In the chapter, California Cuisine of the World, Andrew Lam talks about the theme of hybridity in the state of California. The word “hybridity”, originally a term in Biology as the production of hybrids of different species, is used by the author to refer to the mixture and fusion of different cultures. Using personal examples and culinary-related ideas, Lam mainly talks about culinary hybridity, community hybridity, and culture hybridity in a progressive manner. Overall, Lam believes that hybridity is the future of America, which should be encouraged and promoted with the progress of globalization.
Examples of culinary hybridity are observed throughout the chapter. In the example of the fish sauce, Lam compares the differences before and after culinary hybridity. As a sauce carrying a strong scent, fish sauce was once described as “toxic” by the white neighbors of the Vietnamese immigrants. Decades later, things turned around completely with white people being able to identify and appreciate the smell of fish sauce. As a famous saying goes, “You are what you eat”, and the fact that people are accepting of cuisines from a different culture has shown the high degree of culinary hybridity in California.
Following the hybridity of food, communications and mixture are also happening in the multi-cultural communities. Initially, the immigrants planted seeds from their mother country as alleviation of nostalgia. When hundreds and even more households did the same, the quantitative changes turn qualitative, transforming the neighborhood with hybridity of different ethnic communities.
In an attempt to recreate the old home in the new landscapes, the immigrants have unconsciously expanded their influence in the community. As a result, signs are created like the one hanging over the Sun Hop Fat supermarket, saying: “America-Mexican-Chinese-Vietnamese-Thailand-Cambodia-Laos-Filipino-Oriental Food.” Such an example shows that not only can different culinary ideas coexist harmoniously, but they are also becoming more expressive in hybridity attempts and motivations, which is accepted by the community.
Lastly, the hybridity of different cultures is made possible with the development of transportation tools and globalization. The once distant destinations have become much more realistic and within reach of the public. People are becoming more acceptive and open-minded to ideas and cultural practices that are not familiar to them. Lam uses personal examples to demonstrate the point: being a well-traveled writer, he has experiences of multiple cultures around the world, which enable him to think differently and more open-mindedly.
Another culinary example is used when he dreamed of making a French beef stew with fish sauce added to it. The cultural hybridity is embodied in the borrowing and reassembling of different cultural elements into creating something entirely new.
In the age of globalization, everyone is under some degree of influence of hybridity, myself included. As a student studying in a foreign country, the education systems before and after I came abroad form their own version of hybridity in me. Sometimes I think of a problem from the old perspectives, but often I’m surprised by the new approaches that come to me, to problems in both my studies and life, which would never be there if I hadn’t been exposed to different cultures.
Being able to understand and think in both Chinese and English, I’ve learned to be open-minded, that things are often interpreted in different ways with no definite right or wrong answers. Such experiences make me less angry and more rational in the way I perceive the world.
The most notable hybridity in the world nowadays is the ones between the east and the west, the traditional and the new, the developed and the developing, the religious and the liberals. While hybridity in many cases promotes understanding of different philosophies, worlds, and people, it also brings destruction to the “purity” of things.
Although some may argue that almost all elements of society nowadays are the results of hybridity after centuries or longer, it is undeniable that cultural invasions are destroying the traditions that are still valuable to many. The sign hanging over the Sun Hop Fat market can be viewed as a counter-example. When the degree of hybridity becomes too high, something entirely different is created, with little relevance to the originals. However, people can’t judge whether such hybridity is positive or negative because in a way they themselves become part of that hybridity.