28 December 2007

A thought or two

For business reasons today, I had to visit the town where I had my own teenage years - just a few days after visiting Sarah's teenage town up north.

Given the memories of my own high school years, it was actually upsetting for me to look at my high school, the gigantic homes of the Asian nouveaux-riches who made up my primary classmates (and competition), and the very street that I grew up on, with my Great Depression-era shack lacking even a telephone line. This was a town where most kids got a new Acura Integra, if not a BMW, as their 16th birthday present; I had to make do with an older Corolla lacking power windows (which would still have been much more than presentable in other towns).

My high school years were quite troublesome as well, though I didn't get maimed as badly as Sarah was. Nevertheless, it was far from a pleasant experience. I was neither a jock nor a cheerleader, for sure! (Nor part of the Asian nouveaux-riches cliques either, but that's another story.) I also did not appreciate the materialism and the conservatism of the rich Asian immigrants that made up the bulk of the town; in fact, despite them (or more like because of them), the town trended strongly Republican - and so do other upper-class, predominantly Asian suburbs of Los Angeles.

I also remembered that Southern California had its own segregation laws back in the day, and this particular town was a whites-only area; the racist Asian nouveaux-riches then took the town over when the racial restrictions were lifted. Contrary to Northern California white liberal pipe dreams, racism is a severe problem among rich Asians, who think of themselves as white equivalents. Sexism and homophobia, reinforced by Confucian morals, also are severe problems. All three certainly plagued my high school greatly, and getting to college in liberal New York City was a big culture shock for me.

Back to the world of my novel, I don't expect the Asian-specific issues to matter significantly in Pacifica, which I will describe as a mostly white but racially diverse town. The nouveaux-riches are not a factor either, as most Pacifica homes are more modest. But a former writing classmate told me that Pacifica does have its share of homophobic biker gang elements, so their kids may cause some problems at Oceana High for Sarah. And most importantly, returning to Pacifica - and specifically Oceana High - will be a very upsetting experience for Sarah, once she moves on to Berkeley, even though Sarah's parents will continue to live in Pacifica. This will also ensure that Sarah will do anything to avoid moving in with her parents, when she is laid off from United Airlines and her finances start getting very tight.

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