Very Ethnic is a Dengue Fever riff wrapped in a Diego Rivera mural packaged in a piping hot order of butter chicken poutine stitched into a donkey piñata painted to look like a zebra and boxed in a 163-story Dubai skyscraper buried under an IKEA in a clay pot filled with fermenting cabbage hidden in a thick cloud of double apple shisha smoked by Moscow drag queens made up to look like Sunny Leone—and retweeted by you.
Very Ethnic begins, for most of us, as a meal in a place that smells different from what we’re used to. There is not enough décor on the walls. Or else so much decor that you can’t see the walls. Sometimes you get chopsticks. Sometimes heavy silver knives and forks. Sometimes no utensils at all. Sometimes the chef, who is also the waiter and the owner and the dishwasher, will sit down at your table with no invitation and light a cigarette that smells like ten thousand miles and fifty years away. He will begin bitching about a bylaw officer. His accent will seem so thick to you that you have to ask him to repeat himself. He’s Irish and you’re Sri Lankan. Or you’re Chilean and he’s from some place in China. He’ll smile. The smile indicates that he knows you are actually listening and not just going through the motions. He’ll share a couple of secrets. Give you the names of some people you have to meet. His wife and kids and in-laws will dribble in from doors you didn’t realize were there. He will offer you one of his cigarettes.
The meal becomes a portal into a part of the world—you’ll come to prefer the word community to enclave—a way of life that you wouldn’t otherwise enter. And slowly after that, Very Ethnic becomes other things. A kind of cinema. A way of dress. It’s music. It’s outrage. It’s gratitude. It’s grace. It’s pandering. It’s racism. It’s a way of kissing. It is community at its rickety communitiest. And ultimately, it is a demographic. A very influential demographic. Very ethnic is the culmination of so many things. But it is the beginning too. (Because you can always add or subtract a “Very.”)
All of this is to say, Very Ethnic is a nebulous thing. It can be as simple as a cassette tape from Mali, complex as the Half Japanese T-Shirt that Cobain wore on his last day on earth. You know it when you see it. At its best, Very Ethnic is faintly absurd. A kind of gag, which is what we’ll look for here. We also like the points where cultures combine in unanticipated ways. And because Buddha said that you cannot walk the path until you become the path, Very Ethnic shall be a method too.
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