Chocolates for Dried Squid

Arianna Le, Runner Up
8th Grade
San Jose

It’s a cold fall night in October, much too late for a girl who has school the next day to be walking around the neighborhood. That girl would be me. I trudge around my whole neighborhood, and to others, knocking on strangers’ doors and asking for something simple, yet something I rarely manage to get my hands on. It’s Halloween, and what I want is candy. After managing to fill a large bag up with sweets, I come home and show my earnings to my mom.

“Choose ten candies out of the whole thing,” she tells my sister and me. “The rest will be sent to our family in Vietnam.” I’m sorry? Every year, after hours of working up and down the hill of my neighborhood, most of the candies I earn are given to my family in Vietnam. Most of my family moved to America when they were young, but the older ones, having had settled and had children of their own, stayed behind. Annually, my grandparents go back to visit, and we always give them our Halloween goodies to pack and bring to our relatives. When my grandparents get back from their trip, we also get food from our family. But.

Dried squid? Every single time my grandparents come back from Vietnam, they bring home these large boxes. I open the box and look at the packages. The wrapping is all too familiar: an oddly shaped bundle, brown and messily taped. I don’t need to know what it is anymore; once we unroll the wrapping, it will be a load of smelly dried squid. I had walked and waited for much too long for my Halloween treats. There was no way I was giving up my long-anticipated sweets for thin layers of dry stench. It didn’t matter how much my mom supposedly enjoyed it or how much air conditioner was sprayed; I was not eating that squid.

Throughout the years, I became somewhat accustomed to the smell, like most of my grandma’s “unique” foods she cooks. It didn’t make up for the sweets, of course. Then one year, we didn’t go trick-or-treating; my sister’s grades weren’t the best, and we were both sick anyways. Naturally, I was disappointed; but for some reason, I considered something else.

“What are we giving to Vietnam this year?”

It was then that I’d realized – the only time they could get to these sort of sweets were when we brought it to them. In America, I can go to the store and beg my mom until she buys me candy. In Vietnam, their access to the candy was even more limited. Here I was, being depressed because I couldn’t keep a load of sugar to myself, when the only sweets my cousins had were in my once-a-year load being shared within the huge family. I hadn’t noticed that our small food exchange – our little, insignificant personal trade for me – was such a happy time for them.

I find it amazing that a family split apart by so many miles across the waters can keep in touch by a mere box of food. Food can form unbelievable connections, no matter how far apart or how different our lives may be. I, myself, am beginning to love the smell of the squid, especially grilled. Dipped in hoisin or Sriracha hot sauce, it tastes delicious. I’d prefer it over chocolates these days, actually. That’s how I came to love trading chocolates for dried squid.