Nothing could have prepared me for the impact. In one week we sold more than we had in the entire previous year. It was an overnight success, several years in the making.
The elated highs of the moment quickly dropped down to the lowest of lows as the reality of the pandemic’s impact on global supply chains hit me. We sold out of many months of inventory in a few days as I scrambled to start production in China, where they were just starting to come back to life after several months of strict lockdowns.
I wish I could say it was smooth sailing from there, but I could fill a saga with the comedy of errors that ensued over the next four months as I battled global logistics delays, ‘random’ customs inspections, and the machines at our co-packer literally breaking under the weight of our sauce, forcing us to bottle 30,000 jars by hand.
I was touched by the outpouring of support from everyone throughout all the delays. After a particularly devastating update I had to send informing customers of yet another issue in the supply chain, the hundreds of beautifully written and kind notes that came back brought me to tears.
So thank you, for coming along with me on this journey.
As the tide of support rose, so did the crescendo of racially-charged comments online, ranging from the unimaginative variation of “$15 for chili oil? I could get this for $2 in Chinatown.” to the eloquently worded take-down, “Any Chinese food that is ‘high-end’ isn’t authentic and is a capitalist marketing attempt.”
It was the same reductive dismissal that I had been hearing for years, whether explicitly from potential investors, or implicitly from the stubbornly white-washed natural foods section. It was a narrative that stripped Chinese food and its people of their value. And at the end of this long road, I was exhausted. I was done convincing people of my worth. I decided instead to hold up a mirror. What is it that makes you think Chinese food and the people creating them aren’t worth more than the value you ascribe to them?
Fighting for acceptance was a feeling I was all too familiar with. As a child of immigrants who had to prove themselves and their right to exist everywhere they went, I was naturally conditioned to achieve. My feelings of self-worth, internalized at a young age, was measured in accomplishment and output.
When I think back to late nights laboring over my stove in Shanghai, those long, exasperating days at factories in rural Sichuan, or crying in the bathroom of an office building after yet another investor I met dismissed me and my vision, I persevered the only way I knew how, by donning a hard shield, emblazoned for battle. I fought so hard for an illusion of me, that I no longer knew the person beneath the exterior.
Then one day, a few weeks into quarantine, something shifted. It dawned on me that I couldn’t recall the last time I was in my own company for this long, without the need for protective armor. Incredibly, I felt peace in just being.
I looked in the mirror and no longer saw the battle-worn Jenny who I’ve known for the last three decades of my life. She had carried me far, but it was time to peel back the layers. It turns out that what I was seeking all this time, was right here in front of me.
That was the day I came back to Jing.
In a world that constantly demanded justification for my existence, finally embracing my birth name felt like a small but radical form of self love and acceptance.
I was finally home.