Have You Eaten?

by Soko Fong Negash

In Hong Kong Cantonese, “Have you eaten rice yet?” [sihk jó faahn meih a? 食咗飯未呀?] is a common greeting, the equivalent of “how are you?” in English.

It’s a question that can cut through any tension or discomfort, no matter how big or small. It’s simple, really: food is labour, and labour is love in practice. Any problem could be soothed, theoretically–or at least kept at bay–as long as bellies were full and fires were cooled. A breather, if you will, from whatever hardships befall you. 

All else can wait. Sit. Eat.

These portraits are part of an ongoing visual and audio series that explores the language of motherly love, pertaining to the relationship between mothers and daughters of Chinese descent. For some, affection comes easy, bright and unmistakable. And for others, it takes time and a special sort of compromise.

In an effort to complicate ideas around the archetype of the ‘tiger mom’ or the concept that ‘Chinese Mothers Don’t Say I Love You’, this is an offer of both the tenderness of physical intimacy and the critical distance that lives in between.

From shoot-to-shoot, home-to-home, I found myself returning to the same place. What does it mean to be loved? How do mothers and daughters feel each other’s love? What becomes of what’s lost in translation? 

Maybe our measurements have been wrong all along. Maybe we, as daughters, haven’t been asking the right questions. Maybe, just maybe, we’re learning how to love, too.

Karen with Theresa (mother)

Listen to this audio clip of Karen and Theresa

Jessica with Cathy (mother)

Listen to this audio clip of Jessica and Cathy

Milen with Nancy (mother)

Listen to this audio clip of Milen and Nancy

Soko Fong Negash is a Toronto born artist of Eritrean-Chinese descent who plays between the worlds of documentary film, photography, and mixed media. As an exhibiting artist, she has done residencies at Nia Centre for the Arts, The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, and participated as a fellow at This is Worldtown. Her work largely concerns themes of memory, displacement, and cultural/generational translation. She has documented cultural movements, traditions, and music all across Central and South America. Soko is currently a participant in Hot Docs’ Accelerator Program and is working on a short film.

Leave a Reply