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AROUND THE SAN GABRIEL VALLEY

With help from a game called Human Bingo, people from very different cultures are getting to know each other. What they're finding out is how much they're the same.

November 19, 1989|MARY R. HEFFRON \f7

They lined up in the cool fall evening, out the door, down the walk, past the Mercedes and the Jaguar pulled up to the driveway, and out into the parking lot of the Arcadia Masonic Temple.

The line moved slowly, but it wasn't too cold this Wednesday night of the week before Thanksgiving. A horn-and-drum serenade from the high school band practice wafted across Duarte Road.

Bee Hsu and Shirley Chan chatted about the price of turkey. They greeted Dana Junior High School Principal Joe Fox and his wife, Rosemary, and the conversation turned to Human Bingo.

In Human Bingo, they explained, you fill your card by answering questions about the other people at a gathering. Each square poses a question about a person's background; the player must find a person likely to answer yes and get him or her to sign the square.

Who understands or speaks a Chinese dialect? Who makes good German food? Who has studied in a school outside the United States? Who is a native of California? Who knows the names of 10 countries in Africa?

Human Bingo is an icebreaker; its object is to get people who don't know one another and who come from very different cultures to talk with each other.

At the third annual Intercultural Evening in Arcadia, it was working. As we moved forward in line toward the name-sticker desk, we could see excited people scribbling on the yellow Bingo sheets. No cocktails, no hors d'oeuvres, but more than 300 people were talking, many of them, clearly, to people they hadn't met before.

In the past few years, thousands of Asian immigrants have moved to the San Gabriel Valley. Many of them live in Monterey Park, which is now more than half Asian and gets most of the press, nationally, as the country's first suburban Chinatown.

But with its students consistently among the top achievers in California Assessment Program scores, Arcadia has drawn a stream of professional, upper middle-class Asians, largely Chinese.

If downtown Los Angeles and Monterey Park are the first stop for Asians moving to the United States, places like Hacienda Heights and Arcadia, an affluent community of just under 50,000, are where they go when they're ready to move up.

Often, perhaps because of their insulation by miles and money, these second stops are less prepared to welcome new ingredients to the American melting pot. These intercultural evenings, a joint project of the Arcadia Unified School District and Chamber of Commerce, are an attempt to remedy that.

On this night, dinner was Persian, Chinese and American, served cafeteria style. At a table in back, two very different couples, one middle-aged and Anglo, one young and Chinese, sat to eat.

Richard and Marilyn Dootson live in Bradbury--in the house, Richard Dootson volunteered, in which race car driver Mickey Thompson and his wife were killed. Richard Dootson has a real estate business in Arcadia. Xi and Shoping Wang are living with the Dootsons while they are students in Pasadena. The Dootsons call Xi Wang "Stanley," a name given him long ago by an English professor in China. Xi Wang is a doctoral candidate in robotics at Caltech; his wife takes English classes at Pasadena City College. They are from Harbin, in the far northeast corner of China. Xi Wang was 4, the youngest of four children in his family, when the Cultural Revolution came in 1966.

His father, a college professor, his mother and his oldest brother were sent to the countryside to work in the fields. He and the other two children, the oldest 12, were left alone in their house. A friend of their mother's came to cook for them on weekends; they stored food for the week just by leaving it outside in the cold.

Xi Wang laughed when he described reaching outside to break pieces off a loaf when he was hungry. His father is dead now; his mother lives in Oregon and, after last summer's massacre in Beijing, he is unsure of his future. The Wangs and the Dootsons, an intercultural household, left early because Xi Wang had to study.

On stage, in front of welcome banners in five languages, Dana teacher Sherry Root and students from Australia, Colombia and Malaysia talked about living in America. Later, Angi Ma Wong gave tips on cultural differences in body language, and how they can be important in business.

Do such experiments as this evening in Arcadia accomplish anything?

Eloise Ward lives in Arcadia and works at a music store on South Baldwin Avenue. She was chairwoman of the first intercultural evening two years ago.

"I volunteered to do it because I was afraid--not afraid so much, but ignorant," Ward said. "I wasn't really happy about the changes . . . I don't know how to say that so it doesn't look bad in the newspaper.

"When things change dramatically, it's scary. People like to see things stay the same. . . . But once you spend time with someone who's different from you are, you find out basically at the core, we're all the same, and the differences, instead of being strange, become exciting and fascinating. . . .

"It's an ongoing process. A lot of us are beginning to be able to be much more open."

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