Even if you've never actually met Emma Lovewell, once you've taken a class from the celebrity fitness phenom, you already feel as if she's your soon-to-be best friend. An instructor for the wildly popular virtual fitness brand Peloton, Emma finds a balance between tough coach and encouraging gal pal as she leads riders through heart-pumping cycling workouts. Off the bike, she's a Renaissance woman, giving her more than 500,000 Instagram followers glimpses into her busy life. One day she's holding a power drill as she's renovating her kitchen, the next she's leading a tour of her expansive vegetable garden. She posts cute photos of her cat, Kimchi, alongside delicious-looking homemade recipes. On her blog, Live Learn Lovewell, she shares those recipes and more. She has a warm smile and an effortlessly cool disposition, and it seems as if there's nothing she can't tackle with ease. But even with all her talents, when you ask her to name one of her biggest points of pride, it all comes back to her Taiwanese roots.
Emma's mother, Teresa, was born in Taiwan and lived there until she was 19, when she moved to the United States. She eventually settled on Martha's Vineyard, the Massachusetts island where Emma and her brother, Alan, were raised. The island wasn't exactly a hotbed of Asian culture, so Teresa had to get creative to ensure her children had a connection to their heritage.
“Around the time I was in junior high, my mom used to teach Chinese cooking classes on the Vineyard once a week,” Emma recalls. “She would invite a group of five or so people into our kitchen and would teach them how to make standard dishes like sweet-and-sour chicken or different types of stir-fries. I would watch and learn Chinese cooking from her, too.
Growing up in a small island town meant that if you wanted to eat traditional Chinese dishes, you'd better get comfortable in the kitchen. And forget about sourcing specialty ingredients from a nearby store.
A couple of times a year, the family would take a trip to Boston's Chinatown, where they'd load up on preserved items and spices to use in cooking back home. But Teresa's green thumb came in handy, too. “My mom is an avid gardener,” Emma says. “She would buy seeds for exotic Asian vegetables that you can get only in certain places, and she would grow them because there's obviously not a true Asian grocery store on Martha's Vineyard.”
Emma's school lunches looked a bit different from those of her classmates (“My mom would pack things like Chinese tea eggs and I would get lots of questions,” she says), and it wasn't always the easiest growing up half Taiwanese. “I never felt like I was Asian enough or white enough,” Emma says. “So I had a difficult connection to my culture then.” But now Emma looks back and is proud that her mother immersed her deeply in these traditions.
One of those traditions is the celebration of Lunar New Year. “We would gather around the table in a spirit of gratitude,” Emma says. “There was always so much food. We'd eat Chinese hot pot, noodles and so many dumplings.”
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