Inauthentic Curry Rice:
Authentic Commitment

By Yuzhou Michael Ju

​At age four, waking up and dressing at the chilly winter dawn was always difficult for me, whenever Grandma would cover me in her warm arms and tell me stories about Chinese immortals to take me out of sweet dreams. In her descriptions, immortals were omnipotent to figure out everything in both heaven and earth: they could control the natural law of all the plants and animals. Grandma even bragged that she witnessed those immortals with long hair and gorgeous clothes conjuring in our hometown’s forest: they easily switched themselves between animals and human beings. Hearing this, the sleepyhead would immediately awaken and request more details. “Wake up faster tomorrow and I will tell you more.”

​Grandma would take me to kindergarten and pick me up later in the afternoon. At that time, Grandma, Dad, Mom, and I lived together. When we returned home, she started the “complicated” cooking:  I was picky when I was little, so Grandma saw cooking as a tough task. Why did warm home cooking become annoying? Because there was a picky child in the family. That’s me. Mom more than once told me that Grandma’s daily exercise was to chase after and feed me at that time.

Grandma and me

​The “complicated” cooking mission lasted eighteen years: I went from an infant to a high school student. When I turned fifteen, my parents and younger sister moved into a new house. I stayed with Grandma, who cooked for me in the house near my school. As a commuter student, I ate all three meals and took a noontime nap at home every day.

​In summer, with the highest temperature exceeding forty degrees Celsius at noon, everyone took a nap in a cool room with the air conditioner on. When I would leave my comfortable cool room, unwillingly heading to school, I would see Grandma lying on the sofa with only an electric fan spinning. Grandma always got all sweaty, holding a palm leaf hand fan while sleeping. Dad told her thousands of times to turn on the air conditioner before sleeping, but she hardly listened.

The Living Room of My Previous Home
Grandma lay on the sofa for a nap every day. The photo was taken on 20 Jan 2022, the day I visited the house where I stayed for eighteen years for the last time.

​Who could blame Grandma? She was born and raised in a rural village called Yudi, a mountainous area of Youyang county, which is on the border of my city, Chongqing, and she never left there until my birth. Grandma was born at the time when the nation was just founded, and she grew up with the new country, which meant she suffered a lot: the Civil War between Communists and Republicans, the Great Famine, the landlord period, and the Cultural Revolution. Like many Chinese women from the countryside, Grandma had short hair, always wore a thimble, and had a pair of hands full of calluses. In the first half of her life, as the whole country went hungry, she was busy cutting firewood, feeding livestock, and growing vegetables, focusing on how to not starve. But later, Grandma’s life completely changed when I was born: she left the huge mountains where she stayed for more than fifty years. Her first visit to a metropolis, Chongqing, one of the four municipalities in modern China, was to look after me.

​Grandma’s new “mission” was to be the family cook, which meant my personal chef when I started high school. Even though there were only two people for every meal, Grandma cooked four or five dishes covering all categories: cold appetizers, such as braised shredded pig ear and chicken claw; meat dishes like scrambled eggs with tomatoes, fried shredded beef, and spicy fish; vegetables like fried carrots or lettuce; soups such as Chinese yam and pork rib soup. These common and popular dishes perfectly satisfied my stomach. I enjoyed them all the time. Grandma cared about every meal: from purchasing ingredients to cooking them into dishes, probably because she had surrendered to my picky stomach.

​Even though such cuisines were the most common home-cooking on the Chinese family table, Grandma sometimes was still obsessed with rural delicacies such as fermented bean curd and fried bamboo shoots. My picky stomach would make mischief: I did not like such “natural” ingredients, so every time Grandma made such special taste food, I hardly ate anything and instead stealthily ordered grilled skewered food for delivery, such as beef, chicken wings, and eggplant. Why stealthily? With a height of 6 feet but only 115 pounds, I had been too slim, like “bamboo” that the breeze could even easily blow me down(in Grandma's words), so my family always worried about my health and cared about my dietary habits.

​I usually took the order when Grandma went to sleep. Every time, I texted the deliveryman. “Please do NOT knock on the door. Just put it at the door and text me.” When my order arrived, I quietly walked over to the door, slowly opened it, and tiptoed back to my bedroom. I glutted myself with barbecue delicacies, which seemed so inviting: spiced beef cubes were skewered in a thick bamboo stick, and ambrosial cumin on the beef was fully sent forth when fully grilled. Then, I fell into sweet dreams after giving a belch—a sign announcing my action succeeded.

​Indeed, there’s no such thing as a perfect crime, as Sherlock Holmes said. I was caught because of my carelessness: I forgot to take the packing box of the food with me when I left for school one following morning. When I returned for lunch, Grandma asked me if I ordered any food last night. I acknowledged my crime, but she just gently said: “Are you tired of my cuisine, maomao? You won’t be eating my food for long before you go to America.” She used her hometown word for “boy.” Her words dumbed mine in my throat.

​I thought I would only eat the usual Chinese fried dishes from then on. But one day after school, when I opened the door, the house was full of a wonderful aroma that did not belong to any food of Grandma’s recipes: I thought there was something wrong with my olfactory nerve. That smell reminded me of the brown sauce from Southeastern Asia: it was pungent and made me pleasant; the smell combined various spices like ginger, onion, and garlic. I walked over to the kitchen and asked Grandma what she made. She couldn’t conceal the delight and coyly told me to see for myself. Until I opened the cover of the pot, I could not believe it was the food that occurred to me: the curry.

​Grandma showed off her achievement, proudly saying: “Try how my ‘gala’ is”. I didn’t have the heart to correct Grandma, and I wouldn’t do it ever. Gala? In Chinese, the pronunciation of the word “curry” is actually “gali.” She couldn't even properly name this foreign dish, but successfully cooked it: her curry perfectly combined curry sauce with beef. Grandma’s version of “gala” rice would always be “gali.”

​Curry rice made by grandma was simple: without specialized ingredients like coconut milk, ginger root, or basil leaves, the curry sauce was made from flavored powder and onions; the sauce later was braised with my favorite food: beef, potatoes, and carrots. Despite the basic ingredients, it was much better than the one I had in a Thai restaurant. Grandma didn’t know the steps of making authentic curry. She just braised everything together.

"How Could An Uneducated Rural Lady Do Foreign Cuisine?"

​How did Grandma know curry and learn to make it? An uneducated rural lady, Grandma did not try any international cuisine until her 60s. She could hardly read, but the characters of my name were among the few she could recognize; she could not use the smartphone fluently, but if any family member sent her an online hong bao in a group chat, she immediately clicked the gold button to open the electronic “red envelope” and asked me to transfer the money to my account. She didn’t even know how to use the transfer function on the app. Grandma seemed to be forgotten by this era of high technology, where people had switched their lifestyle from the actual world to the internet: modern China had implied its science and technology to people’s daily life, such as the emergence of WeChat. However, until now, I haven’t figured out how it is possible that curry could be added to Grandma’s recipe.

​When I tasted the luscious curry rice, Grandma asked me if I had determined to go to America for college—this was not the first time she asked this. Grandma supported everything I did, except studying abroad: she didn’t understand the meaning of going to such a far and unfamiliar place. Even though she could not change anything, Grandma respected my choice and always looked forward to witnessing the first college student in the family.

​She’d been saying farewell for her whole life: her sons left for Xinjiang, the northwesternmost province in China to work at the age of seventeen. Dad returned ten years later, but my uncle settled there, working in the cotton plantation industry; my aunt was assigned to Xi’an, a city in northern China, doing real estate and settling there afterward. Now, in the latter half of her life, Grandma saw her beloved grandson off to another country located on the other side of the world.

​The time approached the day I was going to depart for America. To welcome the coming of my new journey, I dyed my hair caramel a couple of days before leaving. Everyone said the color didn’t match my personal features. However, Grandma always praised my choice in those days. “My maomao now looks so sharp.”

​On the morning of my departure day at the airport, Grandma just told me to eat more when away from her. Then, she hugged me and turned around. That hug reminded me of the chilly mornings she dressed me in her arms. The stories of Chinese immortals occurred to me again: they showed up in my brain in fancy robes, telling me to be strong when away from Grandma. At the age of eighteen rather than four, I had received an education and knew that there were no immortals in the world. However, at that moment, I prayed that those omnipotent immortals could keep Grandma safe and healthy forever.


​First, I want to express my gratitude to my writing professor Mr. Ryan Chang for his guidance. He's been a gem for me. I also would like to thank my friends (Ting Long, Xingjian Wang, and Peini Yu) for the encouragement during process. Finally, most importantly, I would like to thank my grandma for her commitment to me and my future.

Artist’s Statement

Michael talks about his piece, which was originally published as a stand-alone website.

Alberto Lule

Alberto Lule uses readymades, mixed media installations, video, performance, and
tools used by agencies of authority to examine and critique the prison industrial
complex in the United States, particularly the California carceral state. Using his
own experiences, he aims to tie the prison industrial complex to other American
political issues such as immigration, homelessness, drug addiction, and mental
health. Lule creates artworks that explore institutional roles as gatekeepers of
knowledge, authorities of culture, administrators of discipline, and executors of
punishment. He is the recipient of the Public Impact Fellowship, Claire Trevor
School of the Arts, UC Irvine, 2022-2023. The 2020 Kay Nielsen Memorial
Drawing Award, The Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Alberto received a BA in Art
from The University of California Los Angeles, and is currently pursuing his MFA
from the Claire Trevor School of the Arts at UC Irvine.

Cassandra Flores

Hello! My name is Cassandra Flores and I was raised in South El Monte after my parents’ immigrated from Nayarit, México to East LA. I spent my summers in high school exploring politics and multicultural literature. This is where I began to dissect my own cultural identity through the works of writers like Gloria Anzaldúa and Oscar Zeta Acosta. I find power in vulnerability and confrontation in all types of writing, including music. The lyricism of artists such as Clairo, Natalia Lafourcade, and Lorde foster an intimacy I hope to capture in my own writing. Things that bring me joy include my cat, Kiwi, dancing, concerts, and crafts that stimulate my creativity! As a student at UC Irvine, I study Social Policy and Public Service and I’ve been dancing with Ballet Folklorico de UCI for two years. My favorite poet at the moment is Yesika Salgado. I resonate with her experiences, the bilingualism in her writing, and aim to one day publish my own poetry book.

Tatyana Hazelwood

Tatyana grew up as a low-income, first-gen, African-American, Panamanian and Mexican student in both Orange County and San Diego, CA. She works as a System-Impacted Peer Mentor and an intern for the LIFTED Program. At UC Irvine, she is a Psychological Science (B.A.) and Criminology, Law & Society (B.A.) double major. Being a system-impacted student herself, she had a difficult upbringing and strives to find healing through success in education to end generational sacrifices. She began writing personal poems in her creative writing course in high school but often felt restricted to the conventional rules of poetry. Her works shared in Issue 4 are her most personal and meaningful poems.

Janellee Hernandez

Hello! My name is Janellee and I am a first-generation college student who was raised in a Guatemalan household. I have always loved how art has been a medium (in any form) that allows people to say something without actually speaking. Whether it’s to communicate a deeper meaning or is just there to simply exist. Photography has been something that I have always enjoyed and found that it is my way of self expression.

John Dayot

John Silvan Dayot is a rising senior at UCI studying English. He recently became an alumni of the award-winning nonprofit program Ghetto Film School (GFS). With a background in film, John wants to grow as a storyteller and develop projects with his community of talented friends. He believes art is always growing and is currently inspired by visual arts and capturing real life/people.

Daniel Le

Daniel Le is a third year student studying psychology with a minor in digital arts. Originally from Cerritos, CA, he enjoys exploring new things with friends, making spotify playlists, getting tattoos, and immersing himself in his Vietnamese culture.

Dontaye Henderson

Dontaye Henderson was raised in Atlanta Georgia and now resides in San Diego, California. He attends UCI studying to earn his BA degree in Sociology. His inspiration comes from his children and loving mother. He desires to use his education to help aid the struggling youth in society as a mentor. He enjoys writing poetry, reading, drawing, and cooking. He is grateful for this opportunity with furthering his education with UCI and plans to be the best version of himself towards everyone he meets.

Victor Lopez

My name is Victor Lopez. I am an incarcerated student at Richard J. Donovan State Prison. Serving a life sentence does not give a father much room to be a positive role model. Educating myself to motivate my daughter Arriana was the best that I could do. My past actions does not define who I am, with or without my freedom, I will contrive to be a better man.

Martha Trujillo

Martha Coral Trujillo is a 28-year-old currently attending Fullerton College to obtain a Paralegal Certificate after having completed a Master's Degree in Criminology, Law and Society. Martha's goal is to become a Criminal Lawyer and to continue to work with supporting youth at risk. Martha continues to write in journals and is currently working on Journal 33. Martha's passion for assisting and serving underrepresented youth has been the motivation for her to continue to reach higher and do more in the Justice System.

Patrick Acuña

Patrick was born in San Gabriel, California but was raised by the carceral system. After three decades of incarceration, he is the first member of UCI’s LIFTED (Leveraging Inspiring Futures Through Educational Degrees) to transition to campus as a first-generation senior with an emphasis in Psychological Science and Criminology, Law, and Society. When Patrick isn’t on campus, he volunteers with Guide Dogs of America where he trains dogs for children on the autism spectrum and veterans managing PTSD and/or overcoming combat related mobility impairment. His other passions include backcountry hiking, working out, and traveling. He’s recently returned from a 30-day cross country road trip where he slept on the sidewalk of New York’s Time Square, a back-alley doorway in DC, and the parking lot of a Las Vegas Cracker Barrel.

Yuzhou Michael Ju

Yuzhou Michael Ju, a second-year Sociology major at UCI, is an international student who was born and raised in Chongqing, China. He completed his entire K-12 education in China before coming to the U.S. for college. Yuzhou is particularly interested in immigration studies, with a focus on Chinese Americans. Whenever he visits a Chinatown, he feels curious about the people there: what motivates them to move to a distant place, and how do they establish new homes in an unfamiliar country? First-generation immigrants, in particular, must have made significant commitments to their entire families in order to support the future of their offspring. In his free time, Yuzhou dedicates most of his time to volunteering as a tour guide at art exhibitions or historical relics museums in Chongqing. He guides visitors through exhibitions showcasing Dunhuang Buddhist murals and shares the history of Chongqing's role as the War Capital of China during WWII.

Feliz Aguilar

Feliz is a disabled, non-binary, first-generation, Latinx creator proudly hailing from the East Side of Salinas, CA. They recently graduated from UC Irvine in June 2023, double majoring in Literary Journalism and International Studies. Their passion for learning and experiences as a first-generation student inspired them to question the accessibility of post-undergraduate higher education, leading to the piece featured in this issue. The people fighting injustice around the world are their greatest inspiration, and they hope to continue standing in solidarity with those resisting oppression globally — whether in writing or on the ground.

Helena San Roque

My name is Helena San Roque. I’m a third year Literary Journalism major at UCI. I wrote my piece “Azat Artsakh, Free Us All'' as a nod to my Armenian heritage. However, it’s more than that— it wasn’t until college that I learned about the broad anti-imperialist struggle across various nations in Latin America, Palestine, Armenia, the Philippines, India, etc… In this piece, I talk about Armenia and Palestine: in 2020 the Artsakh war broke out after a decades long armistice between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Israel, which has committed grave atrocities against Palestine, continued to support Azerbaijan in their unjust war against Armenia, resulting in capturing Armenian territory in a trial of human rights abuses. But when your father’s homeland is attacked, what can I, an “American” college student, do? For me, to truly help emancipate my people, the answer was to get educated and organize.

Guadalupe Parra

Guadalupe is a first-generation student majoring in History with the goal of becoming a teacher. She was born in a tiny town in Jalisco, Mexico, and moved to the US with her parents when she was three. She grew up in the San Fernando Valley, surrounded by Mexican culture, and uses that as inspiration in her poetry.

Mariah Rosario

My name is Mariah Rosario and I am a UCI 2022 graduate and alumni. The following portfolio I submitted is my college senior thesis I submitted for my final. It depicts my story of self-emancipation and finding myself through independence and trauma.

Makyla McLeod

Makyla is a Black, first-generation student born and raised in North Carolina. She is currently entering her 3rd year in undergrad with a double major in International Studies and Literary Journalism. As the author of "I Educate", Makyla looked to voice not only her personal experience as the oldest child in a southern Black household looking to further her education, but to also pay homage and express gratitude to the village that continues to help her get there. In her free time, besides writing, she enjoys listening to music, reading, playing video games, and watching horror movies.

Serenity Thu Ritchey

Serenity is a third-year English major from Garden Grove, CA. She has a soft spot for poetry, among other things, like honeycombs, and the color green. She thinks words are pretty sweet and wants to believe in them. (Sometimes she does).

Josie Bitnes

Originally from Washington, Josie is a second year criminology, law, and society major seeking a literary journalism minor. She plans on attending law school to become a criminal defense attorney. In her free time, she skis with UCI’s Ski and Snowboard club and enjoys playing guitar, reading, and being outside in nature.

Corbin Li

Corbin is a first-generation college student studying Civil Engineering at UC Irvine. Growing up in California, they fell in love alongside Pacific air, late night guitar, and bonfires at the beach. Corbin’s passions lie in the intersection between engineering, art, and society, and they look forward to further exploring these topics in future years.

Erik Perez

First and foremost my name is Erik Perez and I am 20 years young. I am an artistic expressionist and Chicano artist. I’m from Southern California where we dream big and plant seeds for the world to flourish.

Francisco Vazquez

My name is Francisco Vazquez and I am 20 years old from the city of Santa Ana–that’s the place I call home. I’ve been in and out of the Orange County Juvenile Hall since the age of 14. I’m on my way to prison and I’m in a different mindset than the one I had 2 years ago when I first got here. In here I like to read, draw, and work out. I got a hidden talent which is to sing and I would like to pursue that upon release. I attend college here and I try to be a role model for my peers. In the future I hope to give back to my community, which I used to terrorize at some point.

Helen Barahona

Helen Barahona recently graduated from the University of California, Irvine (‘23). She double-majored in Political Science (Honors) & Sociology and over the summer she interned in DC with the Shadow Topics team as a research intern at the Political Violence Lab. Prior to working with the lab she served as a student assistant at the UCI Basic Needs Center, and as the managing editor for LUCID through the Dream Project Fellowship. During her free-time she likes to read, write, paint, rate movies on letterboxd and go bike-riding!

Jaaziel de la Luz

I am from Veracruz, Mexico and currently a second year math PhD student at UCI. I enjoy writing, reading philosophy, skateboarding, learning languages, traveling, hiking, jogging, sketching, and doing research. I am passionate about community building and exploring the world.

Juan Jimenez

My name is juan jimenez. 
I’ve been incarcerated for 
just about 5 yrs. In the 
midst of this quest, I’ve 
developed a hobby!
             I’m a writer 
from the ghetto! Don’t you 
disregard my message . . .
Told them all that made me 
feel like I was less than: 
             Here’s a little bout my story. Not a boy. I know 
             I’m destined

Pablo Ramirez

My name is Pablo. They also call me Pablito. At this moment Im placed in JH. In here I’ve learned many things about myself and my surroundings. I’ve learned how the brain works and how trauma affects your thinking. Right now I’m going to high school at the moment. Ima graduate in December. Im excited because I want to go to college. I used to be wild. I didn’t care about life Itself. All I cared about was putting in work for my hood and shit like that. that was me out there. In here Im more calm kick back. I’m changing. This change Im doing is mostly for my family. They need me out there to support them emotionally and financially. I [used to be] the man of the house. At a young age I would work hard and pay my jefa for rent. [My mom] would struggle and that bummed me out, but there were also times where I shit where I slept. Now Im focused on getting my education and learning new stuff every day. Im more open minded. When I get out me voy a poner las pellas to work hard to buy a house for my lil family. I want to be a welder. I wanna learn the art of welding. Im a hands on person. Im thankful for everything I’ve been through. It taught me a lot.

Samog-J Lemon

I am a current student at Irvine Valley College and I'm majoring in communicative disorders. I was born in Anaheim. I love spending time with family and friends; as I got older I realized how important that was. I am a Christian and go to church with my great grandma every Sunday. I like to write poems on the beach; it’s my new way of clearing my mind. I actually do write now to clear my head, something I would’ve never knew I liked but I find therapeutic.

Allan Plata

Born in City of Orange, Ca., my family and I have moved from room to room. Eventually my mother was able to afford an apartment of her own. I always lived in rural areas in the same city then eventually I would get involved with the people in my environment. Father was in and out the picture due to negative habits and mother was either busy or would put her priorities before her own children. My sister was a second mother and also a friend that would try to guide me to do better things for myself, though I was stubborn and didn’t want to listen to what others had to say.

Rachael Collins

Rachael has been an educator and teacher of writing in the California Community College system and at UCI since 2005. A proud homeschooled student, CCC transfer and UC graduate twice over with a PhD in early modern poetry, Rachael is committed to curriculum design that focuses on providing high quality, innovative, and democratically-centered writing instruction to disadvantaged learners, including those who are limited to online learning environments. Drawing upon the multidisciplinary, multimedia work published in Lucid, Rachael's courses focus on the transformative potential of personal writing in higher education. She thinks that when students are given the space and the tools to express themselves, they write beautifully.

Ryan "Flaco" Rising

Ryan Flaco Rising, West Coast Credible Messengers Director and PhD candidate in Criminology Law and Society at the University of California, Irvine, leverages his personal experience as a formerly incarcerated individual to assist others transitioning into higher education at UCI. His research focuses on creating pathways for formerly incarcerated individuals in higher education and analyzing the evolution of related programs. Ryan's advocacy, including founding the Gaucho Underground Scholars Program at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has played a pivotal role in expanding similar programs across UC campuses. He has received prestigious awards for his work and authored pieces in various publications, showcasing the power of formerly incarcerated individuals in producing innovative solutions and sustainable pathways for their communities, encapsulated in his 'Organic Leadership' theory.

Lisandra Rising

Lisandra is an Undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine majoring in Social Policy and Public Service with a focus on Education. Lisandra serves as the Recruitment Coordinator for the Underground Scholars program at UCI. She is also part of a blended family and lives with her son and daughter who are both 14.

Mia Voloshin

Mia is a Freshman at University High and plays indoor volleyball. On her free time, she enjoys being with her friends, shopping, and going to the beach. She eventually wants to pursue college courses before and after she graduates high school.

Riley Rising

Riley is originally from Montana and moved to CA last year in eighth grade. He is now a Freshman at University High and is involved with jiu jitsu and wrestling at his high school. Riley enjoys skateboarding and free-styling on his free time. He wants to join the marines after he graduates.

Pedro Nieves

Pedro Nieves is a UCI alumni who graduated with a Bachelor's degree in the Arts. Born in Puebla Mexico, he immigrated to the U.S. at 2 years old. After getting involved with the Dream Center and Underground Scholars Initiative, he’s now passionate about advocating for underrepresented communities by using his photography and video production skills. He hopes to become a skilled photographer and creative and looks forward to applying to graduate school to further hone his artistic abilities and create a name for himself in the art world.