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Root Cause

cuppa joe
Christopher Gardner

In which an Amerasian cruising the South Bay's multi-cultural strips can't decide on the color of her roots

By Ami Chen Mills

The South Bay is home to such a raging confluence of races, that as a person of mixed race--part Anglo-Irish and part Chinese­I tend to fit in. Although I'm never sure where, exactly, I want to fit in. A recent foray into multicultural Mountain View on a Friday night afforded me more than a few options.

At Cuppa Joe, South Bay European-Americans were manhandling their roots, rocking out to the Celtic band, Annwn (the Celts were not disposed to vowels). But the band was into vowels, roaring "aaaaaarrgh!" now and again as the chorus to a kind of Satanic folk anthem, the lyrics of which went something along the lines of "We will foul the rivers and the air!/And tear each other's hair!/And fear will be our guide!" And so forth.

In a small space near the band, two women in peasant dress attempted to dance to the rising din. There were a lot of white guys standing around with long hair in tiny braids and billowy white blouses--I wondered, is Mel Gibson responsible for this?

One woman, comfortably seated at a cafe table, tapped her foot to the music while cutting elaborate paper doilies which some in the audience were wearing on their heads. I'm part Irish, in a distant way, on my father's side, and so was attempting to feel moved in by the crowd (my people!) and the band (my music?). But the room was hot, and I wasn't sure if people were taking the lyrics seriously or what. When I saw a young man in the audience singing along with head-jerking passion, I left. As I did, some rebel Celt in a leather jacket shoved me aside on his way in.

I then traipsed over to Wudy's Dance Studio and Club, a ballroom-dance venue for Asians half a block away on Villa Street. The walls along the stairs to Wudy's were covered with dance-shoe advertisements, and when I got to the second floor, the attendant addressed me first in Chinese--a language I had mastered at age 3, but which has been degenerating in my memory banks ever since. Beyond his left shoulder, the ballroom consisted of a wood-tile dance floor edged by two dozen mostly empty tables, each bearing a bouquet of plastic flowers. The walls were covered with floor-to-ceiling mirrors, and the room was well-lit by a dizzying array of constantly blinking colored lights, spinning disco globes and a pulsing sign that read "Happy Holidays." A small karaoke stage took up one corner of the room, while videos of Chinese mountains and lakes provided a natural backdrop for the impromptu crooning of patrons. Two Chinese women in their 40s waltzed together on the dance floor to a Chinese pop tune while four or five of their girlfriends cheered them on from a cocktail table.

Although the small crowd was having fun, Wudy's was also failing to tap into any deep-seated or primal veins of indigenousness in me.

I wandered down the stairs and into the Red Rock Coffee Company, where a Japanese-looking fellow was leading a band of mostly white folks in an earthy, rhythmic song about the power of love. It was a corny tune, but a catchy tune nonetheless. I found myself smiling and my foot tapping a bit. The crowd inside was mixed: young and old, hippies and yuppies, and of all races.

In Mountain View, you can eat Japanese, shop Chinese, cafe-hop Anglo and, further up Castro, graze Middle Eastern. In my view, it's best to do all of the above. But I'm most appreciative of venues where races and cultures mix and mingle comfortably.

At the Red Rock, for the first time all night, I didn't feel like a sore thumb. The ecletic scene there was representative of what I'll call "American" culture--with respects to Canada and Latin America--a culture which, through the circumstances of my birth, I happen to represent.

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From the December 5-11, 1996 issue of Metro

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