“626” and the aspirations of second generation San Gabriel Valley youth

I love this new music video about Asian food in the San Gabriel Valley ethnoburbs where I grew up (626 is the area code for the region). The Fung Brothers and Jason Chen feature my favorite restaurant of all time (Nem Nướng Ninh Hòa in Rosemead) and make a shout-out to my hometown of El Monte, when most other odes to the SGV would slight it and focus on more prosperous and more densely Asian municipalities nearby.

This video fascinates me because it seems to capture the aspirations of SGV-born second generation youth. Unlike in traditional urban Chinatowns, social mobility does not require moving out. The socioeconomically diverse suburban ethnic enclave seems to be able to keep highly educated, upwardly mobile youth who in other areas and circumstances may have moved out for better work opportunities or safer neighborhoods.

The ideal SGV lifestyle for second generation 20- and 30-somethings looks something like this: get a well-paying job somewhere in the Los Angeles region, buy a nice house in the SGV or nearby, and spend weekends and evenings with your Asian friends, driving between Asian restaurants and karaoke clubs. (Exactly what they do in the video!)

One thing that worries me about the kind of lifestyle captured in this video is the complete lack of racial diversity in these social circles. I know many people from the SGV who only have Asian friends; this includes SGV natives who still live there and those who have moved out for college or work. These circles may be multi-ethnic, including people whose ethnic homelands are all over Asia, but in the US racial scheme they are very homogeneous.

This might be a function of the extreme concentration of Asian people in this area and the unspoken tensions between Asians and Latinos in the communities where they overlap. However, considering that many if not most second generation Asian youth in the SGV go to college in more diverse settings outside of the region, only associating with Asian people in college and beyond is a bit troubling.

What causes this segregation, and what are the consequences? Is this a failure of American-style multiculturalism or the “salad bowl” at its finest? How do SGV youth understand and deal with the ethnic mix of the rest of the country when they live in an environment that is diverse but homogeneous at the same time?

  1. Is self-segregation an issue? Sort of.

    White people self-segregate all the time but it’s not an issue because they dominate all the good power structures in American society.

    So it could be a possible impediment to the highest elite levels of success in some fields (not all fields) but if Asian Americans are happier they don’t have to be looked down upon (which happens when you’re Asian, your homeland culture is not really respected in America) – then why not?

    If you grew up loving boba, and your co-workers and boss don’t like boba (they probably think it’s for kids) – then why not hang out with other people who love it?

    But yes, there are drawbacks. But that’s life. Not everyone is trying to make CEO. Maybe they just want to learn enough about being a CPA then starting their own firm to service…a mostly Asian clientele.

    • You make an excellent point about assimilation into the top of the hierarchy, and I agree with you about the need to find spaces where you feel comfortable being in your own skin. On the other hand, I think part of the reason “your co-workers and boss don’t like boba” (and other Asian things) is because there is a lack of back-and-forth between Asian communities and other communities. Perhaps they think boba is gross simply because they haven’t had any experience with it! I still think that less self-segregation might lower levels of mistrust and misunderstanding on both sides.

  2. mankey

    I’ve never seen any powerful white people show love to Asian culture (Rupert Murdoch types loving Asian poon doesn’t count). Maybe Japanese A LITTLE but if you go to any authentic Chinese restaurant, the white people will look much more like Johnathan Gold than Mitt Romney.

    • Random Reader

      I guess mainly the white people eating in the authentic Chinese restaurants are those dragged by their Chinese wives or group of friends.

  3. Laura

    I get where you are going with this. But I feel like this is amazing that people are creating media to claim and represent their own neighborhoods in thier own lights. Plus, as a Latina who grew up in the 6-2-6 and claims it openly, I totally connected. Mainly cause I did all these things with my Chinese, Taiwanese, and Korean friends.

    • I totally agree with your point about taking control of media representations, but I still don’t think they can claim it all for themselves.

  4. Why can’t Asians (specifically Chinese/Taiwanese) claim the 626? Nobody is saying that other people can’t enjoy living here, but if they want to be part of the dominant narrative – they’ve got to enjoy boba.

    As an Asian, I grew up in a white/black town. Guess what? I played on the football team and basketball team and drank Bud Light and learned to assimilate (without losing the core of my Asian roots).

    But now that Asians make up over 50% of an area (and about 90% of the businesses) – they can’t present the dominant narrative?

    If I’m in East LA/Montebello/basically any other part of LA…I enjoy churros and horchata. I KNOW that’s a Latino hood and I respect that and act accordingly.

    If you’re in the 626, it’s boba all day.

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