By JUDD MATSUNAGA, Esq.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, chances are you’ve heard of the Rose Bowl and the Super Bowl. The Rose Bowl game is nicknamed “The Granddaddy of Them All” because it is the oldest currently operating bowl game. It was first played in 1902 right here in Pasadena. It always follows the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day.

The Rose Bowl is of particular interest to me because I wear a Rose Bowl Championship ring from 1976 — where UCLA defeated Ohio State 23-10. No, I didn’t play in the game, I bought it at the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas because I wanted a “Championship” ring. They didn’t have any Dodgers or Lakers championship rings available, and the Clippers have never won a championship (yet).

The Super Bowl has been the annual championship game of the National Football League (NFL) since 1966. Super Bowl LVI (56th) takes place on Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022, right here at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood. It frequently commands the largest audience among all American broadcasts during the year and is also the second-largest day for American food consumption, behind Thanksgiving Day.

Perhaps you tune in to watch just to see the commercials. Commercial airtime during the Super Bowl broadcast is the most expensive of the year. NBC, which holds the exclusive broadcasting rights for the Super Bowl in 2022, is said to be asking as much as $6.5 million for a 30-second ad during the game. Or you maybe you like to watch the halftime show. This year’s halftime show will be performed by Dr. Dre, Mary J. Blige, and Kendrick Lamar.

If you’re a fan of college football, you’re probably aware of a bunch of other bowl games played over the holidays. Some of the other bowl games you might have heard of are the Potato Bowl (#7), Fiesta Bowl (#9), Independence Bowl (#10), Citrus Bowl (#12), Peach Bowl (#14), Sun Bowl (#22), Sugar Bowl (#23), Alamo Bowl (#25), Cheez It Bowl (#26), Gator Bowl (#31), Cotton Bowl (#32), Liberty Bowl (#34), and Orange Bowl (#36).  

The purpose of this article, however, is to talk about another kind of bowl, the Chili Bowl, which is not a football bowl at all. But before we start discussing the Chili Bowl, we have to first examine the two most popular models of American culture, the “melting pot” and the “salad bowl.”

Growing up in the Crenshaw District in the early ’60s was a lot of fun. My elementary school class was predominantly a bunch of Sansei kids. Interestingly, back then my childhood friends and I didn’t see ourselves as Japanese, or even Japanese Americans, but as Americans. As children, things like today’s headlines of Asian hate crimes were unheard of.

In elementary school, we were told that America is one big “melting pot.” The “melting pot” metaphor is used to describe how immigrants who come to America eventually become assimilated into American culture, thus creating multiple cultures that have blended into one.
For example, many cultures celebrate American holidays, even if it is not part of their own culture, e.g., exchanging gifts on Christmas.

This could be termed as some cultures becoming “Americanized,” that is, beginning to act as “Americans” do. You may be familiar with the saying: “You’re in America, so you should speak English.” The melting pot theory made a whole lot of sense to me. Because of World War II, internment camps, and discrimination, the Nisei raised their kids to be “American.”

For example, not wanting their children to face the same discrimination and hardships they had to endure, my parents gave all four of their children Western names, i.e., Marsha, Judd, Mark and Laura. None of us four children even speak Japanese. In fact, very few Sansei that I know speak Japanese. As far as the Yonsei — forget about it!!!

Unfortunately, especially for the JA community, the by-product of becoming “Americanized” has been the loss of cultural identity. One can even argue that the JA community is slowly disappearing into America’s one big “melting pot.” This has been one of my biggest fears. That after the Nisei are gone, will there still be a JA community?

What will become of the JA community? By definition, anything in a melting pot or crucible loses all uniqueness. It becomes a singular substance. Under the melting pot theory, the possibility of any JA identity besides “American” is essentially impossible. The JA cultural identity is basically lost as it becomes solely “American. “

You say, “Nonsense! The melting pot theory simply goes too far. There’s still hope for a Japanese American community. Haven’t you heard of the “salad bowl” theory?” The “salad bowl” theory is a different view describing that immigrants who come to America combine their cultures with others, but still retain their own cultural identity.

If you toss a pepper in a salad, it still remains a pepper, a tomato remains a tomato, etc. A “salad bowl” shows different ingredients in close proximity with one another. As a teenager, the “salad bowl” theory also made sense to me since I was the only Asian in my class at Beverly Hills High School, and I didn’t feel “blended” into “one” with my Caucasian (or Jewish) classmates.

The “salad bowl” addresses the main problem of the melting pot — the problem of homogeneity. This metaphor emphasizes the importance of diversity. However, the “salad bowl”  
theory provides almost no suggestion of any unifying or cross-cutting identity. There is nothing that obviously ties the salad together.

In a “salad bowl,” we are a bunch of ingredients near each other but with limited actual connection. That’s not the case with the JA community. I read somewhere that over 50% of the Sansei have already married outside the JA community. Yonsei kids, for the most part, have already married (or will marry) outside the JA community. Their kids are (or will be) half this, quarter that, etc.

Here’s the problem — if the JA community keeps on operating as if it’s in the “salad bowl,” yet keeps evolving into a multi-cultural community, there’s a real danger the JA community will disappear into the melting pot in a decade or two. For example, the JA church where my parents were married over 60 years ago has but a handful of JA members left. Currently, a Hispanic church is using it.

Years ago, I asked the director of a large Japanese American community center in Los Angeles, “What will happen to the community center once all the Nisei gone?” He replied, “It will probably be turned into a community center for other Asian and Pacific Islander groups and organizations.” What a shame!!!

Here’s the good news. The JA community can continue to survive for years to come. But not as a “melting pot,” nor as a “salad bowl, but as a “Chili Bowl.” The JA community is becoming “multi-cultural,” meaning “consisting of or relating to people of many different nationalities and cultures.”

A “chili bowl” metaphor encourages individuals and groups to become a full part of a whole JA community, while allowing maintenance of unique identities and attributes. It strikes the right balance of uniqueness and collective identity. There is both a collective sauce and unique ingredients. The different ingredients and flavors of chili can mix together in many new ways. The chili bowl offers the right balance between individuality and commonality — unique and identifiable ingredients, tied together with a single sauce.

In conclusion, The JA community needs to “WAKE UP” before it’s too late and it fades away into distant memories. The JA community is evolving into a “chili bowl,” like it or not. The JA community will only survive (hopefully thrive) if it embraces it’s “multiculturalism.” We have to stop operating as it did 100 years ago as if nothing has changed. In order for the JA community to survive, the JA community must embrace, even celebrate, it’s multiculturalism.

If we can do that, the JA community will continue to survive as a dish arguably more delicious than either the “melting pot” or the “salad bowl.” The “Chili Bowl” offers the right balance between individuality and commonality — unique and identifiable ingredients, tied together with a single sauce. The different ingredients and flavors of chili can mix together in many new ways.

I’m sure it is the hope of every Nisei, Sansei and Yonsei that their children, and their children’s children, grow up with an understanding of their Japanese roots and a sense of ethnic pride. There’s a lot to be proud of. But as a community, we must adjust, adapt, and change to survive. Let go of the 100-year-old dances, songs and drumming. We should celebrate, not deny our multiculturalism, because that is what the true JA community really is.

Judd Matsunaga, Esq., is the founding partner of the Law Offices of Matsunaga & Associates, specializing in estate/Medi-Cal planning, probate, personal injury and real estate law. With offices in Torrance, Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, Pasadena and Fountain Valley, he can be reached at (800) 411-0546. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of  The Rafu Shimpo.

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  1. As a hafu sansei person whose father was a nisei, I have found over the years that the discrimination and prejudice of multicultural Japanese Americans by the full blooded Nikkei community has been lessened by the sheer numbers of hafu and quapa people. The issei and nisei generations have learned to embrace multicultural nikkei.

    If places like Little Tokyo are to survive, hafu and quapa people have to embrace, remember and celebrate their Japanese ancestry.