Because literature often serves as a reflection of society, it is important to recognize the connections between the literary and the contemporary worlds. In today’s society where globalization and cultural dissemination are occurring at unprecedented rates, racial barriers are among the most popular topics in modern literature. “Omakase” by Weike Wang, published in the New Yorker, is a fictional short story that explores various racial barriers that exist between Asian Americans and white people.
The story portrays the relationship between a Chinese-American woman and a white American man, both who remain unnamed throughout the entire story. The history of their relationship is narrated in a non-chronological manner through a series of flashbacks that the woman experiences while having a meal with her boyfriend at a small Japanese sushi restaurant. As the story progresses, it becomes apparent that the reasons behind the woman’s self-consciousness can be primarily attributed to her ethnic background.
Having been constantly reminded by her friends and family that she is Chinese, the woman cannot refrain from being skeptical of the reasons behind the man’s interest in her. Because of her deeply-entrenched Chinese identity and her fear of “yellow fever”—the irrational attraction toward Asian-American women—the woman consults her friends about her boyfriend and asks them whether they believe he likes her solely because of her ethnicity. Even beyond the context of the story, her behavior seems reasonable, considering how foreign cultures are often fetishized in real life.
“Not having to think about one’s race is, I believe, a privilege,” said writer Weike Wang in an interview conducted by the New Yorker. “This woman is more preoccupied with race than the man is because race has permeated more aspects of her life.”
In addition, the woman believes she is indebted to the man even though she has a more lucrative and laborious job than the man does. Her opinion is reinforced by her parents and friends, who tell her that she should feel fortunate for having met an “American,” by which they suggest a “white” person. This detail highlights not only the problematic racial hierarchy that is instilled in the minds of minorities to this day but also the underrepresentation of various ethnic groups in America.
As illustrated in the story, race exerts a significant influence on one’s self-consciousness and perception of the world. “Omakase” is not only an enjoyable work of fiction but also a social commentary on the intricate racial barriers that are prevalent in today’s society. I, as an Asian American, was able to relate to many aspects of Wang’s story based on my personal experience and observations. Meanwhile, other aspects of the story informed me about societal problems that I had not been exposed to before, such as the unfortunate “yellow fever.”
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the story. I would recommend this story to anyone who is interested in learning about how race shapes one’s behavior and thoughts. “Omakase” has elements of surprise at unexpected places, which makes the story so enthralling and remarkable.
You can find “Omakase” by Weike Wang here. Happy reading!