Irvine “Diversity” versus True Diversity
Hello all, happy December; oh how time flies; in this third installment of finding meaningful relationships; I though I touch on another recent observation. Now, I’m sure I’ll be getting flamed again for stirring the pot; so I’ll just go ahead and say as always, I’m inviting dissenting viewpoints. There seems to be a lack of interesting controversy lately anyway. I don’t usually mind being called names and being disliked; after all I do have to have some thick skin in sales; but I have to admit the last few comments did hurt a little; my comments and opinions are never personal attacks and I do try to be as objective as possible. Also, a lot of observations are colored through lenses of my struggles and experiences; a lot of what I write also helps me to process my decisions and learn about my preferences. And, of course I have to keep in mind the slivers of the personas we write here on the forum is a mere refection of who we are in real life.
So we had a few holidays the past few months, Halloween, Veterans Day and of course Thanksgiving; and I along with the family have been visiting my parents in the South Bay more frequently. I took the occasions to reconnect with some old friends, neighbors and of course hang out at our favorite city. And once again, strange patterns started appear and I made a mental note to turn on the tape recorder for I’m sure this will make great message board stuff.
Well we all know how Irvine loves to advertise how “diverse” the city is. We got this many cultures, languages; this whole Global Festival thing. Yes and to a point, I can agree, sure, I can bump into an Iranian at Panera Bread and I have Indian and Korean friends down the hall; and sure your kids might have a classroom that speak 20 different languages; but how diverse is Irvine really?
How come when we talk about diversity; we automatically think of skin color and culture. There are a whole host of variables that make someone different from the next. TIC says; yes we have a rich vibrant array of people from around the world; and Irvine is a dynamic place where people interact and engage each other. And I like to argue that can’t be more far from the truth.
We had a Sunday where we served with a bunch of kids at church in Rolling Hills (South Bay) and then again, with some more kids at our church in Irvine later that afternoon. I was casually asking the five year olds what they wanted to be when they grew up; the first batch of kids gave the usual answers; fireman, astronauts, princesses, pirate and rock stars; almost all of the second batch of kids answered, a doctor; with the exception of two who wants to be a veterinarian and an accountant. Dude, how many five year-old you know want to crunch numbers? The parents got to have some influence there. Now, there is nothing wrong with wanting to be doctors; I’ll be the first to admit; if I were to have a heart attack; my church would be the perfect place, because I personally know at least three cardiologists. But doesn’t this little anecdote give you just a little pause?
When you look at this city that supposedly emphasizes diversity; all I see are not only cookie cutter houses, but cookie cutter lives that just happen to encompass some people of different races and cultures. A lot of that rich diversity that I grew up in the South Bay is completely absent; and I’ll try to explain. Diversity to me is not only skin deep but so much more; it is the entirety of a person; their background, social-economical status, experience, interests, physical characteristics just to name a few. Remember how I wrote, that people don’t interact because it might be too diverse here? It is tuning out that people don’t really interact because people here lead mundane lives and could care less about the other mundane lives around them.
Tell me if this is true. If you’re a programmer or a physician working in Irvine, do you really “talk shop” with your cohorts? I have listened to some of these conversations; they might share some common professional interests, mutual colleagues or networks but for the most part those conversations might last about 30 minutes and the introduction ends. Unless they are close friends to begin with or have some sort of professional relations those friendships usually don’t last. You are deep friends with those different from you. The people most interesting, most intriguing are people whose lives, interests, passions and careers are completely different from yours.
I picked a programmer, a physician and some sort of engineer as the predominate professions I see around me in Irvine. Well for those of us who have jobs left, these seem to be dominate. Again these are all honorable professions and this might just be the major job sectors of OC and Irvine but where is the diversity in that?
And it’s not even your profession; you look at education, social-economical status, personality, type of cars, housing, hobbies, parental styles to body types and it is almost identical across the board. When is the last time you see an obese couple at any Irvine retail center? When have you heard of an Irvine high school drop out? When have you heard of a family who had to actually take food from the Second Harvest Food Bank? When have you seen or heard of an Irvine High School student having to work part-time at an Irvine fast food establishment? When was the last time you’ve seen an 80’s model vehicle roaming the streets of Irvine?
By the way, this is another subject but all the things I mention above do exist in Irvine; the numbers might be small; or the people might be so isolated that they are virtually invisible to the general public. One thing is for sure the city does a great job at hiding the outcasts. I do know of Irvine families who are going through their second year of unemployment; my wife counseled some CDM drop-outs and druggies; and I have driven my neighbors to various food banks around town. Yet how many more isolated families are quietly suffering behind the beautiful stucco. This subtle yet loud rigidity and conformity of true diversity is what really irks me about Irvine. You can be like my downstairs neighbor, who is a single mom, whose boyfriend has been in jail for the past six months; who can barely keep down a job, can barely take care of your toddle and still project an image of well-being and maintain this fake conformist smile that everything is great. What is even more depressing to think about is; that even if she reaches out for help; I’m not sure many around here would do much to help.
So we are not given the permission to be poor; we are not given the permission interrupt each other’s busy schedules; we are not to be different; overweight, desperate, ugly, an outcast, a misfit in this city. We do not welcome true diversity; there are no real homeless folks around; well except for the folks outside the Trader Joe’s begging for donations. Again this is another subject, but I almost always take the time to talk to these people. Do you know the shelters they stay at, drop them off, one by one in each city as early as 5 in the morning; and pick them up around 10 at night? They are not given meals or money; some have no choice but to stay at these shelters; so if the next time you can’t give money; maybe you can stop to cheer some of these people up and maybe buy them a meal. Their average collection in an entire day at Woodbury can be as little at $40.
What I love about LA is that normal, means normal, the average. I’ve been in Irvine so long that I almost forgot what normal people look like. I love the diversity of sitting next to the nicest, warmest, scariest looking biker dudes at a Calvary Chapel in Gardena. I miss just how eclectic the West Side can get; the kid and I actually meet the Iguana Man in Santa Monica; this dude walks around with his three foot Iguana on his shoulders. For those from LA, what happened to the Bird Man? But I just been meeting the most interesting characters lately; this one guy actually hand makes harps in his garage. He actually makes a living carving wood to craft these beautiful instruments. I have meet recently starving authors; bohemians, artists, small business owners to multi-billionaires who own some of the skyscrapers you see around town. They are some of the most interesting diverse people around; people you can spend hours asking questions to and taking a life time to get to know. Again there is nothing wrong with doctors and CPAs; but if that is all you “know” that is around; that is a bit depressing.
I know for a lot of you Irvine Asians, you can’t even comprehend this; but there are actually other Asians in LA who didn’t go to college; they don’t have MBAs; who don’t work behind a computer and are NOT the losers you think they are! They are out there, why don’t you go meet some of them.
The wife is a huge education fan; I’m not so much; but the conversation when something like this last night; if one day; our son comes up to us and decides not to go to college; after exploring all the options, we would be alright with that. If his passion for making a responsible modest lifestyle doesn’t involve a higher degree, than we have not choice but to respect his decision. How many of you Irvine parents can accept that? How is that for Irvine diversity?