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What Mexipinos, ChinaLatinas, and Korean BBQ Tacos Tell us about Asian-Latino Identity

  • November 23, 2019

by Andrés T. Tapia and Karen Huang, PhD.

Rarely do people talk about Latinos and Asians in the same breath. Yet every day millions bite into and dance to Latinx-Asian fusion.

Kogi BBQ’s Korean Tacos, for instance, melds Korean and Mexican gastronomy — what the Freakonomics blog refers to as “two of L.A.’s favorite cuisines” — into something so popular that it redefined the food truck industry, won a “Best New Chef” award from Food & Wine, and inspired a movie, Chef, and reality TV show, The Great Food Truck Race.

One of South Korea’s biggest up-and-coming heartthrobs is a K-pop star born in Bakersfield, CA, Samuel Arrendondo Kim, who has a Korean mother and Mexican father. On the other side of the equator, Korean K-Pop artists, with their upbeat messages, boyish sex appeal and ultra-precise dance moves have found such popularity in Central and South America that an entire shopping center floor in Lima, Peru is dedicated to K-Pop music, cuisine, and clothing. The influence goes the other way as well. As K-Pop explodes in Latin America, Latinx culture has influenced K-Pop in songs such as KARD’s “Hola Hola,” SF9’s “O Sole Mio,” and BTS’s tango-inspired “Airplane pt. 2.”

Bruno Mars, one of the world’s bestselling musical artists, is Latinx Asian — his father is Puerto Rican and Jewish, and his mother is Filipino which includes Spanish ancestry. Olympic medalist Arthur Nory Oyakawa Mariano, is a Japanese Brazilian gymnast. And Franklin Chang Díaz, the first Asian-Latinx American immigrant in space and a NASA Astronaut Hall of Famer, is Costa Rican Chinese.

These contemporary intersections actually reflect a long history of Latinx and Asian culture contact which has implications for organizational diversity and inclusion strategies and programs as people embrace multidimensional identities such as Mexipino and ChinaLatina.

These contemporary intersections actually reflect a long history of Latinx and Asian culture contact which has implications for organizational diversity and inclusion strategies and programs as people embrace multidimensional identities such as Mexipino and ChinaLatina.

Before exploring these implications, a look back at some of the historical linkages.

There has been a century-old history of Japanese immigrants who arrived in South America in the late 1800’s as indentured laborers for the cotton and sugar plantations. Their influence has been so great that Sāo Paulo has the largest Japanese city population outside of Tokyo and Peru has a former president, Alberto Fujimori, who was the son of first generation Japanese immigrants.

Spanish colonization also led to Asian/Latinx intersections. Many Filipinos, for instance, consider themselves the “Latinos of Asia” largely because the Spanish colonization of the Philippines for over three centuries imbued Filipino culture with Latino norms. In the Philippines Roman Catholicism rather than the Eastern religions of Asia is the most common expression of faith. Filipinos, like Latinos, often prefer large kinship networks, and share many Spanish everyday words, such as mesatenedor, and cuchara. And now full circle many of the three million Filipinos who immigrated to the US ended up in southern California where the

Given the long history, as well as the contemporary manifestations of the fusion between these two cultures, here are three areas where it’s important to take these Latinx-Asian identities into account:

  • Recruiting. Challenge single-identity (just to Latinx or just to Asian) appeals in images, food, music, and messages in recruiting materials or events. This could become a differentiator in an increasingly crowded diverse talent sourcing space.
  • Affinity Groups. Those with a Latinx-Asian identity may not feel at home in either the Latinx or the Asian affinity groups. So shape programming to embrace those who have this fused identity by explicitly exploring the topic of Latinx-Asian identity and the history behind it and having speakers who reflect this mix.
  • Developmental programs. People with multidimensional identities may perceive their organization as offering differentiated programs for career development to people who are only Latinx or only Asian. If so, this may end up limiting their sense of belonging and wondering if they are eligible. Companies can proactively counter this perception by simply acknowledging mixed race and ethnicity identities in the packaging and marketing of these kinds of programs.

Or you can simply start by munching on a couple of Korean BBQ tacos while streaming KPop’s Hola Hola on Spotify. 

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