The Milky Bun from Orange County

White Americans do not have the lock on this thing

Afters Ice Cream Milky Bun
  • Afters Ice Cream Milky Bun

Dear Hipster: Does hipster-ism extend to multiple cultures? Living in SoCal, one gets to appreciate, and even integrate with, people and neighborhoods with distinct cultural identities. Are there branches of hipsters among different cultural pockets, say Asian and Mexican neighborhoods? Take Convoy and Barrio Logan. I’ve visited both in the past year or so and observed certain elements of gentrification and hipster earmarks taking place in those areas. I’ve sampled elevated street tacos and seen lines around the building for bowls of fancy ramen and swiped my debit card on a Square device to buy an $8 milky bun with blue ice cream sandwich. And there’s the art, music and craft-this-or-that I hear about in such places. Thinking about it, though, just maybe these fine citizens and society contributors were well ahead of the curve and doing interesting hipster stuff way before the average Anglo Joe or Jane pioneered or encountered something cool in Normal Heights. Am I reading this right? — David

You’re reading it right and then some. So many cool, hipster things originate outside mainstream, polite, stereotypically white American hipster culture. The chances are good that some neighborhood shop specialized in the next big food or fashion craze long before said trend flooded the Twitter feeds of the hipster set and gained traction as “the next big thing.” I could try to list the cool stuff that has infiltrated mainstream culture courtesy of Japanese-, Korean-, Mexican-, Vietnamese-, Malaysian-, Ethiopian-, or Colombian-American (take your pick from the whole globe, really) communities; but there isn’t enough space in the Reader to write it all out.

Despite persistent tirades to the contrary, cross-cultural hipsterism is a lot more complicated than just Columbusing other people’s culture and blowing it up on Instagram or Buzzfeed. Hipsters (and the mainstreamers who follow hard on their heels) will most likely latch onto some new trend when it represents a kind of cultural hybridization.

Take your Milky Bun, for example. One could be forgiven for thinking that it had been invented in Taiwan and imported to the States. However, the Milky Bun — which catapulted Afters Ice Cream to overnight success — is undeniably a product of the SoCal Asian-American food scene and a testament to the creativity of the hipsters who grew up steeped therein. The dessert’s inventors went to grade school together in Orange County, and they sold the first Milky Bun out of a Fountain Valley strip mall. From its very inception, the Milky Bun was meant as a hipster creation, at once firmly rooted in OC’s Southeast Asian communities, yet simultaneously the brainchild of forward-thinking entrepreneurs with their fingers firmly on the pulse of the hipster zeitgeist.

In that way, hipster stuff flourishes in the zones where different cultures overlap, together creating something that neither alone might have spawned. I believe that most people understand this, either intuitively or intellectually. Call me idealistic, but I see a kind of Platonic American ideal at work there. When ideas from outside the mainstream redefine popular culture, the world becomes a cooler, more interesting place. In the end, we owe a lot to the “fine citizens and society contributors,” without whom we might live in a terribly beige world.

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