Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Going Home

I'm flying home today. Let me be more specific: I'm attending a conference in San Francisco and extending my stay a few days because I grew up in the SF Bay Area and will therefore be seeing friends and family members in addition to do the usual conference schtick.

I had grappled, once-upon-a-time, about where I consider "home." Is it where I'm currently paying my gas bill; is it where my parents live; is it where I feel most comfortable?

I don't think there is a definitive answer--at least not for me. I have multiple homes. But truthfully, California and specifically the SF Bay Area will ALWAYS be home for me in a specific and special way because it is where I grew up--where I spent the years from 4 to 25.

Here are a few things I'm looking forward to when I arrive in California:

*Seeing my friends and my family (because I love them and miss them)
*Eating REALLY GOOD Chinese food (specifically Cantonese food) at one of my favorite restaurants
*Being near the Pacific Ocean--smelling the sea air--enjoying the view of the Bay
*Going to museums like the DeYoung and the SF Moma
*Urban hiking--because I miss the rhythm of cities and specifically SF
*Not standing out and seeing a truly DIVERSE array of folks

Let me concentrate on the last issue. I know I have waxed poetic about California before here. I know that I have created rosy-colored memories of my multicultural childhood, and I know that I, and other transplanted Californians take a perverse pleasure in elevating our cultural superiority over everyone by going ON and ON about how GREAT California is and how much BETTER it is than the current state we are living in.

[Note: the one key exception are people living in urban places like Chicago and especially New York and my friend P who lives in Minneapolis and prefers the cold even though he grew up in the Bay Area]

But the fact is: California is a diverse place. There is the ocean and the mountains. There is geographic diversity culturally and socially within California. There is conservative Orange County and the liberal-progressive SF Bay Area. And there is the history--one that hasn't been pretty--it's not like California erupted as a multiracial and multicultural utopia or emerged as a state of tolerance and benevolence towards all overnight. There has been and continues to be a history of discrimination and prejudice and bigotry--of racism and homophobia and sexism. California isn't paradise--as much as the rhetoric I use suggests it is "the Promised Land."

It is, however, mixed. It is open to difference in a way that does seem profoundly different from some other states in the union. And I know, when I step off the airplane in Oakland, that I will not be the only one. I won't be the only Asian American person in the airport, waiting at baggage claim, at a restaurant, riding the bus. And I certainly won't be the only person of color in a store or at the movies or in a coffee shop. And I don't know whether this will be true when I arrive back in "The South," because I've definitely been the only Asian American and sometimes the only person of color in all the situations I've mentioned above.

And this means I can breathe just a little bit easier when I'm in California. This means that my subconscious and sometimes not so subconscious guard is lowered. This means that I dial down the racial paranoia and hypochondria, and I don't have to second guess my interactions with people as much. If someone is a jerk to me in CA, it may or may not be because of my race/ethnicity. Chances are the person being a jerk could have a face that looks like mine. And they get to be just a jerk rather than a representative of their race. That's what you get when you have a critical mass and a mix of people.

Anyway, I'll share some observations about California when I return. In the meantime I won't be blogging or doing comment moderation, so please bear with me. And here are a few links to look at until I'm back blogging next week Wednesday.

*Interesting discussion about race fatigue at Anti-Racist Parent (tip of the hat to What Tami Said)

*George Takei announces his marriage plans to longtime partner Brad Altman on his blog (tip of the hat to Angry Asian Man). Be sure to scroll to the end of his announcement--he makes interesting and astute connections between his experiences being interned in a Japanese American concentration camp during WWII and public reaction to Japanese Americans during that time period and what is going on with same-sex marriage in our current cultural climate.

*Houghton-Mifflin is considering legal action against the Marietta, GA tee-shirt vendor who created shirts with a picture of Curious George eating a banana and the tag line "Obama '08" (tip of the hat to my friend B alerting me to this issue). For more, see this Boston Globe article.

*Finally, I forgot to wish Malcolm X a "Happy Birthday" on Monday, May 19. Here's an interesting article at The Root about the man, his legacy, and how we can honor his memory.


CVT said...

Have a great trip!!!

I, too, find myself creating a "California Fantasy" (mostly SF Bay Area) while living elsewhere, but it's strongly based in reality when talking about diversity - ESPECIALLY for mixed-race folks like me. New York may be more diverse, overall, than the Bay Area, but there is nowhere as mixed as California (with the exception of Hawaii).

Of course, in Hawaii, it's a very specific kind of mixed (various Asians and white or native), but the Bay Area has every kind of mix, and that's what I love. For a guy who VERY rarely sees any faces like his own - you can never match Oakland and the Bay Area for feeling like I actually blend in . . .

Jason Clinkscales said...

I spent a couple of months in the Bay back in 2005-06, but I must say that I still dream of the Pacific Ocean, taking the Greyhound through the Central Valley en route to LA and finding larger groups of people from different nationalities. In NYC, despite its mix of people, you don't see a lot of people from islands in the Pacific (the Phillipines, for example).

Safe travels.

Jennifer said...

CVT & Jason,
Thanks for your comments and your well wishes! I had a great trip overall--ate LOTS of fantastic food (especially Cantonese!) and just felt really at home in California.

Thanks, CVT, for admitting your own tendency to create a "California fantasy"--I think it's easy for us to do this--not just about California but for times in our lives and people and just things that seem "more" or "better" than where we are currently at.

I will say that your sense of ethnic/racial missing is so on point in the Bay Area. There are LOTS of mixed-folks. And there are lots of people mixing--not just romantically (although there is that) but groups of friends and co-workers who hang out together socially in mixed race/ethnic groups.

And Jason, the critical mass of Asian/Asian Americans is what distinguishes California from almost every other region (including NYC). With perhaps the exception of Hawaii, as CVT noted. Which, again, is probably one of the reasons I find myself so comfortable there.

Jennifer said...

Woops! In my last comment I meant to write "racial mixing" and not "racial missing" -- I wonder what Freud would say about this slip up...Ah, who CARES what Freud would say! I say jet lag creates typos!