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Around The World In An LA Prius

If you’ve ever wondered: “Why can’t four people take over an apartment complex and call themselves a country?” Then you’ve probably spent time in Los Angeles.

According to the 2010 census, Los Angeles had a population of 3.7 million with Anglo-whites slightly in the minority at 49.8%. The city is so diverse that people here come from 140 countries and speak 224 different languages.

So when in Los Angeles, what language should you learn? Or even — how many languages? For the sake of sanity, forget the languages and just ask: how can we all get along?

Angelenos haven’t been conflict free. The LA riots of 1992 are only one example. But the declining crime rate shows a positive side of LA: in 2009 there were only 314 homicides — for 3.7 million people. Compare that to the political and ethnic conflicts throughout the world and one wonders: How do the people of LA do it?

I went on a mission not to answer this question, but to observe it. And I realized that I couldn’t possibly experience a slice of every ethnic group. For example, I missed the Kazahkstan Film and Cultural Festival. But as the banner at Mariachi Plaza pointed out:

Zipping through the Byzantine-Latino Quarter, Historic Filipino Town, Little Armenia, Thai Town, Little Korea, Tehrangeles, and more, travel sights were difficult to define. There wasn’t a Disneyland for each group. One little village may have had ethnic restaurants, another a museum, a mural or a foreign language bookstore. Just when I thought I could get a handle on what all these little villages had in common, my generalizations fell apart and I had to resort to making one generalization only: there can be no generalizations. To find the sights I had to see and see differently again.

What I did notice was within each of these ethnic villages, other ethnicites were welcome. Little Persia had a Kosher Sushi & Grill Restaurant. Little Osaka had a Japanese restaurant that served me Korean kimchi. Sprinkled within all these villages, the ubiquitous Italians had their food restaurants. In Little Persia, a neighboring Persian establishment competed in this way:

What defines someone as White, Persian, Chicano, Jewish or Black? Other than an internal sense of self-identity, the definitions in LA remained fluid. Many Angelenos who identified themselves as Hispanic or Japanese, for example, spoke nothing but English. Others who identified themselves as Americans only spoke Armenian.

Next, I’ll look into the history of several ethnic villages and ask: How does someone in LA define themselves? What is an identity at all?

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