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"Wanna Get Boba?": The Bond Between Boba and Asian American Youth in San Jose, California
Abstract and Figures
The tenth largest city in the United States with a population of over 1 million, San Jose, California resides on the southernmost edge of the Silicon Valley. Though high-tech narratives often subsume this region, a closer examination of San Jose's (sub)urban landscape reveals the presence of over 100 boba shops and their multiethnic community of local patrons. Boba, a milk tea beverage which originated in Taiwan in the 1980s, made its U.S. debut in the late 1990s when Taiwanese American entrepreneurs aimed to emulate Taiwan’s unique boba shop experience in their American hometowns. Over the past 20 years, boba within the United States has morphed into a distinctly Asian American cultural phenomenon, which I argue makes boba a unique lens by which to examine Asian American youth culture. For this ethnographic study, I conducted and analyzed 17 interviews and 156 survey responses from Bay Area-based young adults (between the ages of 18 and 40) with varying degrees of familiarity with San Jose boba shops: from the occasional boba drinker to what some may call the “boba addict.” I opened the survey to all racial groups but focused my data analysis on those who self-identified as Asian American. I found that boba shops serve as nodes of connectivity that spatially unite Asian American young adults within the sprawling city and its neighboring localities. In addition, veering away from original Taiwanese boba culture, U.S. boba culture resembles and caters to the pan-ethnic Asian American and diverse multiracial community of San Jose. Overall, the interactions and conversations within and about boba shops illuminate the enduring salience of race and place in shaping how contemporary Asian American young adults negotiate their self-identity, community belonging, and cultural imaginaries.
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