Asian Americans Over-Crowd the Beaten Paths

For years I have been noticing an odd phenomenon on my weekend outings. It may help explain why so many Americans seem to have trouble accepting the fact that we Asian Americans speak English.

On my weekend jaunts out to picturesque spots like San Clemente or Santa Barbara or San Louis Obispo, the few Asians I encounter are speaking Mandarin, Korean, Japanese or Cantonese. They’re mostly overseas tourists or newcomers to the U.S. rather than Asian Americans.

I can stroll the entire stretch of Avenida Del Mar, Coast Village Road, Ojai Avenue or on occasion even State Street without seeing other Asian Americans. Asian tourists, yes, but no Asian Americans. I have enjoyed countless restaurants situated in memorable locales with delightful food, warm service and charming ambience at reasonable prices without seeing other Asian Americans. I don’t expect such places to be swarming with Asians, but it would seem natural to see maybe one Asian American among every seven patrons given our share of Southern California’s population. What I see is more like one for every thirty.

The next weekend I might visit an Asian enclave like Monterey Park, Rowland Heights, Artesia or Little Tokyo and find myself surrounded by English-speaking Asians. In fact, the crowds in such places are about 95% Asian, with the majority speaking English. They’re often waiting in lines to squeeze into packed restaurants, boba cafés or even bakeries.

The ridiculous contrast between such Asian crowds and the scarcity of Asian Americans off well-beaten tracks suggests a powerful herd mentality that goes way beyond the natural affinity of most ethnic groups. I’ve postulated many possible factors behind this phenomenon: a desire to avoid being in the minority any more than necessary; a strong affinity for Asian food; an utter lack of interest in scenic locales; maybe even some innate cultural preference for densely crowded places.

Whatever the causes of this intense herding behavior, the effects aren’t positive. The high concentrations of Asian Americans into tiny Asian pockets mean that vast expanses of the state are devoid of English-speaking Asians, at least on the weekends. Not only does this mean that Asian tourists from overseas with their spotty English ability become many people’s idea of Asian Americans, it perpetuates the perception that Asian Americans simply aren’t interested in mingling with other Americans.

Of course I don’t expect other Asian Americans to change their preferences just to help combat negative perceptions. And I know well the many powerful draws of vibrant Asian settings. But I am always hopeful of seeing more Asian Americans sharing my delight at discovering the countless attractions that beckon far from the beaten Asian tracks. I would see it as a good sign that more Asian Americans are willing to stray from the herd to enjoy the vast beauty and endless small delights offered by this land.