my immigration status for almost 2 years. This four-year transition period made it particularly challenging to re-enter the workforce and find a job.

I remember the feelings of discouragement and self-doubt that plagued me during those early days. Rejected time and again for job opportunities due to concerns about experience and English proficiency, I began to question my worth and whether I would ever find my place in this new land. It was a lonely and disheartening period—one marked by a deep longing to belong and a fear of rejection for embracing my cultural heritage.

Chiling Therrien (right) teaching her kids how to make homemade dumplings.

In my culture, independence is valued, and we’re taught not to rely too much on others to avoid becoming a burden. My hardworking parents provided for my sister and me without ever saying “I love you,” but their actions spoke volumes. Sharing frustrations wasn’t common; we preferred to “share joy, not worry.” Therefore, I didn’t want to burden them with my loneliness in a foreign land.

After a lengthy search, I got the offer from my first job, an administrative role, and I was very grateful to meet a leader who discovered my talent and gave me the opportunity to shine in the area I am passionate about at work. When I shared the news with my parents, their response was classic (like typical Taiwanese parents)—they said, “Don’t screw up,” which in our family translates to “good job.” I knew they were happy for me. 

During my early years in the United States, I was afraid to show where I came from. I tried to conform to what I perceived as the ‘American’ way in order to fit into the culture here. I was also very lucky to meet some friends who were supportive and who helped me learn about the new cultures I found in my new community. I was embraced by a diverse and inclusive community that celebrated the richness of cultural diversity and embraced each individual’s unique identity. Thanks to this support and my own drive to thrive in my new environment, my confidence and self-affirmation value have grown throughout my career.

After living here for eight years, I now realize that the United States itself is a melting pot, a country rich in multiculturalism. American culture is shaped by the diverse backgrounds of its people. There’s nothing wrong with being myself in this country; rather, when I am myself I add to the richness of the pot. I have rediscovered my voice, my strength, and my sense of purpose. 

Chiling’s children during a recent family trip to Taiwan.

One of the most profound transformations I experienced in my new home, New Hampshire, USA, was the journey of self-discovery and empowerment I undertook alongside my daughter and son. As a mother, I was determined to instill in them a sense of pride in their heritage and to cultivate within them the courage to embrace their identity unapologetically. Together, we embarked on a journey of exploration, celebrating our Taiwanese heritage and immersing ourselves in the rich tapestry of cultures that make up our diverse community.

I fondly remember the joy and pride I experienced when my daughter confidently embraced her cultural heritage—teaching her school friends Mandarin and immersing herself in our Taiwanese roots. Every weekend, we eagerly embarked on culinary adventures, seeking out the restaurants where we could best savor the flavors of our beloved Taiwanese cuisine. Exploring local Asian supermarkets became a cherished tradition for us as we hunted for ingredients not commonly found elsewhere. Together, we would cook and present delicious Taiwanese dishes, strengthening our connection to our heritage. For me, food serves as a heartfelt bridge that weaves a stronger connection between me and my children and envelopes us in warmth and closeness. 

Photo of a Lunar New Year’s Eve dinner that Chiling created at home during the pandemic since they were not able to travel home for the holiday.

Rooted in our upbringing, our culture has instilled within us a profound reverence for food, teaching us to cherish every ingredient as a precious gift from nature. It’s a poignant reminder of our heritage; a reminder that in savoring the rich flavors of our homeland, we are embracing our identity and preserving our cultural legacy for generations to come. As we gather around the table, sharing in the culinary treasures of our Taiwanese heritage, each bite becomes a testament to the love and unity that bind us together as a family. Through the eyes of my children, I rediscovered the beauty and depth of my cultural background, embarking on a transformative journey of cultural identity and empowerment that forever altered the course of our lives.

Photo of a family meal Chiling and her family enjoyed in Taiwan recently.

I have come to be at Food For Free because my heart is filled with a burning desire to combat hunger in our community while also minimizing food waste and maximizing the utilization of food resources. My passion for making a positive impact in our community is what drives me to be part of this organization. As a graduate in hospitality management, my heart aches as I recall the distressing sight of large quantities of food being habitually wasted during my internship at a large hotel. My experiences in the hospitality industry, coupled with witnessing the stark reality of food waste, have stirred an unwavering passion within me for this cause. I am deeply moved by the tireless dedication of our team and volunteers, whose relentless efforts rescue food and provide sustenance to those in need.

With each action we take, no matter how seemingly insignificant, I am reminded of the profound impact we have on the lives of others. Every meal saved is a beacon of hope, a lifeline for someone struggling to make ends meet. As I contribute to the behind-the-scenes financial and administrative operations, I am honored and humbled to stand alongside the Food For Free team. Together, driven by a shared purpose, we strive to make a tangible and heartfelt difference in the lives of those we serve.

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Chiling Therrien joined the Food For Free team in March 2024 as our Finance and Administrative Manager. We are grateful for the diligent attention she brings to her work and the richness she adds to the Food For Free community. To make a donation in support of our work to fight hunger and food waste, please visit https://foodforfree.org/donate/.

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