When Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee and her family immigrated to America from Korea in the 1980s, there was lots of change. The one constant? Food. More than four decades later, all of Lee and her siblings’ memories of adjusting to their new lives in America involve food.
There’s the first bite of American food—a bright, yellow-orange brick of cheese—that they tried while still in Korea. The coveted bananas that they were given on the airplane on the flight to America. The Hungry-Man frozen dinners that felt luxurious after they settled in Los Angeles. The Chinese food their mom snuck into a movie theatre while the siblings were watching Star Wars. The peanut butter and banana sandwiches that they ate for lunch. And finally, after five years in America, the fancy steak dinner that their father had dreamed about—which they had at Sizzler, complete with an all-you-can-eat salad bar.
In this episode of Proof, based on an essay Lee wrote for Eater, she and her siblings recall their first few years in the US, and how food shaped their family’s pursuit of the American Dream.