Recently, there has been a broader discussion about the communities that constitute “the 626,” a phrase that, we on OMFC have used on multiple occasions. I’m no etymologist, but the term in question seems to have come into vogue during my first 2 years in college, probably originating among high school students from my area.
I think it’s important to address this issue and concerns about this phrase’s exclusivity. My entire life, I’ve lived in the San Gabriel Valley. I spent the first 18 years of my life in one of San Gabriel’s grittiest neighborhoods by the 10 Freeway. My neighbors were everything from White Korean War veterans to Teochew immigrants from Thailand, biracial Cantonese and Nicaraguan families to Nisei Japanese Americans. But my story isn’t atypical; it’s a shared experience and representative of the ever-changing dynamics of every single community in America, something that can never be encapsulated in four syllables.
What worries me is the growing exclusivity of belonging to the 626. Literally taken, it’s just an area code. But more and more, it’s come to refer to only the immigrant Asian communities that live in the confines of this area code. Does this mean that other communities have no stake in the 626’s identity? We think not. Just because an Asian night market bears the name 626 doesn’t grant the right of a select few to anoint showcase communities (with vibrant Asian-inspired food scenes) as the undisputed representatives of the 626. Does that mean only sushi bars and Korean BBQ restaurants, pho joints and Taiwanese cafes can represent the 626?
The 626 should be about celebrating a vibrant and dynamic community that already exists, not about vested business interests conjuring up a static definition that osbcures the realities on the ground and the incongruities in our community. To us at Oh My Food Coma, the 626 has always been inclusive of the many communities that inhabit this expansive swath of the San Gabriel Valley.
To even imply that the 626 is an exclusively Asian domain is a narrative that leaves us uncomfortable. It’s a symptom of the greater problems immigrant communities face in America. When people espouse these sorts of ideas, they inherently marginalize other groups and render them invisible. It’s exclusion, plain and simple.
Just my two cents.