“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?