I dropped my pen, extended my hands, and found myself holding the blue-and-white can of Pocari Sweat I had been staring at earlier.
"Nice reflexes. You'd be good in a pinch."
He walked back to his chair and sat down, and I wondered what kind of game we were playing.
"What the hell is Pocari Sweat?" I asked. "Do you squirt it under your arms?"
"Japanese sports drink. Think Gatorade. The name is supposed to evoke a thirst-quenching drink for top athletes."
"Who's going to want to drink something called 'sweat'?"
"Exactly." He looked pleased with himself. "No one in America. But it's only marketed in Asia. Lots of stuff has English names. Asians don't get the negative cultural connotation of the English words, so you end up with something that doesn't quite translate."
"I see." I wasn't sure where this digression was going.
"A lot of the immigrant kids I counsel are like Pocari Sweat. Caught in a culture warp they don't know how to decode. The parents are even worse off. They expect their children to show filial piety, excel in school, and come straight home when classes let out. Meanwhile the kids want to date, hang out at the mall, and yak on the phone. They want all the nice consumer things they see on American TV. So they find ways to get them. The parents only wise up when a police officer lands on their door."
"And they're not collecting for the police benevolent fund."
"You got it." Furukawa stubbed out the emphysema stick. "The kids get beaten or grounded for six months. So they run away. To a friend's house to cool off, if they're lucky. If not, to a motel room rented by some older pals from school, maybe a dai lo. Where they can drink and party with their girlfriends. And when the money runs out, it's easy to get more. The dai los always have work."
"A dai what?"
"That's Chinese for older brother. It's a gang term. The dai lo recruits younger kids into gangs. Shows them a good time. Takes them out to a karaoke bar when they're underage and buys 'em drinks. Drives them around in a fast car. The good life. It's very seductive when you're fifteen. And these kids feel that once they've left home and disgraced their parents, they can never go back."
He might have been talking about the weather, or how his car needed gas. To him, this was mundane, everyday stuff. To me it was a glimpse into a suburban badland I hadn't considered before.
"What do you mean, there's always work to do?"
"Muscle at the local brothels. Drug runners. Carjackings. You name it," Furukawa shrugged. "One homie told me he gets a thousand for each Mercedes he delivers."
"Carjackings? I was out on one of those today. But it got messy," I spoke slowly. "Young bride who'll never see her honeymoon night. It'll be on the news tonight."
"Can you introduce me to some of these kids?" I tried to keep the hope out of my voice.
"Afraid not, darling."
"Why not? Now that you've told me." I was miffed.
"They're minors. There are all sorts of privacy issues. And these are fucked-up kids. They don't need any more distraction in their lives."
It was a tantalizing lead, but I needed his help to pursue it.
"Wait a minute," I said, "I thought the Vietnamese were the ones who joined gangs. A society brutalized by war, years in internment camps, families torn apart and killed..."
"Yeah, they sure do. But they ain't flying solo. You got Cambodians, Filipinos, Samoans, Overseas Chinese. It's the Chinese usually call the shots. Local offshoots of the Hong Kong triads: White Crane, Dragon Claw, Black Hand. They're equal-opportunity employers," he grinned. "And unlike your black and Latino gangs, they don't advertise it with baggy clothing or shaved heads. Your typical Asian gang member dresses preppy. Neat and clean-cut. Sometimes they're even A-students. Total double life, like I was saying. But sooner or later something cracks."
Copyright © 2001 by Denise Hamilton
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