Their offices were in a decaying mini-mall in El Monte, a small municipality twenty minutes away. A scattering of Asians sat in the waiting room, resignation and boredom etched across their faces. Some filled out forms, while others stared out through the grimy venetian blinds into the parking lot, ignoring the dust that clung to the metal slats and balled in the corners of the room.
Soon, I was ushered into a functional cube of an office. A framed photo of an Asian woman stood on the desk. She was clad in a vintage forties cocktail dress, with a string of pearls and a low-cut décolletage. Her hair was done up in long curly waves and her eyes were big and limpid.
Behind the desk were bookshelves crammed with medical journals and psychology texts and a guidebook to Los Angeles County gangs. Wedged in between was a blue-and-white can of something called "Pocari Sweat" whose cursive lettering evoked the Coca-Cola logo.
I checked it out for a while, then glanced at my watch, wondering when Furukawa would show, until a man appeared in the door. He was in his early thirties, exuding an attitude that started with his Doc Martens, traveled north up the jeans to a jutting hip, and ended with ponytailed hair tied back in a colorful Guatemalan scrunchy. A little too street for his own good, I thought, and probably a recovered drug addict or gangbanger to boot.
"Be with you in a sec," the man said, and disappeared. I had been expecting a middle-aged guy with a paunch, not some hipster near my own age. Well. I made my way back to the other side of the desk and settled into a plastic chair, feeling the fabric stick to the back of my skirt. Now I took a closer look at the girl on his desk. She smiled into the camera, her eyes shiny with love. It figured he would have a stunning girlfriend. Nobody displayed a picture like that without intending to telegraph something.
He came back into the room and we shook hands and traded business cards. I told him my predicament and asked whether he was seeing any trends with kids in the San Gabriel Valley.
"There are a million good stories out there, but the real interesting ones, I can't talk about." Furukawa lit up a cigarette. In the San Gabriel Valley, everybody still smoked, and no one asked you to put it out. That would have been going against the culture.
He bit down on a pen and thought for a moment. "I do see a lot more straight-A kids living a double life in gangs."
"In the Asian community, hhmmm. I wouldn't have thought."
"Yeah, that's the problem with us, the model minority myth."
"I didn't mean..."
"You're not the first. But dig, most of the kids I see are immigrants. Mom and Dad may live here now but their brains are hard-wired to the old country."
Furukawa leaned back in his chair and described kids caught between traditional Asian values and permissive American culture, and fully at home in neither. The schools sent him all their problem cases and he jive-talked them into listening, which was always the first step, he said. He spoke their language. It didn't matter that he was a Sansei and they were Overseas Chinese and Southeast Asian.
"No offense, but I thought the Chinese didn't like the Japanese on account of World War Two."
He appraised me anew.
"This is the New World. We all get along. They'd like Hirohito himself if he paid attention to them."
I scribbled as he spoke, filling page after page in my notebook. He saw I was lagging and stopped, puffing on his cigarette and staring out the window until I caught up. In another, more quiet corner of my mind, I wondered how often he gave this spiel to ignorant whites and how he felt about it.
Soon he seemed to grow impatient and ambled over to the bookshelf to pull something down. Now he turned and lobbed it at me.
Copyright © 2001 by Denise Hamilton
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