Whenever I visit Little Tokyo, I lament watching the gradual attrition of Japanese-Americans. I can see that the aging Baachans and Jiichans who once occupied the space are dying off, the little mom and pop stores replaced by flashy, hip, restaurants, art stores and coffee shops. On the one hand, I’m sad when I’m told, “We have hardly any Japanese customers,” at the revamped supermarket, which was once a regular staple for Japanese food for my parents. But on the other hand, it’s a natural evolution that has spruced up the neighborhood from a tired and decaying magnet for skid row vagrants to a hip and happening neighborhood for new, younger, Korean immigrants.
With low immigration and high intermarriage rates, it’s no surprise that the Japanese-Americans are disappearing. I myself am a prime example of what is happening. I have intermarried and if I had had children, mine would have been a mix of Chinese, Japanese and Filipino. My next door neighbor’s kid is Japanese and Indian and my other friend’s kids down the street are hapa haole. My state-side cousins have all intermarried with non-Japanese.
Some believe that eventually we will evolve into one homogeneous race. We’ll all be Afro-Asian-Hispanic-Caucasian. That might be kinda cool. But then what will the food be like? Will we be eating sushi curry? Bibimbap pancit? Will food devolve into some kind of same blandness like American fare that blended out of old world European roots? Will people devolve into some kind of same blandness? How do you feel about the evolution towards a homogenous race in America? Is this a good thing or bad thing?
QUENTIN: I was hanging out with an Asian American friend who has been in Asia for a decade or two… and he was saying that coming back to America he realized that Asian American issues were really minute to the world. For example, he just laughed at how we were so horrified (and amused) by the racist KTVU broadcast after the Asiana flight. I am actually hopeful that Americans (and Asian Americans alike) will be evolving toward a more international perspective that values the diversity of the world… which would make homogeneity irrelevant.
ROGER: Well, in the canine world, the mutt is much more physically and immuno robust when compared to their purebred counterparts. So the evolution into a homogenous race in America can have it’s benefits (not that we are dogs). That being said, I love how America today has so many distinct and unique neighborhoods, streets, shops, restaurants, towns, etc. It would be a shame for those cultural nuances to be lost as America evolves into a similar DNA, humanoid mix. But it’s inevitable, right? Culture evolves with it’s people. When people change, their culture changes as reflex. So, do I like it? Not really. But then again, there’s not much we can do to stop it. And that is why places like J-Town are evolving into multiple shades of the W Hotel. Sigh…
ALFREDO: I don’t like the euro. I liked it better when each country had their own cool currency – different colors, shapes, sizes. Sure it’s a bit of a hassle at the border, but it’s worth it. I don’t really think we’re heading toward some homogenous race. That would be like mixing all the colors in the Crayola box and coming up with some godawful hue, probably something between tan and gray. We can be individual and tolerant at the same time. Keeps it interesting and makes for better choices at the mini-mall food court.
PHILIP: I’d like to think that all this mixing of races and cultures doesn’t necessarily mean that something has to be lost. Some of the Asians I know who are the most passionate about exploring and holding onto their Asian cultural roots are hapas while I know “pure” Asians who immigrate to this country and try to chuck away the old traditions as soon as they can. I believe evolution is necessary to survival and change is going to happen. But I also believe that that doesn’t mean we forget the traditions and things that make us unique and different. Those traditions may evolve too as I’m sure it’s done throughout history but I feel that as long as people care–those core values remain intact even if we no longer look or act like our ancestors did.
DHH: I believe cultures are inherently mongrelized, and always changing. That which we now consider “traditional” or “authentic” was once radical, transgressive, and possibly blasphemous. For instance, the pipa, the “traditional” Chinese lute, actually came from the Middle East. Therefore, I don’t believe any culture, including America’s, will ever become homogeneous; even when there is a veneer of uniformity, diversity and multiplicity thrive beneath. I’ve just spent the week in Hawaii, arguably a template for America’s future. Culture there is hardly uniform; on the contrary, at least where it comes to food, the range of tastes, cuisines, and fusions is amazing. Some cultures might die out and new ones will be born – that’s just how it’s always been.
BEVERLY: We are really one homogenous race to begin with (although I do believe I have dated my fair share of neanderthals… and for all I know, I could be part baboon) and as much as I might lament the ‘changing of the times’, I am not able to stop that. It’s the gift of getting older; I am able to see a time when ‘this’ was the norm, and now ‘this’ is the norm. What’s powerful in seeing both is that we are able to pass on any traditions/values we consider valuable: but it is up to the next generation to deem whether they want to keep it or not. And in the meantime, we should all travel more so we can taste the different foods before Walmart determines what foods are grown.
I think blandness can come from sources other than racial homogenization, so I don’t worry that it will result in uniformity or banality. Individual personalities will always be unique, and as long as other countries and cultures exist, new immigrants and influences will constantly enter society. I understand your concern for losing a particular culture, though. I guess this is an example of history happening in front of us. It seems like a river slowly eroding a rock into a different shape. Things won’t remain in the form you once knew – they’ll always change. I find this sad when I think about nature slowly disappearing, but as they say, change is inevitable. Hopefully we’ll find ways to keep things fresh and regenerative (in a good way, not in a “creepy hamburger made from amoebas” way) – culturally and environmentally.