Tomorrow is the second 626 Night Market, an event that tries to bring the night market cultures of Asia to Southern California. I missed the first one, and thank goodness, because by all accounts it was a dangerous and unpleasant mess of an event. The venue was too small, there was not enough food, and the parking spaces were limited–all things the organizers are trying to fix this time around.
What really struck me in reading the reviews of the first event on Yelp (a business and event rating site) was the amount of racialized self-hatred there was in the negative reviews that the algorithm put at the top of the list. The Yelpers, mostly of apparent East Asian descent (judging from the photos), tended to blame the mess that was the 626 Night Market on the fact that it was an Asian concept attracting Asian people.
Van D.: “And THE CROWD… FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCKKKK!!! makes me hate asian people!! They push into you, they step on you, they cross the street without walking. Fuck, this is worse than Asia -_-’ They even try to cut in front of you when you’re waiting in line. It felt as though I left civilization and re-entered some PRIMITIVE place where rules no longer applied.”
Anita L.: 1. Traffic – Well, you know what they say about Asian drivers, I was grateful that I didn’t get killed. [...] 4. Crowds – Okay, I understand that we are all Asian here, but give me my personal space! I really don’t hate it when people actually think they can move faster if they rub against the person in front of them.
Laura S.: “There is nothing ou can do about crowds… The planners anticipated hundreds but not thousands. But with an event like this… And Asians… You never know…”
If these comments had come from non-Asian reviewers, we’d all be crying racist. But while it might be socially acceptable for Asian American reviewers to make such comments about their own racial group, let’s step back and deconstruct these comments for a bit. To me they all hint at an aspiration towards white, middle-class American norms of behavior. This is clearest in Van D.’s comment, which puts the 626 Night Market on the primitive end of the civilized-primitive spectrum. In fact, she remarks that it is more primitive than Asia!
What do comments like these tell us about Asian American self-image and about the future of the San Gabriel Valley? While some people are predicting that the San Gabriel Valley is breeding a new type of Asian American enclave experience, in which (English speaking and economically privileged) Asian Americans define the space for themselves through innovations like the 626 Night Market, it’s clear that the region is not completely shut off from the rest of American society. “Asia,” “Asians,” and markers of “Asianness” continue to be considered “primitive” and uncouth, even in this space where Asian Americans are the majority.