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Multiculturalism in America: Tropic of Orange by Karen Tei Yamashita

One of the most prominent contemporary Japanese American novelists, short-story writer, playwright, and professor, Karen Tei Yamashita, was born in Oakland, California. However, Yamashita spent most of her childhood in Gardena, Los Angeles County, California. Yamashita received the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship and traveled to Sao Paulo in 1975 to research Japanese immigrant communities in Brazil. She is the professor of Literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she teaches creative writing and Asian American literature. Her works contain elements of magic realism. Yamashita's novels emphasize the necessity of multicultural communities in an increasingly globalized age, even as they destabilize orthodox notions of borders and national/ethnic identity.

Karen Tei Yamashita

"Tropic of Orange," written by Karen Tei Yamashita describes seven characters from different perspectives, which portray the exclusive background of each personality. As Sherryl Vint says in Orange County: Global Networks in Tropic of Orange, “The novel recounts an eventful week in Los Angeles through the interconnected stories of seven characters whose various ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds produce for each a distinct experience of the city: Mexican immigrant Rafaela Cortes, a janitor going to business school, temporarily estranged from her husband; Bobby Ngu, her husband, an immigrant from Singapore by way of Vietnam whose intense work ethic has led to ownership of a janitorial business; Emi, a Japanese-American television producer; Buzzworm, an African-American Vietnam War veteran who lives in an impoverished neighborhood and advocates for its residents; Manzanar Murakami, a Japanese-American retired surgeon who lives on the streets but is also taken care of by his family; Gabriel Balboa, a Chicano journalist committed to representing the disenfranchised of LA, who is Emi’s boyfriend, for whom Buzzworm serves as a source, and at whose office Rafaela and Bobby work; and finally Arcangel, a South-American performance artist who embodies the spirit of the indigenous since colonization.”

As a multicultural city, Los Angeles is presented by Yamashita as a "falling down" city myth that neglects minorities and an unseen group of people that are emphasized throughout the novel. She depicts separate and unrelated people's lives into one pot. Their common crossing path is the presence of Los Angeles where everything switches and merchandising fastly. As Sherryl Vint mentions in Orange County: Global Networks in Tropic of Orange: “Yamashita’s novel, too, is concerned with the blurring of fantasy and reality that is the experience of LA, and with the complex entanglement of fantasies about the past and the future with opportunities perceived in the present”. Los Angeles is an example of a global intersection. Localization of the products is disrupted by global mechanization. Global balance is annihilated by huge brands. Just like north and south, globalism and localism are not dispersed equally. One can say that L. A is nothing more than deluded speculation of untold history. Huge brands and monuments or internalized elements like Hollywood give a sense of rareness into Los Angeles. As an observer of the city, characters like Buzzworm or Gabriel try to tell hidden parts of the city. Both chase a story waiting for their attention to emerge. Yamashita describes this situation with the power of crossing borders. The imaginary line which divided the city into categories can become a distinct line that gets attention from everyone, even the persons who are not relevant for the topic. And Yamashite’s aim is related to the reveal of this part of the line. She ponders upon not in a tone of horrific corruption scene of Los Angeles, but she generally spoke about the general problems of the city. She decides to reflect her ideas with the power of multiculturalism element that the city has from the beginning. Contrary to the assuming belief, Los Angeles is not the city that embraces every individual along with their heritage. Therefore, Yamashita discerns this fact by collecting different cultures, languages, sources and making it visible by imposing different stories into each character in the novel. As Sherryl Vint emphasizes, ‘’city’s suffering is as real as its promise and beauty.’’ Underneath the surface, there is a lot of indignant people floundering in the street of L.A. And day by day, their anger towards the regime is growing. They do not have any place to live, and they burst into the reality of the city which is designed by a superior - a white man. They do not forget to exclude white-Asians or black, Latins, etc.