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West Coast vs. East Coast Asian America

While this could just as easily begin with an illustration from the rap industry with references to the West Coast flavor of Dr. Dre, Easy-E, NWA; and the East – Notorious B.I.G., Ja Rule, Public Enemy. Or maybe East Cost vs. West Coast swing dancing styles. Apparently, there are plenty of points of differences to account for:language, clothing, sports fanaticism, etc. However, We will refrain from those types of allusions, although the point is to draw attention to differences in the Asian American experience due to geography. As they say in real estate, the three most important things to look for in a place to live are: location, location, and location.

More than 50% of all Asian Americans live in Hawaii or the West Coast, specifically California. The next greatest portion make their homes in the metropolitan areas of New York/New Jersey. Some interesting facts from this study point out a couple of other facts: "Chinese, Filipino, and Japanese Americans tend to cluster geographically in California and New York. The Asian Indian and Korean populations are somewhat less concentrated, although large populations have emerged in a handful of states, including Illinois, New Jersey, and Texas, as well as California and New York. Southeast Asians have a different pattern because of federal resettlement schemes that created pockets of Southeast Asian refugees in a few states."

How does this dispersion affect our notions and experiences of what it means to be Asian-American and furthermore, how does it affect our understanding of church? I think that the discussion of Asian-American church sounds enormously different when I talk to people from the West Coast, and it is evident to me that when I meet people who have recently transplanted themselves from California, or even New York, to Atlanta (Georgia), there is somewhat of a culture shock. I'm sure the experience is different and what I'm realizing is that even the simple geography and layout of the city can impact how the community grows and flows. That being said, when we speak of Asian-American church, perhaps a good point of foundational discussion would be to explore the history and dynamics of the community from which it grows. I think otherwise, many churches on the East Coast or in the South and in more sparse communities, the experiences that are voiced from West Coast Asian American churches may prove to be slightly out of reach.

While it may be an extreme to divide Asian Americans into subcultures, I think that perhaps there is some merit into categorizing our experiences further for more strategic ways of approaching cultural church contexts. For obvious reasons, I think that one's understanding of faith within a cultural context can be impacted by the simple nature of the immigrant community and the dynamics that bring it together. Was the community born out of economic opportunity? or refugee protection? or cultural solidarity? What part did church play in the development of the community?

Simply put, even in American church history, there are distinctions such as "the Bible belt" and certain geographically-specific revivals that take place which influence the Christian communities that grow from that area (e.g. Azusa Street Revivals, the campmeetings in Kentucky and Tennessee, the Great Awakening). How do we account for similar stories that contribute to the way Asian Americans understand the church and its relevance to where we want to take it. I understand this is all still very new and we may not be able to articulate where we "want to take it", but at the same time, I feel that to speak prognistically about the church while only addressing the symptoms is ignoring the "history and physical" which no doctor would ever dream of ignoring in looking at pathology within a patient.


About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come.

3 responses to “West Coast vs. East Coast Asian America

  1. Pingback:

  2. jswong24

    The language link referred to Oregon! We Oregonians think we don’t have vernacular or accents. Not so 🙂

  3. East Coast Asians are more educated then West Coast Asians.

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