Nepali Times
Here And There
The Mestizo Mall


Robert D Kaplan roams the world, from the edges of anarchy to the empire wilderness of his own United States of America. Both those colourful little phrases, by the way, are his creations, titles of books that he's written along the way-the first a collection of accounts of Kaplan's travels to hellholes, basket case countries and war zones, the second a look around the USA through a foreign reporter's severely jaundiced eye. His observations everywhere are rigorous and controversial, even at home in these patriotic times. I don't always agree with Kaplan but I rush to read what he writes.

His insights into American demographics were haunting me this week as I sat in a coffee shop in a large shopping mall in Toronto. The table looked out on a large open space between shops, a sort of 21st century village square. You could sip your beverage and watch the world go by. And in Toronto, the world does go by. More than half of the population of this city was born outside of Canada. Many of the remainder are first generation immigrants, and as I watched the multicultural ebb and flow through the steam from my cappuccino, I began to reflect on a phrase of Kaplan's from the An Empire Wilderness, a turn of the millennium book about the changing face of America.

As he travels from Orange County in California to the decaying public housing estates of East St Louis, Kaplan discovers that America's huge Asian immigrant population is becoming the most influential demographic group in the country. People from across the vast sweep of Asia are not outnumbered by Latin Americans, Europeans or black Americans, but their economic abilities allow them to punch far above their weight. And as Kaplan finds out, more and more and more of them are marrying into other communities. So too are the Latinos and the children of newly arrived Europeans. It's not that teenaged children of immigrants are rushing into the arms of the nearest white person, or actively looking to marry outside their ethnic group. It's that America's economy and society throw people into a different sort of promiscuity, a whirl of work-related opportunity, debate and creativity that makes ethnicity subservient to intelligence and vocational skills. Then people who work together get married. It's that simple Kaplan speculates in An Empire Wilderness that as the generations pass, America will become a nation populated by a vast successful swathe of mixed race people with slightly brown skin and slightly Asiatic features, whatever those may be. He coins the term "mestizo-Polynesian", an awkward construct to be sure but as I drained the last dregs of my fancy coffee in that Toronto mall, I could see what he meant. The older couples that strolled between the shops were uniformly similar people, Italians with Italians, Jamaicans with Jamaicans, Singhs and Kaurs. But then came the younger folk and a rainbow coalition of changing demography in action.

For fun, I started a mental game, saying to myself "Okay, now how about a Tamil and a Laotian", and eventually such a couple would wander by. "A Somali and a Finn?" Yep. And so on. Now none of these people have any offspring yet, but I sense mestizo-Polynesians (think of them as MPs) aplenty will soon be populating the malls of Canada. There'll be horror as the landed generation of immigrant parents contemplate the foreign (relatively speaking) face at their daughter's (or son's) side during the wedding ceremony. But the great American (and British, Australian and Canadian) melange culture mixes well with human sexuality to sweep all that aside. Then MPs marry MPs and the mixed society reigns supreme.

That's one reason why places like Nepal and India have, in my view and Kaplan's, more potential than citizens often realise. The mixing and matching of castes and communities in cities like Delhi and Kathmandu is creating a microcosm of the vibrant MP culture of the New World. No, not quite Orange County or the Yorkdale shopping mall in Toronto, but a beacon of hope nonetheless. And the cappuccino at Barista or Himalayan Java is pretty good too.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)