If you put “baby names,” “Korean skin care,” and “Passover desserts” into a Venn diagram, there’d be only one place where the circles would overlap: a podcast called The Mash-up Americans. (“Recent Google searches” might be a close second.) Hosted by New Yorker Amy Choi and native Angeleno Rebecca Lehrer, the semimonthly bicoastal show explores the complexities and joys of coexisting cultures. It’s what Choi and Lehrer call “hyphen” or “mash-up ” America—Choi is Korean American; Lehrer is Salvadoran Jewish American. “Our business is awkward subjects,” says Choi. “How do we engage the world on topics that have been taboo for a long time?”
Like most good inventions, The Mash-up Americans was born out of necessity. Choi and Lehrer’s friends—hyphens, the lot of them—were all asking the same questions about dating, marriage, and starting a family: What do you do when your in-laws and your parents don’t speak the same language? How do you pick a name for your child that reflects a mixed identity? “We were focused on what it means to have one foot deeply rooted in traditions and the other in the future,” Choi says. “But nobody was telling our stories authentically.” So Choi and Lehrer decided to do it themselves. After launching a Tumblr, newsletter, and Web site, the podcast—coproduced by American Public Media and Southern California Public Radio—kicked off in 2015.
Each of the roughly 30-minute episodes sees the longtime friends musing on the serious (cultural appropriation) and the lighthearted (McDonald’s Shamrock Shakes) alongside guests like comedian Margaret Cho and Radiolab’s Jad Abumrad. It isn’t uncommon for laughter and tears to punctuate the conversations. “One of our modus operandi is that ‘you don’t know what you don’t know,’ ” Lehrer says. “As long as you’re open to knowing more, we can have a really productive conversation.”