Wontons are the first dumplings that I learned to make. My mom entrusted me to make them for parties and other family gatherings. She fried them and served them with a Viet-style sweet and sour sauce speckled with a confetti-like bits of vegetables. It was finger food that got eaten up in a flash. That’s why our family wrapped regularly 3 or 4 packages worth of wontons for a total of roughly 200 wontons. Last Friday I made a small batch for our TGIF cocktail hour. There were leftover wrappers and I thought about how growing up, fried wontons were on my mom’s rotation of favorite foods to make.
It was for good reason. In 1975 we discovered that fried wontons were a friendly food in America . Fresh from the refugee resettlement camps, my parents decided to make San Clemente, California, our home. We were oddballs in the Southern California beach community known for surfing and Richard Nixon’s Western White House. Back then, San Clemente’s population was about 20,000 people, most of whom were White.
With no car, we initially walked everywhere from our apartment on Cabrillo Avenue. It was a 5-bedroom, 2-story apartment house – spacious enough for our family of seven with a spare room for my mom to operate a small tailoring business. It was close to Del Mar Avenue, the main drag. We got around and locals noticed us.
The Vietnam War was fresh in America’s collective memory and Camp Pendleton Marine Base where the first wave of Vietnamese refugees arrived was 10 minutes away. In May 1975, Time magazine reported that only 36 percent of Americans thought that Vietnamese refugees should be allowed to live in the U.S. That was not the case in our situation.