As an Asian American, I have to say I am a bit of a shut in when it comes to hanging out with my tribe. I go to the gym early in the morning, I work in my studio all day, I walk the dogs with my neighbors, and generally lead a very quiet, hermetic life. I don't live in a bubble -- it's more solid than a bubble -- it's a wall that I have built around me that keeps me focused on what I have to do, away from distractions. The walls keep me from being lost in the crowd.
The Road to Chinatown
I might travel to Chinatown every other month to pick up certain supplies, but not as much as I used to. Chinatown has come to my neighborhood. At Costco I can buy my favorite soy sauce and rice; at the Thai markets down the street I can find duck sausages and canned water chestnuts. When I was a child growing up in Canada, our family would make a day of it. We would get in the car and make the 15-mile trek downtown, eat lunch at the only place serving dim sum, and then I would follow my parents as they went store to store buying imported Chinese groceries and fresh fish. I loved being in a place where everyone spoke Cantonese and where I blended in.
As a child, I had an invisible wall that was built around me that kept me in one place; my identity was defined by a location. My "defined" location no longer exists, once defined ethnic areas blur into each other. Invisible bridges criss cross over the city and unite communities that blend into new hybrids. In the Hollywood area, Thai Town and Little Armenia is separated by one street light. I am able to walk to one culture to another without effort, and the "specialness" of making a day of it is gone. I now blend in everywhere.
On Vacation From Here
For the past year I have written about Asian Americans, and with each piece I tried to speak about what it is to be Asian American in Los Angeles. I now see that there are no defining walls that separate me from them, us from you. Yes, culturally we have differences, but I feel we all want the same thing, we all have the same goals. And as time goes on, how we approach the road to those goals will less distinct. As each day passes I feel less and less Asian -- I am becoming a human bridge to multiple cultures.
In about a month I will be traveling to a place where I will be probably one of the few Asians. It will be a culture shock for me and I will flip flop from the state of mind of "we are the same" to "wow, I am so different." During my absence, Kristina Wong will be filling in for me and she will be giving you her opinion on the Asian American state of mind.
See you soon on the other side of April.
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