#28: Asian Americans in Pop Culture with Dr. Oliver Wang


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  00:05

Culture writer, DJ, sociology professor and co-host of the album appreciation podcast Heat Rocks, Dr. Oliver Wang joins us to share his research on the ways in which Asian-Americans participate in different forms of popular culture. Oliver has made his mission and work to share the stories that have yet to be told, like the story of the Filipino-American mobile DJs in the Bay Area, or the story behind the travel patterns of the Kogi food trucks in Los Angeles. Keep listening to hear some of these untold stories. Oliver, thank you so much for joining this podcast today. We’re doubly excited, because usually, you’re the one doing the interviewing. And so, I don’t know, I feel a little self-conscious, I suppose, but.

Dr. Oliver Wang  01:00

It’s nice being on the other side of things for change.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  01:02

Is that right? Oh, good. And I know most of what you do in terms of interviewing is around music. Is that right?

Dr. Oliver Wang  01:09

Yeah, I have a long history of music journalism going back about this point almost, or not even almost, but over 25 years. And in more recent times, I get to hone that or keep it honed by hosting a music podcast called Heat Rocks, where myself and my co-host, Morgan Rhodes, invite guests on to talk about their favorite albums. And so we usually record that weekly. So I get to have an intelligent conversation about music at least once a week. And that is incredibly pleasurable.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  01:38

Now you as an admirer of musicians, are you also a creator of music yourself?

Dr. Oliver Wang  01:44

I DJ. So to that extent, I “play music,” but I have not played an instrument since I was in middle school marching band, and I played the flute, and never continued with music lessons after the eighth grade. So I do not consider myself to be terribly musically proficient, even though I am certainly a deep lover and scholar and writer about music.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  02:07

Aha. Now this sort of brings us to how I know your DJ experience led you to, I think, the scholarly work that you have done. You shared this in your food studies presentation in our food studies colloquium at UCLA for our graduate students. And I’d love you to share that with the listeners of your DJ, how that informs you to move into where you are now.

Dr. Oliver Wang  02:33

Right. So I wrote a book that came out in 2015 on Duke University Press called Legions of Boom, Filipino-American mobile DJ crews of the San Francisco Bay Area. And this was based on my dissertation research when I was a graduate student in Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley. And the way that I got an interested in this particular community of DJs is that when I first went up to the Bay Area in 1990, to attend college to attend Berkeley as an undergraduate student, it became very quickly clear to me that the Bay Area and specifically Filipino-American DJs in the Bay Area were amongst the best in the world. And right in the early 90s is when DJs such as Qbert, Mix Master Mike, Apollo, these are all Bay Area Filipino-American DJs, they began winning these world international competitions and really distinguished themselves as being some of the finest DJs in the world. So as someone who was living in the Bay Area, was interested in hip-hop as a listener and as a very, very young scholar, and that is an undergraduate I guess. And as someone who is also happens to be Asian-American, I was certainly very familiar with this phenomenon of these world-class Bay Arean DJs, who were all happened to be a Filipino descent. And like many people, was curious to understand. So what is it about the Bay Area, and specifically the Bay Area’s Filipino community that produces all of these world-class disc jockeys? And by the mid 90s, I had the opportunity to begin my career in music journalism, and began interviewing a lot of the DJs from this community, and quickly learned that one commonality that they all had was prior to the 1990s. So the 90s is when they really became much more visible on the national and global stage. But when they were younger, as just high school teenagers. all of these DJs had been heavily involved in a mobile disc jockey scene of basically high school and local community DJ groups that would throw parties, such as school dances, they would DJ weddings, they would DJs quinceaneras, church parties, etc. And that they all were competing for business and competing for reputation with each other as these young high school teenage crews and it was a fascinating phenomenon that I realized very, very few people had written about and as both a music journalist and then later as a graduate student, when you come upon a really fascinating story that you don’t see other people talking about, that light bulb went up over my head that, oh, there’s something here. And that’s how it became first of all, my dissertation topic, and then later became the subject of my book.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  05:10

Well I think it just shows how being observant and also blending your interests and passion with a scholarly pursuit can be so productive and also, so eye-opening to others. I love the fact that you took that perspective on something that none of us, I would never have known about, which is kind of like what you’ve done with food trucks.

Dr. Oliver Wang  05:34

At the time in which I first started to study the movement of new, kind of, fusion taco trucks, it was at a pretty early stage where I didn’t see a lot of other existing work on it.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  05:46

So driving your research was this kind of premise, like, let’s look into something that others haven’t really explored or evaluated.

Dr. Oliver Wang  05:55

Right. And I think this is a case where having both a background in academia as well as journalism helps because, as a journalist, you’re always chasing after the story somebody else hasn’t already done. And I don’t necessarily feel like academia always runs along the same principle. Because especially as a social scientist, of course, there’s a very long methodological tradition in replicating studies to confirm, you know, previous results. And of course, from the scientific process point of view, that totally makes sense. But I think for me, when it comes to the things that I’m interested in studying, if I feel like someone else has already covered that territory, then I figure, well, I don’t need to reinvent the wheel, my efforts are probably spent in places where there hasn’t been as much research. And given that I’m primarily interested, not exclusively, but I’m heavily interested in Asian-American popular culture formations and forms of participation. That’s just a general area where there is not a lot of existing scholarship on, no matter what. So given that that’s my general field of interest, it’s not that common that I’m likely to overlap with other people. Since I’m interested in aspects of pop culture, which historically speaking within the academy, Asian-American pop culture has not been a real hot topic for a lot of folks. And so it does make it easier for me to find things that haven’t been done, simply given the nature of, you know, the history of racial exclusion in a variety of fields, including within the academy.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  07:24

Well, that, you know, it’s really interesting that you’ve made that observation, not just about the Asian population, but about how to find areas that haven’t been well-described or observed and, and share it with others. Because, you know, when I first went to UCLA, and I went to a wonderful professor who’s since passed away prematurely. But he told me, I said, how can I make a difference in my field, you know, I’m medical, pediatrics, whatever. He said, Wendy, find something that’s really common sense that no one ever studied and study it and publish it. And the policymakers will run with it.

Dr. Oliver Wang  08:01


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  08:02

I mean, our academic folks want to have these multiple hundred studies, two hundred, whatever. But look, you know, it’s sort of a similar kind of approach to research. There are ways of doing research that can really capture people’s imaginations and also make difference in, you know, potentially their lives, right? So I think like your research in food trucks, I think is particularly fascinating, because it brings to light the complexity of food trucks, and I’d love us to focus on this today. Tell me how you’re interested in Asian-American culture and food trucks. How did that blend itself together?

Dr. Oliver Wang  08:39

So the the project that you’re talking about is a small research project that I undertook, God, now it would have been about 12 years ago, so this would have been starting around, I think, 2008 or 2009. But it happened at the time in which the Kogi BBQ truck which in Los Angeles really helped to ignite this wave of what I describe as nuevo catering trucks, nuevo taco trucks popped off around again 12 years ago, marking this difference between the older traditional taco trucks and lunch trucks that have been around and have been part of the food landscape of Los Angeles since at least the 1970s. But what began happening about, you know, 10, 12 years ago is that this wave of younger entrepreneurs came to the realization that the catering truck model allowed them to be able to get put a foot into the door of opening up a restaurant, but with lower overhead, lower initial investment, and that by, in the case of Kogi, by creating this fusion food creation. In their case, that creation was these Korean-inspired short rib tacos that combine both the city’s Korean and Mexican culinary heritages in a single dish, that it was a way of introducing new forms of food that didn’t have the same perhaps financial risk involved as trying to open up a brick-and-mortar. And the other thing that Kogi did that was so pioneering at the time, because again, you got to remember when we’re talking about here is, rather than being a stationary truck with an address that that you could find day-in, day-out, they would move locations throughout the day, and then update their location using Twitter. And this was at a time in which Twitter had been around for a couple of years, but it certainly wasn’t to the degree in which it’s become such a vital part, for better or for worse, of our contemporary communications systems, that them using Twitter was really considered the time very innovative, as a way of leveraging the power of social media as a marketing tool for their new business. And so Kogi, for a lot of reasons, became this, kind of, avatar of the perception of these new food movements that were happening amongst a younger generation of entrepreneurs. And so the way I got interested in this, because partly I am a journalist is I’m always looking to see what are other people writing about. And especially when it comes to issues of food and identity and community, I’m always curious when I hear people purporting either how it’s being described by others, or their own self description, where they’re talking about the ways in which food or business represents a neighborhood or a city or a community. Because I mean, those are bold claims. And I think part of me is always curious to see to well, to what degree do things live up to the ideal that they purport to exemplify based on, as in terms of their mission or identity. And with Kogi, there was so much intense press, I mean, really, within just a matter of months after they opened, they were not just getting local coverage from the likes of Jonathan Gold, the late Jonathan Gold, who at the time, was still writing at the LA Weekly. They got big write-ups in the LA Times, but outlets like Newsweek, and I think it might have been Time Magazine, or maybe was the New York Times, but they were sending reporters out to do stories on this very local Los Angeles food truck serving these Korean short rib tacos. And a lot of the language in which they would write about it was very, you know, very idealistic, very much, you know, and you got to remember that this is right after Obama gets elected, and so the kind of sense of power of multiculturalism is perhaps at its peak, at this moment in American society. And so Kogi is seen as as tapping into all of these different things. And sorry, I feel like I’m rambling here. But the way in which I turned this into a research project is given their very conceit of we’re going to move locations throughout the Southland, and we’re going to tweet where we’re going to be, I realized that Twitter feed was a source of geotagged data. So for every address that they’d say, okay, we’re going to be at this address at this time, I could basically copy that down, put it into a database, and then map it using Google Maps, and then create a map of where does the truck go. And part of what I was looking for was not only is what areas of Los Angeles, and Orange County, is the truck going to, but also by extension, where’s it not going to? And then you get this kind of social geography of this particular company that I think might be reflective of other similar, newer nuevo trucks that were really becoming a part of this massive trend that began to pop off in the late 20-odds, I guess.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  13:40

Hmm, where did it not go?

Dr. Oliver Wang  13:42

It did not go into a very large part of Los Angeles, which historically tends to be ignored by a lot of people who write about food. In other words, if you were to compare the map of where Kogi went with a map of what restaurants, you know, Los Angeles magazine reviews, or if you were to, you know, map, the Zagat’s Guide to Los Angeles, the areas that are missing all happened to overlap with one another. And it tends to be the neighborhoods that are south of the 10 freeway, and east of the 405. And again, for your listeners who are not from Los Angeles, this may be utterly meaningless. But if anything, if people know anything about Los Angeles, it’s that the freeway system does mark a lot of our geography, in this case that, so what I’m describing are the neighborhoods that fill South Los Angeles, Southeast Los Angeles, and also parts of East Los Angeles were the areas that I found that the truck didn’t go to. And these are, I think, not coincidentally, the most brown and black parts of Los Angeles and they also happen to be the most working-class parts of Los Angeles. And these are neighborhoods in which taco trucks, the old fashioned traditional taco trucks, are not hard to find. They cover the area, yet it seemed like a lot of the nuevo trucks were avoiding them. And my guess is, it’s a combination of class dynamics on one hand. I’ve heard the argument that it’s a palatte concern, which I don’t know if I put as much validity into the idea that somehow immigrant, you know, Latino populations, or African-American populations are not interested in fusion food concepts. I don’t see enough evidence around that to sort of buy that as a reason. I think a lot of it is because these nuevo trucks were charging a higher price point than a lot of the traditional taco trucks and maybe made the assumption that by going to these poor neighborhoods, they’re less likely to be able to turn a profit. Again, and that’s just an educated guess. But what’s interesting, I’d love to hear your sociologist perspective, what is it that the mobile truck, what’s that role and what is it bringing to the food truck culture? Like being mobile, what is that? Is that just because it’s novel? Or is there something else about it that you think is contributing to people’s interest in that kind of habit of a truck? Yeah, I think it’s a great question. I think there’s a few things going on. You know, one thing that others who are much I think, more studied in just the catering truck phenomenon than I am, have pointed out, the one thing that trucks do, just given the nature of their mobility is that they, the phrase that often gets used, that they activate public space. And so if you’re setting up a food truck in a, let’s say, a warehouse district that otherwise doesn’t have a lot of residential properties, then you don’t have people who typically live there. And maybe they’re doing it after hours. So it’s not like you’re getting people on lunch break. And yet, if you’re able to bring people out there, it temporarily, at least in a very ephemeral way, it activates this public space that otherwise would be deserted or unused. And so I do think there’s a way in which that the taco truck phenomenon, not just in Los Angeles, but a lot of cities is a way of creating a new version of street food, that historically, at least in Los Angeles, certainly there’s kind of have long been sidewalk street food stands. But I think that the catering truck phenomenon really grew a kind of street food culture that perhaps didn’t exist as robustly in a city like LA, compared to, let’s say, New York City, where you’ve had, you know, hotdog stands and knish stands and pretzel stands and everything, you know, when I think Halal food carts, right. I mean, every corner of Manhattan feels like there’s a food stand, and LA is is nowhere near that. But I think having the addition of newer food trucks, in addition to the more traditional food trucks, was a way of creating more of a public street sense of food. And I think that quality is appealing to people that falls in line with the ways in which there has been renewed interest in the urban landscape. You know, now that cities are hip to live in and again, and people aren’t afraid of moving into central cities anymore. the food culture of it has gone hand-in-hand with the, and you can’t really see me, I’m putting scare quotes around the word “rehabilitation” here. But around the rehabilitation of urban space, I think food and culinary foodways have played a pretty key role in that rehabilitation of image. And I think the other thing, too, is going back to what I was saying earlier, it’s because if you are trying to launch a new food concept, it’s probably easier from a financial point of view, or at least a little bit less risky to do that by investing in a food truck than it would be paying rent or leasing a physical brick-and-mortar space. Which means that if you are an adventurous food eater, and you’re seeking novelty, you’re more likely to find examples of that novelty in the food truck as opposed to going to a more traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant. I do think that phenomenon is beginning to change a little bit because one of the big newer trends that we’ve seen in Los Angeles over the last few years have been so-called food halls, which to me are just food courts with different PR, but they’re effectively the same thing. You just have a bunch of food stands inside of the same shared space. But you’re now seeing a lot of these newer concepts appearing in food halls, maybe either in addition to a truck or in place of a truck, because I think what we’ve seen over time, and I don’t have the numbers on this, but I think you’ve seen fewer trucks now than there might have been 10 years ago, as the truck economy has kind of worked out its kinks and maybe wasn’t able to support as many trucks on the road as we originally thought it might.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  19:35

Yeah. And also like, at farmer’s markets, I see a lot of pop-up experimental foods being sold.

Dr. Oliver Wang  19:41

Right, that’s another place that, again it requires a low relative initial investment to get interested in that. So yeah, I think if you’re a food eater, then you’re looking to these trucks seeking that novelty, looking for dishes that you haven’t experienced before. And I think that’s also contributed to their popularity.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  19:58

Now if you had somebody come to you and ask for advice on starting up their own food truck, what would you give? What kind of advice would you give?

Dr. Oliver Wang  20:10

Oh god, I’m sure I would just be helping a lot of people go out of business much sooner. I’ll say this much, and this is a very small but I think significant thing for any truck that is contemplating operating any kind of thing that involves the taco. And this is one thing that I think Kogi got really right, which is that if you’re going to serve a proper truck taco, you have to griddle it with a little bit of fat or oil. I remember and I’m not going to name the truck, because I don’t want to be mean about this, but remember, in the post-Kogi era, there was a another fusion truck concept, basically serving non-Mexican, non-Latino food inside of a taco, a soft taco wrap. And they just serve the the tortilla without any heat and without any fat. It’s like they just took it out of a bag, slapped some ingredients in it, and then served it. And it’s basically like eating through, you know, a thin piece of cardboard, like without the fat, the corn tortilla itself, there’s no unctousness to it, and it just creates this terrible mouthfeel.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  21:18

Mmm, I agree.

Dr. Oliver Wang  21:20

And I just came away thinking like, have you never had a taco before? Like, why wouldn’t you throw this on? Like, apply some heat, put some fat into it and make it more pliable and just make it more delicious. So that would be the only simple piece of advice is make sure that there’s a little bit of heat, and hopefully fat getting into that corn tortilla.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  21:40

You’re making me hungry, actually. Maybe I’ll move into something that’s not talking about food, or tangentially, about your research and writings. You’ve talked a lot about the growing role and presence of Asian-Americans’ Los Angeles cultural foodie scene, can you talk a little bit about this, or a little bit more about this?

Dr. Oliver Wang  22:00

One of the things that I feel like has been explained is the amount of Asian Americans who you can really see being heavily involved at the forefront of where American food culture is going. And so I’m thinking of people like, certainly David Chang, who has now created a mini media empire based around his exploits in the world of food. If we’re talking about Kogi, as we have been, certainly Roy Choi has been one of the very visible people there. And I’m just naming two very obvious people, but there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Asian Americans out there writing cookbooks, opening restaurants, writing food blogs, etc, who’ve really taken to throwing themselves in full-force into pushing where American food culture is going. And I think a big reason why is that, given the history of racial exclusion that Asian Americans have faced going back, you know, well into the 19th century. You know, the common thing that that people in our community face is that were seen as these perpetual foreigners. So it doesn’t matter how many generations or families have been here, it’s simply because we look the way that we look, people just assume that we’re not really American. And so I think because of that, in a lot of other areas of American pop culture, whether you’re talking about pop music, or professional sports, or what have you, the presence of Asian Americans within it is always met with at least some degree of initial skepticism in a way that may not exist if you are white or Black, because those are seen as being kind of racially authentic. Being Asian within those spaces as being seen as racially inauthentic. And so as I was saying, there’s this initial perception of skepticism that confronts them. But that doesn’t to me exist in the realm of food, because thanks to there being about 170 years of Chinese food in the United States, to say nothing about Japanese and Korean and Thai food that have come about in more recent decades, Americans in general are well-prepared to see an Asian face in a restaurant or in a kitchen and it doesn’t faze them. At no point do you think, oh, this is unusual, I don’t know how to make sense of this, in comparison to seeing someone like Jeremy Lin, as a professional NBA player on a basketball court. That sometimes there’s a cognitive dissonance that people have around that, or seeing an Asian-American rock musician or hip-hop artist, there’s that cognitive dissonance. You see an Asian-American running a restaurant, there is no cognitive dissonance there. People just understand like, sure, that makes sense to us. And so whether or not Asian-Americans realize this or not, I do think that on some level, because food is a lane, culturally speaking, that we’re allowed to run in, if you will, that it partly helps to explain why all of this energy is going into Asian-Americans exploring all of the different options out there in terms of the different kinds of food ways they want to get involved in. I mean, certainly the backdrop of all of this has just been the explosion of interest in food culture as becoming this formative part of American popular culture. So the ways in which, I’m certainly not the first person to make this comparison, you know, chefs being the new rock stars, for example. So to the degree that food culture now is connected with forms of cultural capital in ways that perhaps didn’t exist one or two generations ago, I think Asian-Americans have really taken advantage of those changes because again, food is an area that we are allowed to exist in without that kind of cognitive dissonance, skepticism. And we are trying to thrive as best as we can within that field.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  25:39

And what is your next research? Is there something that’s going to be cropping out of this observation that you just described?

Dr. Oliver Wang  25:45

Probably somewhere. Just to use a food metaphor, it’s certainly somewhere on the backburner. Though the actual project that I’m in the midst of right now, and it’s going to be taking over my life for the next couple of years. is actually looking at Japanese-Americans involved in Southern California car culture, so not about food, but about automobiles, and the ways in which Japanese-Americans who are the, at least in the LA area, the oldest/largest community. Chinese-Americans would have predated them, but they had the most significant population in Southern California for many decades. And they have been really central in different aspects of car culture going back a hundred years. So whether that’s racing hot rods up in the desert lake beds back in the 1930s or 40s, whether it’s customizing classic cars of the 40s and 50s, whether it was becoming part of the whole street racing scene that popped off the, well, kind of existed for many decades but there was a very robust street racing scene in the 70s and 80s, before the LAPD cracked down on it. But Japanese-Americans were thoroughly involved with that. And in more recent years and decades they helped to launch what is now thought of as the import car scene that was partially inspired things like the Fast and Furious film franchise, for example. And so my research is basically looking at all of the different generations of Japanese-Americans involved in aspects of car culture here in the LA area. And hopefully, this will be a museum exhibit in 2022, which is what I’m currently in discussion with folks about to make happen.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  27:22

So I guess from food trucks to cars. So how did you get, how did that interest you? How did you find that idea?

Dr. Oliver Wang  27:35

It actually stems from a very long-time chip on my shoulder as someone who’s certainly considers himself as a scholar, I certainly consider myself to be an Asian-Americanist, which is to say that, you know, a lot of my initial training was in Asian-American Studies. I see my work as being very much part of this tradition of Asian-American Studies, that is, in many ways, celebrating its 50th anniversary right around now. But one blind spot that I felt like has always existed within discipline has been around number one, around popular culture in general. We have dozens and dozens, if not hundreds of people studying Asian American literature. We have, in comparison, very few people, I think, really committed to studying forms of Asian-American popular culture. And in particular, it always struck me as bizarre that no one has ever written a book about Asian Americans in cars, even though if we’re talking about just stereotypical things that people associate with Asian American communities, car culture, I think is one of those things. And yet, for whatever reason, within our community of of Asian-American scholars, it has not been an area of much research outside of some important journal and anthology articles that came out about 15, 20 years ago. But it’s just, there’s been such a dearth, and I always find it to be such a strange phenomenon that we have a gazillion books about Asian-American literature, and no one’s bothered to write a book about Asian Americans and cars. And a good friend of mine, who noted that I had been basically making this observation, by what she meant, you’ve been complaining about this for 20 years, and you’re a sociology professor, you could just fill in that void by doing the research yourself. And I thought about that for a moment, I’m like, okay, that’s actually a fair point. I mean, partly, I’m not really a car guy. And so I got interested partly in DJ culture, because I was and am a DJ. My interest in food is partly because I’m a big lover of both cooking and eating food. With cars, you know, I enjoy their aesthetics, and I enjoy driving them, but I’m not someone who memorizes different car models or can tell you about the provenance about a particular vehicle. So it never really occurred to me to make it part of my own research until my friend said, look, rather than complain about this for the 21st year, why don’t you go out and at least see what’s out there? And, you know, my wife, who is a fourth generation Japanese-American said, well, you should interview my dad. In other words, my father in law, because he and his friends started a car club when they were high school students in the San Fernando Valley. And so I interviewed him, and very quickly realized that there were a series of, I think, really compelling stories there. And so that really got the ball rolling in terms of, so I spoke to him, then I spoke to a couple other folks. And then they recommended me to other people to talk. Then I published something about what I discovered about car clubs from the 1950s and 60s, in the newsletter for the Japanese-American National Museum, which is based here in Los Angeles. And then someone who was part of a racing club, a Japanese-American racing club from the 1980s saw that article, got in touch with me, and then I began interviewing him in his community and generation of folks. And that’s basically how things kind of snowballed from there. And again, I think what connects all of my different interests as a scholar, and as a writer of culture is, I’m interested in the ways in which Asian-Americans participate in different forms of popular culture. And so to that degree, whether it’s DJing, whether it’s taco trucks, or whether it’s cars, those are all just examples of, again, examples of participation in pop culture, which is ultimately what interests me, regardless of my own individual level of interest in any of those areas of activity.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  31:32

So, I mean, you’re such an extraordinary storyteller, since it’s a journey just to listen to you describe how you get into a different subject matter. And I’d love to know, what’s your bucket list of pop-culture phenomenon that you want to research with the American Asian population?

Dr. Oliver Wang  31:51

That’s a really good question. I think one thing that I joke about with my wife is that, you know, I wrote a book about Filipino-Americans. I’m currently in the midst of doing this research around Japanese-Americans, and my own personal background is I’m Chinese-American, but I’ve never really made it a point to study a Chinese-American phenomenon. I’ve written about specific Chinese American personalities, but not in terms of a scene that I would associate with people from my own ethnic community. And so I feel like at some point, maybe just to, you know, honor my roots, I should figure out something along those lines. But I think partly because the Filipino-American DJ scene was something that I was aware of, but I didn’t grow up in. In the same way that I did not grow up within the Japanese-American car scene, I think that partly what is interesting to me, because there’s something that is novel that draws my initial curiosity. Whereas with Chinese-Americans, it may simply be on a subconscious level, my presumed familiarity with my community makes it actually less interesting or less compelling, simply because it’s too familiar to me.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  33:02

That makes sense.

Dr. Oliver Wang  33:03

Right, maybe there’s something out there down the road. But I mean, what’s what’s interesting is I’m raising a, at this point, a 15-year-old, you know, half-Japanese-American, half-Chinese-American. Basically, she’s fifth-generation Asian-American, and at least on her mom’s side. And so I’m very curious to see the kinds of things that she and people of her generation, so I guess, the Asian-American Gen Z, get interested in. And it may be that whatever my next next research project ends up being, it’s going to be something that my daughter turned me onto, because it’s something that’s going to be if not fully unique, it’s going to be something that that that generation is driving.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  33:42

Truly fusion.

Dr. Oliver Wang  33:43

Yeah, to some extent, right. You know, whether that’s in the realm of food, or in music, or in some, you know, some other form of pop culture, I don’t know, I think in general, because you were asking what my bucket list is, and I’m the type of personality where, if I have an interest in something, I usually try to, instead of keeping it on the list, I just jump in to whatever degree I can. So something on a bucket list would suggest there’s something that I’m interested in that I haven’t actually looked at, and right now, I don’t know if there’s anything that I’m interested in that I’m not also actively looking at. So it really would have to be something that I haven’t discovered or come across yet. That would be the bucket list item and maybe I just need to spend a little bit more time out there to see what’s on the the incoming wave of new cultural formations that’s something up my alley.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  34:31

Oh, that actually is a perfect lead-in to the one of my last and final questions, which is, since you are such a good researcher, I’d love to know what your go-to food truck spot is.

Dr. Oliver Wang  34:41

Well, number one, I tell people go to Kogi. I mean, anything else I have to say, but they make an extraordinarily good short rib taco. And I do think that, to the extent that that one dish does capture some aspect of different LA food cultures within its tangible form, I think that’s actually true to a large extent. And I think that if you’re an out-of-towner, and you’ve never tried one, you should take the time out to get on Twitter, figure out where their truck is going to be, and then find a way to get there and to try it. I think it’s certainly worthwhile. In terms of my other favorite food trucks, the two that come to mind is there’s a place called Tacos Leo, which is actually throughout, they have a couple locations throughout Mid City. But the one that that I know best and is their most popular spot is located at the corner of Venice Boulevard and La Brea. And they’re best known for their al pastor tacos, and I think, on the weekends, at least weekends only from my recollection, is they serve it straight off of the trompo, which is the spit. And the people who work that spit clearly have mastered the art of the efficiency of the cut. And it’s almost like a little bit of performance when they put the tacos together. But those are really, really, really delicious. And then the other one would be, this is kind of a Jonathan Gold classic, because he was one of the first people to really help put it on the map outside of the East LA Latino community, which is the Mariscos Jalisco truck. They serve, they’re a seafood, a Mexican seafood truck, and one of their specialties is a hardshell shrimp taco, which is filled with this, kind of this, I know  it’s not gonna sound inherently appetizing, but I think it’s a mash of mashed potatoes with shrimp in it. So it kind of has this creaminess to it with the chewiness of the shrimp, and then it’s inside of a deep fried hard shell. And so you get these layers of texture, it’s seasoned very well. But it’s really just this experience of the crunchiness of the exterior with the creaminess and the chewiness of the interior, you get all this wonderful contrast. I took a friend there for the first time and she actually said it was reminiscent of East Coast Chinese egg rolls, which are very distinctive to cities like New York and Boston, because they’re much bigger than what you usually find out here. And they also have that kind of crunchy exterior, creamy interior. And I never thought about that comparison, except after she mentioned it every time I’ve been back to Mariscos Jalisco, that reference really does come to mind as I’m biting through it. But those things are so, they’re so infectious, I usually joke that you’re going to order two, you’re going to want to go back and order another two, but really, you only want one more because four is too much. But your body is going to crave and want to have as many of those as possible, because once you start to bite into it, they are addictive.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  37:43

Oh my gosh, well, I don’t know, I guess that’s a good way to end because I’m starving now. I gotta go grab a bite to eat. But before we end, is there anything else that you want to share with our listeners?

Dr. Oliver Wang  37:56

No, I really appreciate the time to be able to chat with you and share some of the stuff that I’ve been working on. And thank you so much for having me on.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  38:02

It’s just been a pleasure. And also, thank you so much for being such an inspiration to all our students at UCLA. You’ve really picked their curiosity and imagination.

Dr. Oliver Wang  38:12

Well, thank you. I really appreciate hearing that.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  38:14

Fantastic, thank you. Thank you, Oliver. Thank you for tuning into UCLA Live Well. For more information about today’s episode and the resources mentioned, visit our website at healthy.ucla.edu/livewellpodcast. Today’s podcast was brought to you by the Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Center at UCLA. To stay up to date with our episodes, subscribe to UCLA Live Well on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Get to know us a little better and follow us @healthyUCLA. If you think you know the perfect person for us to interview next, tweet your idea to us, please. Have a wonderful rest of your day and we hope you join us for our next episode as we explore new perspectives on health and well-being.

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