What Ties Us Together Also Separates Us
Invisible threads string through cities tying cultures together. Sounds, scents, taste, and imagery -- they call to groups that share a common heritage.
To an outsider, a tour through Chinatown is just one Chinese restaurant after another. But to me it is Chiu Chow, Szechuan, Shanghainese, Guangzhou, Muslim, Buddhist, Hunan and Northern. Each one a different flavor, a different culture. I am connected to these cuisines through this invisible thread that began with my ancestors and continues through my family.
Augusto Piccio is a fourth year graphic design student at the renowned California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). He produced his grad project about his Filipino heritage in a thesis called "Invisible Minority."
The project explores the Filipino community in Los Angeles and their easy assimilation into society. He studied the commonalities of each community and how the vernacular did not change with the locale. As in American Chinese communities, we both have our touchstones, our icons that hold us together as a community.
One supermarket chain that is a Filipino staple is Seafood City. Augusto studied the chain's location in Eagle Rock where it is an anchor store that partners with satellite businesses. Each smaller business feeds off the clientele that Seafood City draws in. Augusto notes that the Seafood City locations are central hubs that create "Little Manila's" across the States.
From his thesis:
Filipinos have the highest rate of assimilation into the United States, specifically into Los Angeles, being the city with one of the highest concentration of Filipinos in the nation. Some key factors to their ease of assimilation include being predominantly Christian, and being fluent in English since it is taught as a native tongue. There is no issue blending in and adapting well to the "White Norm" and not being identified as a minority at all, thus, being perceived as an invisible minority."
In Augusto's case study of Eagle Rock, he notes that Filipinos are the neighborhood's third largest ethnic group. Did Seafood City create the community or did it come to serve it? As an anchor Seafood City went to where the community was. Other Filipino chains like Jollibee (fast food), Goldilocks (bakery and restaurant), Chow King (Philippine based fast food chain), as well as other smaller individually Filipino-owned businesses, followed Seafood City.
The Eagle Rock location is a taste of home, but within a new home. As time goes by, the blurring of lines and assimilation will make that taste common to non-Filipinos and the invisible minority will string those threads throughout the majority.
Augusto Piccio's thesis can be seen here.
Images: Augusto Piccio
Artist, designer and teacher Ophelia Chong explores her adopted city of Los Angeles with an eye and ear for the small moments that tests the duality of being an Asian American. Join her on her journey every Thursday on KCET's SoCal blog