How do we talk about race in Alhambra?

When the discussion of race took over the media after the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, heated opinions and issues such as white-privilege began to rise in many cities across America. In Alhambra, the white population is only around 9 percent and the black population 1 percent, which perhaps explains why it felt like this debate had passed us by. As I followed the developments and discussions, I began to wonder if perhaps as a minority-majority city, we are blind to the concept of race and privilege. After confronting my neighbors and friends, I found that while we are not blind, our personal experiences with race diverged greatly from mainstream dialogue. 
 
Tax professional Thuy Luu, an Alhambra resident of over 17 years, and a parent I have known for over a decade, immigrated to the United States back in 1979 from Vietnam. She said her sons, now 23 and 25—both recipients of Fulbright Scholarship Awards— speak fluent English and identify themselves as American. 
 
“They do not deny their Chinese or Vietnamese heritage,” said Luu. “But they are from America and are American.”
 
Being an immigrant, Luu was initially aware of herself as a minority. Luu said that, in the past, she used to define the term “American” by looks. “Americans were supposed to have white skin, blue eyes, and blonde hair,” said Luu. 
 
But her two sons, who were born and raised in Alhambra, challenged her to change that perception.
 
“They pointed out to me that few American presidents had blonde hair and blue eyes, and that besides Native Americans—everyone else, from George Washington to Barack Obama—were products of immigration.” 
 
Luu reflected that, ironically, she was more aware of racial issues when she was growing up in Vietnam, which was more racially homogenous compared to America.
 
“I was used to seeing discrimination between the Vietnamese people and the Chinese immigrants there. But when I moved to America, I didn’t experience racism here. People may look down on me because of my accent, but I can not just dump everything on race.” 
 
“American is not a race,” Luu added.
 

Illustration by Jee-Shaun Wang

While Luu feels that she has been integrated into the fabric of America, others still feel that, at times, they are met with glaring reminders that they’re minorities. 
 
One of my peers from middle and high school, Alex Davis, an Alhambra resident of over 13 years, has a Caucasian father, Korean grandmother, and Creole grandfather. Davis recalls asking a teacher which racial category to check off on a survey in school, and being told to check off “Caucasian” because instructions limited her to “select only one.” She’s glad that surveys have changed since her middle-school days, allowing her to check off more boxes including “mixed,” “other,” and “decline to state.” 
 
But Davis says that it hasn’t stopped her from being singled-out. When she describes her racial makeup to people, sometimes they challenge her on it, saying “are you sure?” as if she doesn’t fit in with racial stereotypes. 
 
While this kind of profiling makes her uncomfortable, Davis, a California Licensed esthetician and MUD-Certified makeup artist, said that there are times when it’s appropriate to acknowledge race. In her line of work, for example, “race is very useful in knowing how your skin will react to certain products; for example, many Asians are missing one lipid, causing them to have more sensitive skin.” 
 
Davis also feels that it’s natural for our brain to “compartmentalize” information using visual cues, and race isn’t an exception. We are hardwired to recognize differences between people. 
 
“The problem isn’t that our brains compartmentalize,” said Davis. “The problem is how we design what we do and how we react after we compartmentalize.” 
 
Christopher Sanchez, a tutor who works with several of my cousins’ classmates, agrees that we may be conscious of race on a subconscious level. He points to school playgrounds as an example—it sometimes seem as if children are “clustering together in the schoolyard,” and that it ”may appear to be racial.”
 
“I think most of this clustering happens unconsciously,” said Sanchez. But, ultimately, Sanchez believes that there are other forces at work, and that we’re not so fixated on race. 
 
“The groupings are usually not racial; they deal with language, food, faith, and other things like clubs and classes,” said Sanchez.
 
As a community, we tend to undergo a varied “minority-experience.” Mainstream racial dialogue tends to overlook such experiences, but we should not only be aware of our city’s identity as a minority-majority community; we should also create platforms for such dialogue to ensue. 

6 thoughts on “How do we talk about race in Alhambra?”

  1. RACE, CLASS/SOCIO-ECONOMICS, RELIGION, ASPIRATIONS…

    All are REAL but also UNSPOKEN barriers.

    Only reason that ASIANS and LATINOS can “Tolerate/Accept” but unfortunately not anywhere close to EMBRACE each other is that they both want very very different things in life.

    Latinos want to live a chill, holistic, fun and family-oriented life. Blue-collar dreams.
    Asians want to move up and will sacrifice many aspects of life to achieve material success.

    Both paths/philosophies are laid with numerous PROS & CONS. But they are DIFFERENT.

  2. Growing up in the Boyle Heights Community in Los Angeles, we did not think about race since that area was the “melting pot” of Mexicans, Japanese, Jews, Russians, Germans, Armenians and other nationalities that were prohibited BY LAW to live anywhere in the city.Once I started to move around as I got older, I started experiencing racism, one time when my friends and I came to Granada Park to try to “pick up girls”, we were chased away by an Alhambra policeman warning us that “they (Alhambra PD) did not want any WETBACKS and we would be arrested if we returned.” Even after moving into Alhambra 40 years ago, I experienced racism, but this time more subtly, but I learned to ignore it and continue raising my family here. Racism is alive and well in America and one can see and hear it daily with hate-filled rants by racists on tv, on the Internet, in written material, by politicians who should know better. According to The Southern Poverty Law Center, since the election of an African-American president, racism and racists groups have grown and have become more violent(Listen to the words of country singer Ted Nugent as an example).

  3. 30 years owner-occupant of El Sereno residence a few years in Pasadena including 3months at YMCA 20+ years with Parsons Corp…worldwide…Racism in Alhambra/El Sereno – you bet… Want to see it – ride the buses and walk around the Industrial Redevelopment Authority’s Main Street area and you will feel/see/know it…Just look at the City Council and racial similarity to the residents – I take the buses and see it all the time…then walking around. White, Black, Brown, Darker yellow to Light yellow and kinds of all shades between. It ain’t as bad as what I saw in 1940-50s but still there….OBTW I have been married for 30 years to a wonderful Guanzhou-wran and use to be conversant in spanish, mandarin, arabic, swahili, hindi, and russian…now retired….

  4. Race is a social (17th Century) construction and ethnicity a learned cultural phenomena. The US experiment is what we call American. However, an American is a person who resides within it’s boarders and subcribes to the tenents of it’s Declaration of Independence and US Constitution — socially constructed instruments that are continually challeged and amended as each generation of American finds it necessary.
    What happend in Ferguson and to African Americans throughout our history and Nation should be of concern to all Americans individually and collectively regardless of our anecdotal experiences. Alhambra, should not be given the day off even if the new minority is a Euro-American. When profiling is utilized to prejudge an individual or group of individuals they are behaving contrary to the fundamental tenent of our independence — “All men (women) are created equal with endowed and inalienable rights.”Alhambra should not take a by-stander role but rather a proactive role in discusing the elephant in the room.

  5. The more you make race an issue the more it becomes an issue.

  6. The issue of race is the big elephant in the room that body mentions in Alhambra.

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