Posted in Book Reviews, New Books, Smith Collection

Smith Collection Reviews

…these restaurants are also the stage for inspiring immigration stories that highlight Asian culture’s strong family ties while celebrating the creation of new dishes that define new immigrant traditions.”

Rafael Ocasio, Charles A. Dana Professor of Spanish

Exploring the rich international cuisine available at local restaurants for many of us is a fun pastime. Indeed, you may have already developed an expertise in tasting certain national dishes (I, for instance, will drive long distances for a new variety of iconic Latin American empanadas), or you may just enjoy discovering new flavors within the exotic settings of the so-called ethnic restaurants. For international individuals, whether recent arrivals, long-time residents or first-generation U.S. Americans, these restaurants are welcoming meeting places, where homesickness is often quenched over that one special dish that brings so many memories of the homeland or homemade cooking. The geographical coordinates of a “homeland” and even “homemade cooking,” are not, however, so easily defined as explored in Chop Suey Nation and Eat a Peach. An ancestral “home” can be found hidden behind the kitchens of Chinese and Korean-inspired restaurants throughout Canada and the United States. As the authors stress, these restaurants are also the stage for inspiring immigration stories that highlight Asian culture’s strong family ties while celebrating the creation of new dishes that define new immigrant traditions. 

Bridging diverse cultures through food is the subject of Chop Suey Nation.  First-generation Chinese-Canadian journalist Ann Hui sets out to explore the origins of “chop suey,” a national culinary innovation that her own family, owners of traditional Chinese restaurants, often belittled as “fake” Chinese food (18). It is a quest that took Hui around the expansive Canadian geography. While traveling by car around the country she visited many family-owned Chinese restaurants where she tried out a variety of local chop suey dishes. Her discoveries, such as “ginger beef is uniquely Canadian” (80), go beyond a simple listing of Chinese contributions to modern popular Canadian eating habits. What started as a documentation of chop suey restaurants led Hui to write about the historical impact of Chinese immigrants in Canada (first arrivals, overwhelmingly large numbers of men, worked in the construction of a national train system beginning in the mid-nineteenth century), leading to the development of “China towns.” Hui’s conversations with owners of restaurants reveal the plight of Chinese immigrants as part of a harsh immigrational history: “They had created a cuisine that was a testament to creativity, perseverance and resourcefulness” (199).

David Chang’s memoir, Eat a Peach, examines the modern cuisine trend popularly known as fusion, or the blending of national flavors as unique dishes. Chang is a celebrated chef and founder of Momofuku, an international conglomerate of Asian-inspired restaurants well-known for their experimentation of traditional Asian ingredients, such as ramen noodles. As Chang traces in his book, his exploration of iconic Asian flavors, although initially a culinary hit, did not go without challenges. At a television interview with CBS Morning on September 9, 2020 Chang stressed his background as a first generation Korean-American chef: “I always felt in between… not ever going to be part of white culture and never going to be part of Korean American culture” ( His memoir fully explores such subjects as “cultural conditioning” and “cultural appropriation” related to the processes behind modern fusion cooking: “I began to question the validity of various cultural truths. Who gets to assign value to certain foods? What makes something acceptable or not?” (210-211).       

Eating with family members in the intimacy of home is the central subject of In Bibi’s Kitchen, a compilation of delicious family recipes by bibis, grandmothers who have kept alive the culinary traditions from eight African countries along the Indian Ocean border: Eritrea, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Madagascar, and Comoros. A handsomely produced cookbook with beautiful photographs in color of the dishes, the central protagonists are a variety of elder women, some of them living in the African cities and rural areas of their birth, some of them refugees in Africa or living abroad. As the editors of the recipes underscore, the cooks speak “this language of food” (1). And the bibi cooks do have a lot to say about African “home cooking,” including their opinions about their favorite blends of African spices and teas, best ways to cook rice and pasta (because of the strong Italian colonial past, pasta sauce with beef, or Suugo Suqaar, is a popular dish in Somalia), or how best to incorporate tropical fruits in their dishes. These charming bibis have lived extremely rich lives and overcame terrible challenges; their outlook toward the future of their native countries is truly inspiring.         
As we thankfully move to an end of the pandemic quarantine, I invite you to support your local family-owned international cuisine restaurants. Better yet, learn about their cooking staff and servers. You will be pleasantly surprised to discover about their rich life stories. Ah, if you check out In Bibi’s Kitchen and you need an unbiased taster, please reach out to me. I do love to try out different kinds of cuisines! Happy reading and may you have a relaxed summer!  

To check out any of these books, check out the Smith Collection on WorldCat and place a hold to utilize our Grab & Go services.

Books Reviewed: Chop Suey Nation by Ann Hui
Eat a Peach by David Chang
In Bibi’s Kitchen by Hawa Hassan, Julia Turshen, and more

Posted in Books & Film News, New Books

Eight New Agnes Scott Independent Studies!


We are pleased to welcome to the shelves eight recently published independent studies!

  • Alexandra Brosius.  A Study of Bis(L-Serinato)Copper(II) Decomposition Kinetics.
  • Rebecca Cross. Demographic and Environmental Variables Associated with Cognitive Test Participation of Monkeys in Large Social Groups.
  • Andrea Harris. Sustainability and Integration in German Media.
  • Keely Lewis. *Results Not Typical, Or Leads to Unusual Outcomes.
  • Juniar Lucien. Correspondence Principle : Case Study of the Dynamics of a Classically Chaotic Water-Driven Pendulum.
  • Emily Reed. Fairy Tales for Modern Queers : A Collection about Love, Representation, and Accepting Yourself in Spite of the Thorns.
  • R. Larkin Taylor-Parker. Unruly Creature of the State : The Life and Times of Georgia’s Central State Hospital.
  • Amanda Vincent. Interactions with Infants in the Captive Western Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla Gorilla Gorilla) Family Group at Zoo Atlanta.

Congratulations to the authors!

Browse the full list of independent studies published at Agnes Scott College (with the most recent listed first) to find the work of friends, classmates, and loved ones.  All independent studies are shelved by the authors last name and are available for in-house use in the Main Reading Room.

Posted in Books & Film News, New Books

New Books! Pinterest! Say What?

Yep, that is right! McCain Library is now on Pinterest.  Go to to check out our new books and movie boards! As soon as we order a book or movie we pin it to our boards.  If you follow us you could be the first one to check out a hot new movie or book!  Yay you!

Each pin will let you click through to a description on Amazon.  Once you have decided it is something that interests you check SOPHIA, the library catalog to see where it is located in the library or pin it to your own boards to check out later.

Some books may still be on order.  If that is the case  we are sure you can sweet talk the Circulation Desk into placing it on hold for you so you are notified when it comes in.  (Of course, we want give everyone a chance at the new material so let’s just limit it to one hold at a time.)

Questions? Want to see it in action?  Check out this quick video!




Posted in Books & Film News, New Books

Dr. Rafael Ocasio’s New Book

Afro-Cuban Costumbrismo: From Plantations to the Slums

Stacks 2: PQ7382 .O26 2012 (try New Books Shelf first!)

Inspired by Cuban-American singer Celia Cruz, Dr. Rafael Ocasio diverged from the traditional tourist paths of Cuba and wandered into the Black neighborhoods of Havana in search of “real” Cuban music.  With a winning smile he easily made friends. They introduced him to music, food and to some extent the religious customs often hidden from mainstream Cuban society.  He even had his fortune told.  Fascinated, he wanted to learn more.

Not far into his research of 20th century Afro-Cuban culture, Dr. Ocasio discovered that very little scholarship on Afro-Cuban culture in the 19th century existed.  The more he dug the more he realized that heavy censorship prevented the Costumbristas, writers who capture and define regional customs, from accurately illustrating the experiences of Black slaves and freed Blacks.  Even without interference from the government, which wanted to protect the institution of slavery and control the Cuban image, few of the white male writers enchanted by the emerging Afro-Cuban culture could see beyond stereotypical images of Blacks in Cuba.

Rafael Ocasio’s latest book, Afro-Cuban Costumbrismo: From Plantations to the Slums, explores how Cuban Costumbristas reported on the African traditions in the Black slave and freed Black populations.  He highlights the common images that were used in literature and identifies the customs and characters that were left out of these portrayals of Cuban life.  Dr. Ocasio also examines how the African traditions shaped Cuban culture, especially in the musical and religious traditions of Cuba.

Students immersed in the process of researching their senior seminar topic or gathering information for their first college-level research paper may be impressed that this energetic professor spends much of his free time researching and writing.  Afro-Cuban Costumbrismo took Dr. Ocasio three years to research and write.  During the school year, he relied on texts obtainable through interlibrary loan and when classes were not in session, he traveled to libraries that possessed slave manuals, guides produced by the Catholic Church on how to evangelize to new Black slaves, and other 19th century writings about Cuba that were too fragile to travel through interlibrary loan.  Since few databases contained articles about the topics that interested Dr. Ocasio, he combed through the footnotes and the bibliographies of the works he did find so that he could discover other related sources.

Though Afro-Cuban Costumbrismo is fresh off the press, Dr. Ocasio already is on to his next work.  Collaborating with Calvin Burgamy for technical support, Dr. Ocasio is creating an iBook on Latin American cinema that will be used as a textbook for his course.  In addition, he is researching and compiling Puerto Rican folktales for an anthology.  To see the full scope of Dr. Rafael Ocasio’s work, check out the links below:

If you are ready to start learning about 19th century Afro-Cuban Culture, head the the New Books shelf in the Main Reading Room to be the first person to check out Afro-Cuban Costumbrismo: From Plantations to the Slum!