ALHAMBRA SOURCE Voices from the New American Suburb
ALHAMBRA SOURCE Voices from the New American Suburb
Alhambra Source: Voices from the New American Suburb Edited by Daniela Gerson, Tim Loc, and Nasrin Aboulhosn Published June 2015 by Alhambra Source © 2015 All rights reserved by the authors and Alhambra Source First Edition www.alhambrasource.org Alhambra Source is a community news website and a research initiative of University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism Alhambra Project Principal Investigators: Sandra Ball-Rokeach and Michael Parks The Alhambra Project has received funding support from Annenberg Foundation, University of Southern California’s Annenberg School, and Southern California Edison Cover photo by Albert Lu Design by Tiffanie Tran tiffanieandthetrans.com Printed in California by Anderson LA
ALHAMBRA SOURCE Voices from the New American Suburb
EDITORS Daniela Gerson, Tim Loc, and Nasrin Aboulhosn
CONTRIBUTORS Alan Tam
Siye Walter Ma
www.alhambrasource.org community news and voices |
| noticias y voces de la comunidad
TABLE OF CONTENTS Introduction | Daniela Gerson 6
COMING OF AGE IN AN ETHNOBURB You seem more Asian than Hispanic | Anthony Perez 14 To Alhambra, with love, from Lebanon | Nasrin Aboulhosn 16 My Mandarin problem | Jee-Shaun Wang 18 A Cuban immigrant confronts the bullies | Jane Fernandez 20 Off to Vegas with the family for the Asian holiday migration | Paul Wong
Celebrating Dia de los Muertos for the first time | Kristopher Fortin 24 A dream deferred for an Alhambra Chinese youth | Gordon Ip 26 Relating to superman: A young immigrant and her secret identity | Valerie Cabral 28 Why don’t my parents vote? | Albert Lu 30 Can you go home again? A Filipino immigrant’s dilemma | Alfred Dicioco
Role reversal | Stephanie Lee 34 Daughter of an arranged marriage | Monica Luhar
EXPLORING FOOD Hong Kong cafes and the allure of escargot, clam chowder, and spam | Pam Sosa Fruteria Huerta | Nate Grey and Nathan Solis
A=Americanized, B=Better, C=Chinese: The ABCs of Chinese restaurants in the SGV | Joe Soong 44 Alhambra Market | Nate Grey 46 In search of the Alhambra taco | Javier Cabral 48 The Punjab Store | Nate Grey and Nathan Solis 50 Building a culinary empire based on Mama Liang’s military cuisine | Evelina Giang and Wesley Wong 52 How do you say Dollar Store in Burmese? | Daniela Gerson 54 Cali Mart | Nate Grey and Nathan Solis
My Banh Mi My Tho fix | Michael Lawrence 58 Alhambra Farmers Market | Kevin Chan 60 The rise and fall of Super A | Nathan Solis, Irma Uc, and Daniela Gerson
MAKING CONNECTIONS A visit to Mrs. Lin, Alhambra’s psychic | Joe Soong 66 A plume of grey smoke, a dim sum waiter with no restaurant | Tim Loc 68 Yolanda Gonzalez envisions an artistic revival in Alhambra | Kerrie Gutierrez
Gallery Nucleus at 10 | Ian Dale 72 Demolition day at the Edwards Atlantic | Nathan Solis 74 Alhambra “Hoodlums” transform car parts into art | Sarah Grear 76 Forget West Hollywood: Choosing Alhambra as a young, gay Asian couple | Inthava Bounpraseuth 78 Don’t shower — but do eat lots of pig knuckles and papaya fish soup | Karin Mak 80 Shave and a haircut, with a new twist | Alfred Dicioco 82 A ‘moving meditation’: Tai chi mornings at Alhambra Park | Joe Soong
Enlisting to escape internment: An Alhambra veteran’s story | Connie Ho
Wong Fu & Fung Bros: SGV YouTube sensations | Kyle Garcia and Esmeé Xavier
FINDING FAITH Mandarin Baptist Church: Not just for Chinese worshippers | Jesse Chang
American Hai Ninh Community Association: Buddhist faith and Vietnamese Chinese fellowship | Jesse Chang 92 Saint Steven’s Serbian Orthodox Cathedral: A Southern Calfiornia center for the Balkan community | Jesse Chang 93 St. Therese Catholic Church: Alhambra’s Latin Service | Jesse Chang
First Baptist Church: How a “maintenance church” became a thriving congregation | Jesse Chang 95
TAKING A STAND Will Alhambra disappear? | Michael Lawrence 98 Valarie Gomez: Director of the San Gabriel Valley YMCA | Tim Loc 100 Mark Yokoyama: Chief of the Alhambra Police Department | Daniela Gerson 101 Five ways to engage Chinese immigrants in the San Gabriel Valley | Siye Walter Ma 102 James Rojas: Urban planner | Tina Zeng 104 Pinki Chen: Event organizer | Victoria Gavia, James Ho, Alan Tam, Yvonne Lee 105 A park for Buddy? | Esmeé Xavier 106 Save money, protect the earth, and risk your life | Neel Garlapati
Carlos Montes: Civil rights activist | Tim Loc 110 Roz Collier: President of the Alhambra Teachers Association | Jennifer Smith and Kristen Hoang 111 Why is Alhambra stopping churches from housing homeless families? | Jesse Chang
Contributors 114 Acknowledgements | Daniela Gerson 118
INTRODUCTION BY DANIELA GERSON
Alhambra Source Editor Daniela Gerson sits next to the statue facing Alhambra City Hall of the late Warner Jenkins, a long-time Alhambra journalist | Photo by Tom Shea
The summer before Alhambra Source launched, local officials canceled municipal elections because no challengers came forth to run against five incumbents.1 Why were residents not interested in representing this suburban Los Angeles community on their city council or school board? It could be that they were uninterested in civic issues or were satisfied with the way things were, as one council member suggested. But it could also be that few knew enough about what was going on in Alhambra municipal affairs to care. After all, the closest a reporter got to City Hall most days was a statue of the late editor of the long defunct Alhambra Post-Advocate, grasping a notebook, and perched on a bench facing the building. 2
Alhambrans. In all, nearly one hundred youth reporters and volunteer community contributors have written about their global suburb for Alhambra Source. An eclectic group, they range from high school students to retirees and combined speak more than 10 languages.
That was nearly five years ago. Since then, contributors to Alhambra Source — a multilingual community news website and research initiative from University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism — have gone on to cover local issues and engage with their city in new ways.
An independent municipality of 85,000 residents, Alhambra is located about 10 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. Main Street — with its 1950s era diners, brand-new condos, slick sports bars, and adjacent government buildings — has maintained its position as the historic and municipal heart. Valley Boulevard is the contrasting principal thoroughfare to the south, with mostly Asian immigrant owned businesses — among them Hong Kong style cafes, dumpling eateries, and even a store specializing in Chinese afterlife preparation — stretching east. The quiet resi-
At almost every City Council meeting for the past five years, an Alhambra Source reporter — generally a recent college graduate from the area — has taken notes to explain the process to fellow 6
This collection is selected from hundreds of stories Alhambra Source contributors produced over nearly five years of production. Their work reveals a glimpse of what America may look like in coming years, and provides examples of ways in which residents can shape community via a news outlet that cuts across ethnic and linguistic divides.
Becoming an ethnic suburb
dential streets beyond offer a vision of Southern California suburbia featuring good schools, single-family bungalows, and low crime rates. Older Alhambra residents, most of them descendants of a past migration wave from the Midwest or Italy, recall how over the past few decades white families sold their homes and left for suburbs farther removed from Los Angeles. In their place, moved in Mexican Americans from East Los Angeles, and then Taiwanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, and other immigrants. Alhambra today is just over a half Asian, a third Latino and 10 percent white.3 With the newcomers emerged a new way of life. A half-century ago, growing up in Alhambra included ham sandwiches at the counter at Leiberg’s Department Store, treats from the soda jerk at Fosselman’s Ice Cream Company, and lining the streets for the annual “Hi Neighbor” parade. Alhambra youth today are more likely to be found at late-night boba tea sessions, watching a lion dance down Valley Boulevard for Lunar New Year, or working on dance moves with a pan-ethnic hip-hop crew at JayVee Dance Studio. Fosselman’s still exists, but now taro or lychee ice cream is scooped along with vanilla.
Changing news consumption There is another shift that Alhambra shares with many communities nationwide: a decrease in local news coverage. Alhambra’s history of publications goes back to before the city’s 1903 incorporation: The Alhambra, first published in 1887, was a fourpage weekly newspaper. That was followed by at least a half dozen weeklies and dailies that included the name Alhambra. But the last dedicated local newspaper, the Alhambra Post-Advocate, ceased publication in 1993. 6 Nearly two decades later, when Alhambra Source launched, coverage was minimal: the Los Angeles Times had cut back reporting in the region, as had the regional Pasadena Star-News, and days would go by when there was no story mentioning the city.7 This occurred at a time when just over half of Alhambra’s residents were immigrants, and many were adapting to an entirely new system of government. One new area of local coverage, however, has developed over the past two decades. The city and surrounding areas are home to bureaus for three major Asia-based Chinese-language newspapers. Each one employs reporters with beats that include covering Alhambra for the local immigrant community. 8 This reporting also contributed to a divide within the city. Most residents, and in particular people in leadership positions, could not understand Chinese. The stories were not translated, and even if they were, the coverage tended to be very specific in targeting issues of interest to Chinese residents of Alhambra.9
A research-based approach to local, participatory news
2015 Lunar New Years celebration in Alhambra | Photo by Tim Loc
Alhambra’s transformation foreshadows a national trend. Within 30 years, minorities will be the majority in the United States, with the fastest-growing groups being Asians and Latinos. 4 And no longer are most immigrants heading to crowded central cities, but instead straight to the suburbs. The Los Angeles area is leading the shift with 2.6 million immigrants residing in suburbs, according to a Brookings Institution analysis. 5 Soon, many more suburban neighborhoods across the country will face changes similar to Alhambra.
As more cities become multiethnic, how is civic engagement impacted? And what role can digital news play, in particular in underserved areas like Alhambra, which have seen a decrease in news coverage coincide with demographic changes? These questions drove a collaboration between University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism professors Sandra Ball-Rokeach, whose Metamorphosis group had been conducting research in diverse Los Angeles communities since 1998, and Michael Parks, former director of the school’s journalism program and former editor of the Los Angeles Times. In 2008, they selected Alhambra as a place of study because of its diversity, shortage of local news coverage, and low levels of civic 7
engagement. The project received initial support from the Annenberg School and the Annenberg Foundation. Prior to launching the site, USC researchers spent two years investigating community information needs, conducting focus groups, interviewing local leaders, and monitoring media coverage in Alhambra. Among the findings were three distinct “storytelling networks:” ethnically Chinese, Latino, and Anglo. In focus groups and interviews, diverse residents and leaders identified a lack of local coverage that bridged language divisions and was accessible online.10
Translating theory and research into a community-driven site With a background in immigration reporting and community organizing of sorts — I was once a farmers market manager in a Brooklyn community with similar demographics — I was hired to take the research findings and transform them into a community news website that would bridge the city’s three storytelling networks. At the time, hyperlocal news sites were popping up across the country, responding to new digital opportunities to publish at low costs and engage with readers. Editors, many of them veteran journalists impacted by cutbacks at mainstream outlets, pledged to bring news to media-deprived areas and to increase civic engagement in the process. Alhambra Source was part of that trend, but it was also unique in its research-based foundation and effort to bridge three ethnic groups. As editor, I had the advantage of a tremendous amount of information about the community to shape our project, but also faced the challenge of a very small reporting staff of one. We wanted the site to be participatory in nature, and to do that I knew I needed to recruit residents to join the effort. I started a search for contributors on the Internet, at community meetings, at Alhambra High School, at the farmers market, and in coffee shops. Before the first community contributor meeting, I was concerned the site was not sufficiently developed to ask residents to work on it — or worse yet, nobody would want to spend their free time reporting. But then Kerrie and Javier Gutierrez arrived, two long-time Alhambra residents whom I had connected with via Javier’s 8
photography on Flickr. Eric Sunada, a Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer and local activist who I met at a community meeting about water safety, soon joined them. Then came Neel Garlapati and Karin Mak, younger, more recent transplants who had moved to Alhambra in part for the Chinese food and community and had connected with us because of Neel’s journalism background. We had our first community contributors; soon we would have our first stories. The next challenge was how to cross linguistic barriers. While the site has select pages in Chinese and Spanish, and automated Google translation as well, we knew we never would be able to produce a steady stream of content in all three languages spoken in the community due to limited resources. Instead, we relied upon building connections with existing ethnic media outlets, cultivating a multilingual team, and working with USC students and community members to translate select content.
A potluck before a community contributor meeting | Photo by Javier Cabral
Over the years, my favorite part of running the Alhambra Source has been our monthly community contributor meetings—part journalism training, part editorial meeting, and part potluck dinner. It was around that table, with residents of Alhambra exchanging ideas, that most of the stories in this collection first developed. Their ideas reflected diverse experiences: contributors present on any given day may be a long-time Los Angeles Police Department employee, a community college student with a love for photography and politics, and a grandmother working on her bachelor’s degree. Without Alhambra Source, they would have walked by each other on the streets as strangers, but because of the site they came together. As editor I have had the opportunity to help shape the stories, but these residents bring the ideas and energy to catalyze the endeavor.
Alhambra Source homepage
Impacting their community As Alhambra Source developed over the past five years, grounded community research has continued to inform site development and story selection. We shared findings with readers and community contributors, and solicited their comments and interpretations. Some of the research made its way into stories on the website, and some Alhambra Source stories inspired academic articles. One of our most successful efforts at crossing language barriers demonstrates how a stronger and better integrated storytelling network can facilitate communication that impacts civic life. Community contributor Siye Walter Yu urged in an opinion piece that City Hall and social service organizations adopt social media as a way to reach Chinese residents. Alhambra Police Chief Mark Yokoyama read the story, invited us for a meeting, and we collaborated on creating the first Weibo (a Chinese version of Twitter) account for a local government agency in the United States. A year later, the Weibo account has more than 40,000 followers, calls from Chinese residents to the police increased, and the Alhambra Police Department received an “Excellence in Technology Innovation” award from the California Police Chiefs’ Association.11, 12 Alhambra Source has also impacted the relationship between City Hall and residents. Elected officials read the stories and comments, even if they sometimes disagree with them. They also often
use the site to disseminate information to constituents. And since canceling local elections in 2010, Alhambra has hosted two dynamic council races featuring new, progressive candidates. In both cases the challengers lost by a few hundred votes, but the close races generated discussion about local issues and priorities that the Source covered closely. A challenger in the most recent race, Eric Sunada, was among the community contributors who sat around the conference table for the first meeting five years ago. After losing the election he went on to launch a new organization, Grassroots Alhambra, to further resident involvement in municipal affairs.13 Representatives from a new generation are also engaging in local issues via Alhambra Source, and introducing key questions. In one of our first stories, Anthony Perez, at the time a recent high school graduate from Alhambra High, asked why no Latino students were elected to student government in 2010 when the school was 50 percent Latino, 50 percent Asian. His piece triggered discussion, and the school effectively pushed for more Latino participation such that almost half the students elected in 2014 were Hispanic. In a story looking at representation through a different lens, Albert Lu asked why Asians of his parents’ generation were voting at lower rates than the general public. His piece prompted City Councilman Luis Ayala to invite him to serve on an Alhambra government committee, where Lu has cultivated a personal interest in politics.
Alhambra Source “staff meeting” at Roaster Family Coffee. From left: Emma Birur, Daniela Gerson, Kristopher Fortin, Nasrin Aboulhosn, Deanna Ong, Jennifer Smith and Albert Lu | Photo by Nathan Solis
Alhambra Source: Voices from the new American suburb For this collection, we selected the stories that best exemplify how the site has engaged residents in covering issues that matter to them, and bridged linguistic and ethnic boundaries. Reporting is divided into four sections: • Coming of Age in an Ethnoburb: First-person stories of growing up in a majority minority suburban community.14 • Exploring Food: A journey into the different cultures behind Alhambra’s dynamic culinary offerings. • Making Connections: Pieces in which contributors bridge the city’s divides and connect with a wide range of local people and places. • Finding Faith: Interviews with leaders of Alhambra’s evolving religious institutions. • Taking a Stand: Perspective-driven stories on municipal issues and profiles of varied characters invested in Alhambra. The collection demonstrates how community members can tell Alhambra stories and impact their community in a way that no traditional newsroom, or reporter, from the outside possibly could. On the site, their work has provoked a virtual public forum with readers debating whether development on Main Street is good for the city, providing support to a Chinese immigrant father whose daughter was strangled to death, or even sharing knowledge of where coyotes have 10
appeared last in our popular “coyote map.” In multilingual live events, these digital discussions have taken on a human dimension, sometimes leading to additional stories. And whether it be online or around a table, Alhambra Source has paved a way for residents to connect to their leaders and each other, and in doing so transform the communication fabric of their city. –– Daniela Gerson is founding editor of Alhambra Source and director of the Civic Engagement and Journalism Initiative at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
Jon Dillinger, and Daniela Gerson. “Alhambra’s Elections Canceled for the First Time due to Lack of Challengers | Alhambra Source,” September 30, 2010. http://www.alhambrasource. org/stories/alhambras-elections-canceled-firsttime-due-lack-challengers. “About Post-Advocate. (Alhambra, Calif.) 1945-1981 « Chronicling America « Library of Congress.” Accessed April 29, 2015. http:// chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn96064304/. US 2010 Census data Paul Taylor and D’vera Cohn. “A Milestone En Route to a Majority Minority Nation | Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project,” November 7, 2012. http://www. pewsocialtrends.org/2012/11/07/a-milestoneen-route-to-a-majority-minority-nation/. Jill H. Wilson and Nicole Prchal Svajlenka. “Immigrants Continue to Disperse, with Fastest Growth in the Suburbs | Brookings Institution,” October 29, 2014. http://www. brookings.edu/research/papers/2014/10/29-immigrants-disperse-suburbs-wilson-svajlenka.
Nien-tsu Nancy Chen, Ognyanova, K., Zhao, N., Liu, W., Gerson, D., Ball-Rokeach, S., & Parks, M. (2013). Communication and socio-demographic forces shaping civic engagement patterns in a multiethnic city. In P. Moy (Ed.), Communication and community (pp. 207-232). New York: Hampton Press. “2014 Technology Award - City of Alhambra.” Accessed May 11, 2015. http://www.cityofalhambra.org/page/469/2014_technology_award/. Frank Shyong. “Alhambra Police Work Social Media Beat to Reach Chinese Speakers - LA Times,” July 11, 2014. http://www.latimes. com/local/great-reads/la-me-c1-cops-weibo20140711-story.html#page=1. Nasrin Aboulhosn. “Sunada Thanks Supporters, Announces New Activist Group | Alhambra Source,” November 26, 2014. http://www. alhambrasource.org/news/sunada-thanks-supporters-announces-new-activist-group. The term ethnoburb was coined by Wei Li, a professor at Arizona State University, to refer to suburban residential and business areas with a cluster of a particular ethnic minority.
Bruce D. Risher. Alhambra - 100 Years in Words & Pictures. Alhambra, CA: The City of Alhambra, CA, 2004. The Alhambra Chamber of Commerce publishes a monthly publication, Around Alhambra, which is widely distributed. World Journal, or China Daily News, a Taiwanese based publication has offices in Monterey Park. Sing Tao, a Hong Kong based publication, has offices in City of Industry. China Press, a Beijing based publication, has an office in Alhambra. In contrast, Los Angeles’ main Spanish-language dailies, La Opinion and Hoy, both have downtown offices and reported minimally in Alhambra. Ball-Rokeach, S. J., Parks, M., Chen, N.-T., Usher, N., Dong, F., Huang, J., & Carrillo, W. (2009). The potential and challenges for trilingual local journalism: A community-based approach. Paper presented at the Centres and Peripheries Conference, Glasgow, Scotland. 11
COMING OF AGE IN AN ETHNOBURB The first contributors to Alhambra Source were high school students. Before the site launched or we had an office, the Alhambra Civic Center Library provided a space to have a weekly meeting. Students, most of whose parents received news in a language other than English, brainstormed about what they and their families would like to learn about their community. Then they went out and tested their ideas. As the site developed, another group of young people emerged — part-time college students and recent graduates who had time on their hands, were looking to learn new skills, and were curious about their city. Alhambra Source started holding weekly staff meetings at Roaster Family Coffee, a local Taiwanese coffee shop, and the team of young reporters went on to cover all elements of the city. The McCormick Foundation enabled us to further develop this initiative into a formal program called Reporter Corps, with a mission to enable young adults to report on their own communities. Selected participants received multimedia reporting training, mentorship from professional reporters, and an opportunity to report for Alhambra Source. The stories included in this section are first-person pieces from Alhambra Source’s young adult writers where they explore their shifting identities, questions they have about their community, and challenges they face in the context of growing up in a majority minority suburb. Some of these pieces also appeared on collaboration sites including the Hechinger Report, Hyphen Magazine, KQED’s California Report, New America Media, and Zócalo Public Square.
YOU SEEM MORE ASIAN THAN HISPANIC BY ANTHONY PEREZ
Perez (upper left corner) taking a picture with ASB
Even though Alhambra High’s student body is half Asian and half Hispanic, Asian students were elected to all 52 positions on the Associated Student Body in 2010. Anthony Perez wanted to know why. For the past four years I have been among the most popular kids at Alhambra High School. I have been student-body president and even elected prom king and boy of the year. But I feel like a misfit. At my school, it’s not normal for a Hispanic student to take on leadership positions other than on the football or dance team. “Anthony, you seem more Asian than Hispanic” is something I am told all the time. But actually, I’m Anthony Perez and proud to be 100 percent Hispanic. Still, as a freshman I felt intimidated when I went to my first student council meeting. Of the 25 students in the room for the information session about getting elected, everybody else was Asian, even though my school is nearly half Asian and half Hispanic. During the four years since then, I have grown accustomed to being the only Latino student in the room. Every advanced class I’ve taken, except Advanced Placement Spanish Literature, has been almost all Asian. 14
I wanted to find out why that is, and so I started to ask friends. My friend James, who is the child of Chinese immigrants, says it is about the parents. “I think that Asian kids, especially at home, have more of an obligation to be in extra-curricular activities, because a lot of parents place emphasis on that — they think that volunteer work can get them into a good college, which is where a lot of Asian parents want their kids to go,” James said. “I’m not Hispanic so I don’t know from their perspective, but from what I see at our school a lot of Asian kids flock to service clubs, while there seems to be a lack of Hispanic participation. I don’t know what the cause is.” One reason I joined these clubs is because I wanted to get into a good college, something my parents always encouraged. But some — like the video game club or Rubik’s Cube club — are just for fun. No other Hispanics are there either. Is it just peer pressure? One day I ask my friends Michelle and Sara in my only all-Hispanic class, AP Spanish Literature.
COMING OF AGE
students to get involved with ASB. Sarah Chavez is running for executive board of student council. I talk with her in the lunchroom on Election Day to try and figure out what was pushing her to break these boundaries. “I was a little nervous and excited but at the same time more determined to try to show people that you don’t have to be Asian to do everything,” she said.
Anthony Perez at his first meeting as ASB president in August 2009 at Alhambra Park | Photo by Luis Chavez
“I think it comes back down to friends knowing friends and you not getting in because you don’t know the right people,” Michelle told me. Peer pressure was key, but she also thought the trend started at home. “I think Asian families are more strict on that stuff they always want their kids to be involved.” Sara told me that in her own household her parents were not particularly strict.
But when the winners are circled on the wall, Sarah’s name is not there. And no other Hispanics are elected to student council; Asian students hold all 52 positions. I suspect that there weren’t as many Hispanic voters, because many of them aren’t familiar with voting for a Hispanic candidate. I go to talk to my principal about the issue, but he refuses to comment on the record. I think he should be talking about it. Almost half of our school is not represented in student government. Whatever the reason, that’s a problem. 9.27.2010
Parent involvement also makes the most sense to me. After all, I’m not sure where I’d be if my parents had not pushed me to succeed.
I have grown accustomed to being the only Latino student in the room. Every advanced class I have taken, except AP Spanish Literature, is almost all Asian.
Jose Prado has a son in my AP Spanish Literature class. He’s also a sociology professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills and has studied student participation at our high school. He found that, based on yearbook pictures, 85 percent of the participation in clubs were Asian students. When I went out to collect some of my own data many Hispanic students said they had the desire or intention to join, but they said that they were intimidated.
After this article was published, a concerted push was made to elect more Latino students to ASB at Alhambra High. In the 2014-2015 school year, nearly half of the students elected were Latino. The percent Latino dropped for the 2015-2016 school year to about a third of elected representatives. The story had an impact beyond Alhambra as well. Dozens of young people from across the country commented on a YouTube version of the story that their own schools had similar ethnic divides. Anthony Perez won the Los Angeles Multicultural Leadership Network and New America Media’s 2011 Inter-Ethnic Relations Award for the story. Perez left Alhambra and attended Middlebury College, where he studied Spanish and Portuguese language and literature. He is now an administrative assistant at Public Counsel’s Immigrants’ Rights Project and plans to attend law school in the future.
Now I’m about to move on to college. I’d hoped my being student body president would shift the dynamic and make it easier for other Hispanic 15
TO ALHAMBRA, WITH LOVE, FROM LEBANON BY NASRIN ABOULHOSN
Nasrin at Baalbek, site of the Roman ruins in Lebanon
Figs | Photos by Nasrin Aboulhosn
Nasrin Aboulhosn sends a letter home from Btekhnay, her ancestral home and a city of 1000 where almost everyone is an Aboulhosn. Growing up in Alhambra with the name Nasrin Aboulhosn has not always made for a simple introduction. In a city packed with foreign names, substitute teachers would still always stumble over mine. Even the barista at Starbucks always asks, “I’m sorry, Jasmine, was it?”
So I decided to write a letter from abroad to help clear the misconceptions and hopefully give my friends from home a clearer picture of my life in Lebanon.
Indeed, as one of the handful of Lebanese in the city, I got used to answering a lot of strange questions:
I’m freezing in the Lebanese mountains right now, but before I begin, let me explain that I don’t mean Heidi-style living in the Alps or the remote Himalayas. I’m sorry to ruin the romantic image of me rolled up in a sleeping bag counting the stars, exhausted from my daytime hike to fetch water, but Mount Lebanon is dotted with fairly developed villages. Let me also explain that when I say developed, I don’t mean buildings and malls. I mean two gas stations, a grocery store, a hair salon run by a middle-aged man and 63 toy shops. I’m staying in Btekhnay, a pine-tree shaded village of red-roofed Mediterranean houses. And it’s not actually freezing. But at times I can see my breath in my bedroom. Not to worry, my grandmother has provided me with a gas-tank powered behemoth of a heater that instantly warms the entire room with the strength of a raging fire. It’s not my fault I need this: evolution has adapted me to a land of sunshine and warmth.
“Do you speak Lebanese?” That’s not a real thing. “Are Lebanese people from Libya?” What?! I decided to spend some time in Lebanon this past year to reconnect with my roots. Little did I know that as soon as I said I was staying with my grandmother in the mountains, a whole new set of questions would emerge: “Are you in a tent?” No, I’m in a large house. “Do you have to cook by the fire?” No, we cook on a stove. You know, like you. “Do you pee outside?” What?! 16
Dear great citizens of Alhambra,
COMING OF AGE
If there were a Starbucks here in the mountains, I’m sure the barista wouldn’t have nearly as much trouble with my name. Almost all the village’s nearly 1,000 residents are named Aboulhosn. My parents emigrated from here in the 1970s, in search of better employment opportunities in the United States. Many of their peers also left, but some of their relatives stayed behind and it’s one of the few areas left in Lebanon that belongs to a single family. Living in a place where every passerby is a relative has its pros and cons. Being able to stop by any house for a large, buffet-style lunch at the drop of a fez – pro. Walking to the convenience store on a bad hair day and coming home to find that your great aunt called your grandmother and recommended a hair stylist – con. Being able to dip into a large network of helpful people whenever you need it – pro. Having to then listen to them recommend an eligible bachelor in return – con. But living around so many excellent cooks definitely makes up for any negative aspect of such a tight community. My daily mountain routine consists of waking up, doing a bit of writing and then eating home-cooked meals. My favorites include vats of fresh hummus (not the type you get in the supermarket), tabbouli salad and kibbeh, delicious little football-shaped bulgur patties stuffed with lamb. Yum, yum, yum.
world-famous pastrami, you get village-famous shawarma. Fast-food dining at its finest. The mountain villages, although charming and welcoming, can also be dangerous. Not because of the threat of war or civil unrest, like many would expect when discussing the Middle East, but because of the one thing we all do every day: drive. In fact, nothing scares me more than my grandmother saying, “Will you take me to the store?” Getting behind the wheel in Lebanon, especially in the mountains, is perhaps the most dangerous thing you can do. Other than, of course, being a single woman over the age of 20. However, the blind turns, steep declines and careless drivers are not a fear for most of my relatives. Any hair-raising car ride is always accompanied by conversation about how I am too “American” and need to get used to the carefree attitude of the Middle East. Those are the snippets I’ve caught, anyway, over my screaming. Life in the Lebanese mountains has certainly shown me the luxuries I take for granted in Alhambra: anonymity, 24-hour electricity, traffic lights. Still, I’m definitely going to miss the charming antics of my Lebanese relatives and this simpler way of living when I go home. I guess if I ever get too nostalgic, I can always go to Wahib’s. And, before you ask, no, we’re not related. Love to Alhambra, Nasrin Aboulhosn Based on Nasrin’s Tumblr blog: “Stories from Lebanon: Or How I Ate Shawarma and Avoided Getting Married” 12.6.2010
A woman making zaatar mana’eesh
Although Beirut is trying to enter modern times with its luxury shopping malls filled with shoppers snacking at McDonald’s and KFC, that type of development has yet to hit the mountains. If, for whatever insane reason, you don’t feel like partaking in a home-cooked all-you-can-eat buffet, you can visit a small one-room restaurant, where a man will grill you some chicken, beef or lamb and wrap it in a pita pocket with French fries and tartar sauce. Think The Hat, but instead of
Nasrin Aboulhosn wrote to us recently saying that she keeps in touch with her relatives in Btekhnay and that she wants to visit again soon (this time with her new husband in tow). After serving two years as managing editor for the Source, and many years before as an intern and community contributor, Aboulhosn recently moved on to a marketing firm. In her spare time, she is working on a book for middle-graders which she describes as “a dark fairy tale about a young girl’s adventures in a world she once knew well.” Aboulhosn hopes to complete it by the end of the year.
MY MANDARIN PROBLEM BY JEE-SHAUN WANG
Speaking in ribbons | Illustrations by Jee-Shaun Wang
As Jee-Shaun Wang grew up his Mandarin skills deteriorated, and so did his ability to communicate with his parents. Mandarin is the language of my parents and my grandparents and beyond that I am not so sure. But my Mandarin is horrible. It wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t always this way. As a young boy in Monterey Park, I learned to use Mandarin at home and English at school. If I spoke English to my parents or grandparents I was scolded. Scolded! 18
But it worked. Mandarin became the language of my home life just like almost all the other kids I knew would go home and either speak Mandarin or Tagalog or Cantonese or Fukienese or Spanish. But when I was 10 or 12, my Mandarin vocabulary sort of plateaued. I stopped watching Chinese dramas with my grandmother and started to play basketball and video games instead. I lost touch
COMING OF AGE
held, somebody from the corner yelled out that I had brought the sake. Another time I was walking down the street and a bus full of young black children threw crayons and yelled “Go back to China, Jackie Chan!”
with the language as I clicked buttons on controllers and made beeping sounds on the television screen. That’s when I discovered Chinglish, a mix of Mandarin and English that most of my ChineseAmerican peers share and speak at home with their parents. Each party learned to understand what the other wanted, but not how and why we wanted what we did. Speech became utilitarian and only later would I realize what was lost. My senior year I rejoiced when I was accepted to the Maryland Institute College of Art. But going to art school can be highly frowned upon in the Chinese community. My parents, their friends, and older relatives all would tell me “you should consider how you are going to make a living and how you expect to support your parents by being an artist.” I tell them, “it’s okay”; they say, “but still.” Chinese parents want their children in popular big schools like UCLA and USC and Yale and Harvard. If you mention anything other than the best, they will scoff or shake their heads and mumble something along the lines of “I’ve never heard of that school...” I had never lived in a city with buildings like Baltimore; I never experienced autumn or winter the way you saw it in movies with snow and cold weather. All that was foreign to me since I grew up in a place where winter meant 60 degrees Fahrenheit (or 80 right now). Baltimore reminded me of fairy tale books with all the brickwork and stone churches (okay, along with the not-so-fairy tale muggings and murders). But the biggest change was the fact that this place was not overflowing with Asians. I didn’t feel welcome. I felt invisible and I was certainly shorter than the average white person. For the first time in my life, I felt Asian. When I entered an apartment in which a party was being
When I returned home for the first time in college during winter break I cried into my bowl of rice and tofu because I had missed it so much. I felt like I had left America for three months, and then I realized that maybe I had never really been in America in the first place. The people I met in Baltimore seemed to live something more like what the movies depicted. People’s mothers actually sent them cookies in the mail! We never bake at my home. The oven is only good for storing pots and pans. This was around the same time that I realized that I actually had, for once, important, life-changing things to tell my family. I wanted to share my progress as a man and as a student, and I wanted them to know how I’d felt while I was away. But when I turned to speak to them, only a few words dribbled out of my mouth. I could grasp what I wanted to communicate to my parents, but lacked the words in Mandarin to do so. I can’t tell them about the grey sky which I love for its color, or lack thereof, because I cannot explain how I felt just like a cloud — without sounding like a child in elementary school. To this day they know me only as their son who draws comics well, nothing more. They know that I am a nice person, but they do not know that I enjoy the books of philosophers as much as I enjoy reading the Sunday comic. They know that I like to eat, but they do not know that I relate the flavors of food with the culture of my family. In short, I have never really spoken with my parents. 4.10.2012
Jee-Shaun Wang’s Mandarin has not improved since this article was published, but he’s found a different way to connect with his family. “I have learned to communicate with my parents in a more honest fashion in the past few years, which seems to fill many of the voids,” said Wang. Professionally, Wang has since worked on newspaper illustrations and mural paintings, and is in the midst of “the biggest project that I have ever faced”—an illustrated set of tarot cards commissioned by Oliver Luckett of theAudience, a social media firm that has represented artists such as Shepard Fairey and Takashi Murakami. 19
A CUBAN IMMIGRANT CONFRONTS THE BULLIES BY JANE FERNANDEZ
Illustration by Jee-Shaun Wang
When Jane Fernandez immigrated to Alhambra bullies targeted her. It took her years to realize that they were the problem, not her. Coming from Cuba to America was not the easiest thing for an 8 year old. Everything changed from one day to the next. At first, going back to school was exciting for me. The fourth grade in a new country, new friends, a brand new life: What more could an 8 year old want? During my second week of school kids put a spider under my desk. My teacher did nothing and let my classmates laugh at me. Later that year someone else put dirty underwear below my desk. That was the beginning of years of torture from classmates. At first, I hoped for things to get better. But by the sixth grade, I was depressed. I was put in an English as a Second Language classroom. Thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s when I stopped speaking in class and restricted my voice to a whisper. Things got even worse the 20
Fernandez (bottom right) with her grandparents, mom, and brother a day before leaving Cuba | Photo courtesy of Jane Fernandez
COMING OF AGE
next year. I had no friends at all, and I was getting bullied even more. One girl threw stuff at me. Another called me fat and said I was the ugliest girl she had ever seen and no one was ever going to like me. At this point I was going to my school therapist and speech therapist. But it did not help. In speech therapy, I refused to speak. The teacher would skip me during group exercises and yell at me, asking me why I did not want to talk. I cried every night. I wanted to move to another school and start over. Only recently did I learn that kids who bullied me might have had their own problems. Bullies often do it out of their own insecurities, as a way to feel superior and to feel accepted by others. And that behavior is contagious; if a child sees her friends behaving a certain way, she will start acting aggressively towards other children as well. In interviews with Alhambra residents, many people told me that they had been bullied because they were looked at as the weak child, either because they were different in size or because they were shy or awkward. Some told their parents about what was going on, and their parents shrugged off the problem, telling them not to pay attention to the bully. One of the residents stood up to his bully, but he remained afraid. I learned to defend myself by taking karate. One day one of the girls pulled me behind a bungalow and swung her fist at my face. But I blocked her and walked away.
Fernandez recording the broadcast element of this story at KPCC | Photo by Jasmín Lopéz
not speaking, not having friends, and wishing I was another person — one of the popular kids who I thought had no problems. Although I am still having issues speaking to people and my voice is still soft, I think I finally understand that I was not the one with a problem — I was not the ugliest person the bullies had ever seen, or the dumbest, or anything that they would tell me I was. The bullies were the ones with the real problems. If I had the chance to talk to an 8 year old going through what I went through, I would tell her to be herself. People only bully you because they see weakness and by making you feel less of a person they feel better about themselves. When you are comfortable with who you are, the bullies are the weak ones. 5.16.2013
In high school I changed. I got my braces off and wore new glasses and clothes that reflected my tastes. Changing on the outside helped me to feel different inside. I started talking to people, because this would for sure be a brand new start. I made friends who weren’t popular, but were more than perfect to me because they actually wanted to be my friends. At 23, I’m still shy, but I am more confident, and that led me to a wide range of friends — from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, different tastes and ideas. I figure I’m better off than the bullies — they were only friends with people just like them. I realize now that I let the bullies take control of my emotions and lock myself in my own world of
After writing the article, Jane Fernandez recorded an audio version of the story for KQED, speaking clearly about the mistreatment she had suffered for a California-wide audience. Fernandez, who was a member of the 2012-2013 Reporter Corps class, wrote recently that she is studying at East Los Angeles College and is planning on transferring to a California State University in the fall to study Archaeology. “I’m really interested in the pre-Columbian Mesoamerican period, the North American Indians, and So Cal tribes such as the Gabrielino (Tongva),” wrote Fernandez. She also shared that she has conquered her shyness. “I feel that the more you realize how life works, or just the older you get, you stop caring about people might think of you,” she wrote. “Honestly I’m not shy anymore.” 21
OFF TO VEGAS WITH THE FAMILY FOR THE ASIAN HOLIDAY MIGRATION BY PAUL WONG
Illustration by Jee-Shaun Wang
While other families eat turkey at home, Paul Wong’s heads to the valley of slots, show girls, shopping and — last but not least — huge buffet dinners. The average American family might celebrate the holidays with an elaborate home-cooked dinner and football. Not me. Las Vegas is where I went for Thanksgiving, and where I’ll be for the Christmas season. Like other Asians on my Alhambra block, my family retreats to the valley of slots, show girls, shopping and—last but not least—huge buffet dinners. Rather than going to grandma’s for the holidays, we pool our casino loyalty points so we can book two-bedroom suites which have TVs built into the bathroom mirrors and four-person Jacuzzis. A visit to travel agencies around Valley Boulevard confirmed that the Asian migration to Vegas was 22
not limited to my family and neighbors. “Thanksgiving is when we see the most business,” says an agent who has been selling vacation packages for more than a decade to a mostly Vietnamese and Chinese clientele. “Christmas too.” Midway through the interview, a slight woman in her 60s burst into the door shouting “很多生意!” (So much business!) The client looks just like my aunt—and just like my aunt, she’s going to Vegas for the holidays. After dawn on Thanksgiving morning we cram ourselves into our biggest SUV—an Acura MDX packed with as much peanuts, beef jerky and jackets we can manage (I don’t know why my parents think going to Vegas is a trip across Alaska).
COMING OF AGE
After a few watered-down drinks at the bar, I settle into my last game of Blackjack for the evening. A slim fishnet-furnished, corset-constrained stripper/dealer looks at my ID. She leans in over the table, still holding my card hostage. “I grew up in Alhambra,” she half-whispers. “I went to San Gabriel High.”
Neon hearts dot the Pleasure Pit | Photo by Scott Roeben
After a few outlet stops, we arrive at the lobby at MGM Grand Hotel on Thanksgiving Day. The green-and-white marble hall is overrun with stylish Chinese and Korean teens and 20-somethings, trying not to be seen with their gaudy windbreaker-sporting parents.
I stammer that I went to another Alhambra high school, Mark Keppel. Then she tells me she’s been a croupier at Vegas for 17 years, though she doesn’t look a day over 29. She studied business at some small community college in LA but then things got expensive. So she ran to the Strip where money was good as a hostess and... “Bust.” I think she caught me staring at her chest. “You’re out of chips. Sorry, baby.”
And they’ll split soon enough. While the MGM’s casino arm grabs the adults with enticing gaming packages, the resort arm grabs the younger crowd with exhilarating events like the Billboard 2011 KPop Masters — an action packed, hard thumping concert where sensational boy/girl bands like DBSK, SHINee, and Brown Eyed Girls perform back to back for two nights.
This scenario played out very differently in my 16-year-old imagination. I retreat back to the suite‘s massive Jacuzzi to watch football on the TVs built into the bathroom mirrors. I’ve got three hours to rest up before my family meets again for the Thanksgiving breakfast buffet. 12.22.2011
My family makes its way past the gaggle of giggling fan boys and girls to our room. “Buffet” now becomes the unspoken commandment. We pick from the Rio, the Flamingo or the Wynn buffet halls. Somehow, despite having most of our extended family here in line, there will always be a fourth cousin or uncle ShenMeMingZhi asking to cut in with us. It’s a family reunion built on impatience, extravagance and eating food cooked by other people, not much unlike a traditional American Thanksgiving, actually. It used to be that after these three-hour gluttony marathons, I would escort my younger cousins to the little pocket arcades dotting the Strip; hidden away like shameful secrets in the lower lobbies of the New York-New York, Monte Carlo and MGM. But not this year. As a newly minted 21 year old, I headed to a gambling hall that brought to life my adolescent fantasies: The Pleasure Pit. Placed inside the Planet Hollywood casino, the Pleasure Pit boasts a 100 percent young female staff wearing the kind of lingerie that will trick you into thinking you’ve already gotten lucky.
Paul Wong and his sister at Tea Station in Alhambra circa 2006
After jobs ranging from managing a currywurst truck in Los Angeles to a copywriter for a bilingual publication in Shanghai, Paul Wong is working these days as a researcher at Interpret, LLC, a consulting firm. Wong wrote to us to say that, aside from his day job, he’s also “an obsessive cook” and that he “caters special events.” Wong added that he would like to visit every continent before he is 30; he says it’s a pathway to “building more stories to share with people online.” 23
CELEBRATING DIA DE LOS MUERTOS FOR THE FIRST TIME BY KRISTOPHER FORTIN
Dia de los Muertos celebration at San Gabriel Valley High School | Photos by Cecilia Garcia
Despite growing up with Mexican heritage, Kristopher Fortin had never celebrated Dia de los Muertos. My family has Mexican heritage, but Dia de Los Muertos — or the Day of the Dead — was not a holiday I celebrated growing up in Alhambra. Rather than creating altars or hanging skeleton figurines, we paid tribute to our deceased by attending mass for one hour with the Catholic equivalent, All Souls. My mother, who lived as a young child in a small pueblo in Southern Mexico, explained to me that Day of the Dead was an indigenous holiday — and not something from our background. Not until two years ago, when I was 22, did I attend my first Dia de los Muertos celebration at Self Help Graphic and Art’s former home in City Terrace. The spiky-haired punks, the ponytailed Chicanos, and the ladies in flower-embroidered dresses were out in full force with their faces painted like the dead. Dia de los Muertos, which falls on November 2 each year, goes back 24
thousands of years. When the Spaniards arrived in Mexico in the 16th century, they encountered the Aztec people holding a two-month long celebration honoring death, the fall harvest and the goddess Mictecacihuatl (Lady of the Dead). At Self Help Graphics, I came as an observer to a Southern California adaptation of the tradition, and basically enjoyed a good party. This year I decided to partake, and I waited a half hour in line to paint my face like a skeleton. Around me swirled the hip Latino scene with two stages for music, handmade quilts hung like gallery art, and street vendors selling churros and bacon-wrapped hot dogs. As I listened to artist Maya Jupiter spitting rhymes to close out the night, I felt like I was part of a vibrant festival, but despite the macabre focus I did not feel like I had found a spiritual connection to the holiday.
COMING OF AGE
On Saturday, at San Gabriel High School, I found something different: a community gathering where people of all ages and backgrounds connected to lost loved ones. The Alhambra Latino Association hosted the Dia de Los Muertos-Celebration of Life festival. Two years ago, interested in trying something new and increasing student involvement, ALA changed its usual Christmas themed scholarship fundraiser to one for the Day of the Dead. All afternoon, kids created sugar skulls, paper hairpin flowers and paper masks, while adults browsed the artisan crafts being sold.
My mother, who lived as a young child in a small pueblo in Southern Mexico, explained to me that Day of the Dead was an indigenous holiday — and not something from our background. The altars are what changed the experience for me: Each one, though simple, was a sincere tribute linking the person to someone who had died. Jesse Escoto made an altar for his mother with the help of his girlfriend. He placed some seashells and lipstick in front of his mother’s baby and prom photo because those were things she liked. Escoto’s mother Michelle Sarayor died two years ago of natural causes. She was 46. Nearby was an altar with hand-drawn images by Marguerita Elementary kindergarten students of a person or pet they knew that died. Five-year-old Bronson Avalos drew a picture of his aunt’s dog Lucy. Avalos thinks the dog just went away, his aunt Theresa Cedeno explained, and though he doesn’t fully comprehend death, his lessons in his class about Dia de Los Muertos has brought him solace.
Dressed up like skeletons at the San Gabriel Valley High School Day of the Dead celebration
my grandmother, who died five years ago. My mom told me she prays for her every morning, something I never knew. “Maria Mancilla, abuela y mama,” I wrote on the stick. For both of us, we decided it was a tradition that we wanted in our lives, indigenous or not. Next year when we make our first altar, we plan to place as an offering for my grandmother a bar of manteca, or cooking lard. She would hate the thought of cooking with anything else. 11.9.2011
Shortly after the article was published, Kristopher Fortin’s family erected an alter for his deceased grandmother in their home. “It wasn’t the elaborate and colorful types filled with papel picado or sugar skulls, but it was adorned with a photo collage of my grandmother as young as her 20s, until near her death,” wrote Fortin. He currently is a freelance writer and an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer with NeighborWorks Orange County. The work takes him away from home. “Every time I return to Orange County,” wrote Fortin, “my mom always takes me to the alter and prays for me to have a good week, a safe journey, and asks my grandmother to take care of me.”
I found a place to contribute on a communal altar, writing a dedication to my grandmother on a Popsicle stick. As I did so, I realized that I rarely think of her in the almost five years since she passed away, and I started to forget how little I knew her. I was not the only one moved to be really experiencing a connection to Dia de los Muertos for the first time. My mother accompanied me. When I placed a tribute on the community altar, it was also a moment to see that my mom still missed 25
A DREAM DEFERRED FOR AN ALHAMBRA CHINESE YOUTH BY CHUN HANG GORDON IP
Illustration by Jee-Shaun Wang
My father, mother, and brother stare down at their rice bowls, and the dinner table falls silent except for the click of chopsticks on porcelain. How is it possible, at the age of 17, I could not have known? I’d been watching news stories about undocumented immigrants for years. But the debate was always about the Mexican-American border, never about other countries. I left Hong Kong when I was 4 years old, so I don’t understand everything my parents say in Cantonese, and they don’t understand everything that I say in English. My older brother facilitates any complex conversations. So when I tell my father I need my Social Security number to apply for financial aid, it’s my brother who must explain to me that I don’t have one: We are not legal immigrants. Later that night, I’m on Facebook and my newsfeed is packed with friends complaining about applying for Cal Grants. I realize without a Social Security number, I can’t even apply for public financial aid. Without that assistance, I won’t be able to afford college. And a bizarre new reality begins to hit. 26
My family history that led to this situation emerges without warning one evening as I sit next to my father in the car. He tells me he worked since he was 16 and saved up enough money to move our family to America. But once here, unscrupulous legal advisors promised a Green Card but instead scammed him out of his hard-earned money. We were left with basically nothing, and we were ineligible to become U.S. citizens. He tells me that my immigration status is sensitive information, and that I should not tell anybody. I follow his advice at first. I am scared friends will judge me, and I don’t even tell my girlfriend of two-and-a-half years. Many things start to make more sense, but I feel so much more confused. I understand why my parents have driver’s licenses from other states, and why they told me to wait to get my own. Why my parents always pushed us to have good grades, so we could receive a “ride” from any college that would take us. And why my brother ended up at community college, rather than a four-year school. Why we avoid airplanes, and why we have never, in 14 years, visited the rest of our family in China or Hong Kong.
COMING OF AGE
But doubts surge through my mind. If I didn’t know this crucial element about myself, what other mysteries could there be about my identity? I have no motivation or inspiration to do anything. I’m not sleeping; I’m depressed. Poetry has been the outlet I use to express what’s bottled up inside me, and one afternoon, exhausted from spending the night before surfing the Internet with no destination, the words start to flow. That evening, at an Alhambra Moors Poetry Slam, I share my secret when I present my poem “Bilingual / Shuang Yue”. They don’t understand that it hurts me much more than it hurts them to give them anything less than a 1-2-3-4.0. And I know it’s a stereotype, that Asian parents see Bs as Fs. But the truth behind the implications is that my mother and father gave up every little thing they have just so that I could live the “American Dream” As people fill out FAFSA and Cal Grants, I’m left with my hands and wallet empty, thumbs twiddling just to pass the time because my immigration status is far from legal. Tell me. When did the land of the free become the land in which it’s illegal to live? I feel the eyes of a Latino parent connect with mine. After the slam, she congratulates me on my performance, and tells me how much she connected with my work. I feel the weight lift a bit, and more comfortable sharing the truth. Still, none of the other students from my poetry club ask me about my status. And I don’t talk about it either. When my college acceptance to my dream school arrives, it is not a happy day. I feel alone, stranded in a cluttered space of celebrating friends and worried faces. I avoid telling my parents, but when I finally do, tears fill my mother’s eyes. “When we came to America all we wanted for you was an education,” she says. “That’s all we wanted all our lives as parents.” She apologizes to me for not being able to provide me with an education, which I feel is ridiculous. I tell her I would still go to a community college, and it’s not like all hope was lost.
I had never heard of the Dream Act, federal legislation that was introduced for more than a decade to provide legal status to young people like me. Congress failed to act, but just two days after I graduate, President Obama announces a new program that would prevent my deportation and allow me to work legally. My father e-mails me the news. Later, when I come home from a night out with friends, my usually reserved father greets me with eyes glowing with joy like I’d never seen before. “It’s here. Our struggles are over,” he tells me. “We’ve finally made it in America.”
I’d been watching news stories about undocumented immigrants for years. How is it possible, at the age of 17, I could not have known?
The day before the new rule is set to go into effect, I enter the Asian Pacific American Legal Center with my brother and mother by my side. I expect to see other Chinese people, but instead, they’re ethnic from all sorts of backgrounds. In the crowded room, I feel alone, again. I’ve never talked to anyone else about my status, not even my brother. I look at the nurse in scrubs across the room. Could it be possible that she has a job at a hospital without a Social Security number? Without citizenship, without an identity? I realize I’m actually extremely lucky. Law has never seemed so beautiful to me: something that had always felt like rules that constrained could change the lives of actual people. As I begin to speak to my lawyer, I look into his eyes, and I see an Asian man who is working in a law firm in Los Angeles. I do not know who he is or how he got here, or what it’s been like for him. But what I do know is that he’s helping me get to where he is: A working Asian American in the United States of America. 9.19.2012
Gordon Ip was granted President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and is studying at East Los Angeles College, where he’s planning to double major in English and Communications. He is involved with the ELAC speech team, where he won awards at both the state and national levels, and has continued performing slam poetry. 27
RELATING TO SUPERMAN A young immigrant and her secret identity BY VALERIE CABRAL
Valerie Cabral (left) at age 7 with her sister Yesenia and mother Guadalupe | Photos courtesy of Valerie Cabral
Valerie Cabral on her first day of 1st grade at Northrup Elementary
Valerie Cabral writes the first rule of being an undocumented immigrant is you need to hide. The second rule is you are an undercover superhero on a quest for liberty.
By writing this I am breaking the first, and most important rule, of being an undocumented immigrant: never reveal one’s status to anyone. I grew up watching all the American superhero movies. I saw how Superman and Batman had to keep their true identities a secret so they wouldn’t be identified. As I grew older I began to relate to these superheroes because I was forced to keep a secret identity as well. Every time I left my home I was reminded by my mother, “Si te preguntan algo, no contestes,” meaning, “If someone asks you anything, do not answer.” I was tired of hearing this phrase every day, but I always replayed it over and over again trying to figure out exactly what it meant. We are forced to keep our identity as secret as possible, simply because we never know who might betray and report us to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. Every immigrant knows of ICE and how quickly they can make the dreams, struggles, and hardships of immigrants disappear. Once immigrants are in their custody, we are deported to our homeland where we 28
immediately try to find a way to reunite with our families and get back to work. As you can see, being an immigrant is not easy. The worst part is having to live undercover and in fear. When I was about 10, I finally understood why I was told to keep quiet when people asked me questions about where I came from and how I got here. One day my mother came home and frantically ran to hug me. I asked her what was wrong and she said that a woman at work was deported that day because her child accidentally told an adult that her mother had to work all day because she had no legal papers. The woman was arrested for leaving her child alone with no adult supervision and deported because she was an “illegal” immigrant. From that day on, I made sure to keep my mouth shut so that no one could separate me from my family. The years went by and I went on with my life here in the United States, trying to fulfill my mother’s dreams of having a better life than in Mexico.
COMING OF AGE
Soon enough I became the typical Mexican American child: I spoke Spanish at home and English at school. My mother could never help me with my homework because she did not understand English and she only had primary schooling. By the time I was in middle school, I started hearing about college. I had no idea what college was and I felt that it was another public schooling system that I had to go through. But when I reached junior year in high school, I was told that I had to have a Social Security number in order to apply to a college and qualify for financial aid. That day I went home crying and asked my mom why she had brought me to a land where all my hard work and struggles were worthless. Nine simple numbers were stopping me from continuing my education after 11 years of school. At this point I felt like my life was over. Along with my struggle in education, my family was dealing with unfair treatment. They were discriminated against because they did not speak English, and emotionally abused and harassed by their bosses and exploited to work more than others. My mother had to take on two jobs to provide for my sister and I, because working one job paid less than the minimum wage with no benefits. Being an immigrant — whether you are 10, 15, or 30 — was not the best thing to be during that time because there didn’t seem to be a plan to legalize us.
Valerie Cabral reads her essay at the Sam & Jackie WongAlhambra Source Scholarship Ceremony
times as immigrants we tend to work harder than the average American family because we cannot depend on the government to cover our full financial needs or help us get to college. Being an immigrant’s child and being an immigrant myself has made me a strong, determined individual who has faced many more hardships than the average teenager has had to face. I was never able to approach someone for help because of my fear. So to answer the question, “What is it like being an immigrant or the child of immigrants?” It is like being an undercover hero fighting to stay here in this country of liberty and opportunity. 10.1.2013
From that day on, I made sure to keep my mouth shut so that no one could separate me from my family.
Luckily that same year, my mother found a way to obtain legal residency through a law that protected people who were victims of a crime. Unfortunately, my mother had to be victimized in order to obtain the right to be here legally and be treated like a normal human being. Now as you may have noticed my story as an immigrant has a happy ending. Unfortunately, that is not the case for every immigrant in the United States. Some of my family still struggle every day to survive and provide for their children. And as children we strive to be the best in our classes, to get noticed and recognized. Many
Valerie Cabral was awarded a Sam & Jackie Wong-Alhambra Source scholarship for this essay. A participant in the 2014 Reporter Corps class, Cabral recently told us that she and her mother have received their work permits and finally have legal status. In two years they will be allowed to apply for residency and, in five years, citizenship. Cabral wrote us a message to pass along: “For all the young people who are going through the struggle I went through, do not give up.” She added, “Going to a four-year private college with no legal status is possible! I am a living proof that it is possible, never get discouraged, and always strive for more.” She is in her sophomore year at Whittier College, studying Political Science and Psychology. She plans on going to graduate school afterwards, or working in some capacity with Congress, “where they need fresh new minds.”
WHY DON’T MY PARENTS VOTE? BY ALBERT LU
Illustration by Jee-Shaun Wang
Albert Lu sets out to discover what it will take to get more Asian Americans involved in the political process. My parents, immigrants from Zhongshan, China, worked long hours at low wages to achieve something like the “American Dream” for my sister and me. They did not have the time, nor did they think it was their place, to stand up for themselves or become involved in a community that felt foreign. But growing up in American schools, despite some kids who bullied and even called me “chink” on the playground, I always felt at home in this county. My interest in government started in third grade, when I would listen with my father to cassette tapes he used to prepare for the citizenship test. By 19, that first taste of government had developed into an interest in public service. Last fall I helped run a San Gabriel Valley Water District campaign. Going door to door in my mostly Asian American community, I was surprised by how many registered voters were uninformed about important issues. 30
I later learned that nationwide, Asian Americans tend to have the lowest voter turnout rate of all ethnicities. In 2008, voter turnout for Asians was 47 percent, while for Latinos it was 50 percent, blacks 65 percent, and whites 66 percent, according to a study from Pew Research Center. The reasons experts provide — coming from countries where government is feared, not being a citizen, and not feeling like the issues directly impact you — are all reasons I hear in my community. But I also feel that attitudes seem to be changing with my generation. More Asian Americans are elected to office than ever before. Asian Americans have taken important steps toward increasing political participation. In 2012, a record 30 Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders campaigned for a seat in Congress. Congresswoman Judy Chu, the first Chinese-American woman elected to Congress, told NPR, “It is so important to have people at the seat of the table where the
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decisions are being made that look like America.” Interested in learning more about what makes the difference to get more people “at the table,” I went to visit some local leaders. “[Civic engagement] is still low compared to our population figures, but we’re starting to gradually ramp up,” Asian Pacific American Legal Center Director Stewart Kwoh told me in an interview in his downtown office. Kwoh believes there are many younger people who want to get involved but need a vehicle to do so. “We do live in a democracy,” he said, “but the only way a democracy works is to have active participation from its residents.”
Despite the gains, I don’t think my parents will cast a ballot soon. My father appears interested — any time I catch him with the little free time he has, he’s sitting on his couch in the living room reading the Chinese newspaper. He is always up-to-date with local and national news, as well as world news, especially news in China. But I do not think he will vote because either he does not have time, or does not feel it is his place since he and my mother come from a country where they never had a chance to cast a ballot.
For Kwoh, the turning point came when he was at UCLA. He was planning on going to medical school, but got swept up into protests against the U.S. invasion of Cambodia. Members of his Asian American Student Alliance were arrested and when he went to help bail them out, his interest changed from the medical field to law. Since then, he has worked with Asian Americans to have their voice heard in the legal and political system. A shift has happened, he says, from the issues that mobilized people in his generation, particularly war and civil rights. More Asian Americans are accomplished in education, business, and other professions, but challenges remain. He said there are still a great deal who are poor and face a lot of discrimination. “We don’t want a community to become so bifurcated and polarized,” Kwoh told me. “We want to make sure that everyone has a chance to succeed.” Asian Americans are learning from the Latino experience, according to Mike Eng, former mayor of Monterey Park and state assemblyman — who also happens to be Judy Chu’s husband. He noted that the first Asian voter registration drive in Monterey Park was funded by civil rights leader Willie Velasquez. At the time, Monterey Park was beginning to have a majority Asian population, and there was the feeling of competition for resources and political influence. Eng said he could never forget Velasquez’s reason for supporting Asian voters: “There’s no such thing as competition because when we uplift an immigrant in one community we’re really telling immigrants everywhere that they could be successful.”
Albert Lu at UC Davis Law School | Photo by Jackie Wu
But I see a different approach in my generation. In my group of close guy friends, all born in the U.S. to Asian parents, four out of the five of us registered to vote in 2012. I am the only one who is interested in actively participating in politics, but they still believe it is important to vote. When people ask why I became so involved in local politics, I say it is because I am determined to be a voice for those like my parents who don’t speak up. 4.18.2013
Alhambra Councilman Luis Ayala read the article and offered Albert Lu, a 2012-2013 Reporter Corps participant, the opportunity to serve on the Parks and Recreation Commission. Lu wrote to us recently that he’s studying at East Los Angeles College, and that while he doesn’t have any plans to run for office, he wants to “continue putting myself out in the community and helping where I can.” He added that his parents are no closer to voting, nor are many of his friends: “Plenty of people of my generation aren’t registered voters and I feel this won’t change until we tell them that these issues have a tremendous impact on their lives.”
CAN YOU GO HOME AGAIN? A Filipino immigrant’s dilemma BY ALFRED DICIOCO
Illustration by Jee-Shaun Wang
For seven years after immigrating, Alfred Dicioco tried to fit in with the American way of life. Will he find his true self if he returns to the Philippines? Thick smog encased the streets, jeepney drivers’ horns buzzed in an endless cacophony, and plastic bags scattered all over the streets of Quezon City. So why did I still feel a positive vibe? Returning to the Philippines for the first time since I left seven years ago at the age of 15, I anticipated feeling like a stranger in my own country. After all, I should be more Americanized by now with my fancy accent and love for Trojan football. Instead, I was surprised at how comfortable I was to be back. Speaking in my native Filipino flowed in a way that English does not. And being reacquainted with family and friends, I felt more at home than I had in years being with people who shared similar experiences and values: they understood why I go to mass on Sunday, follow a curfew even now that I have graduated from college, or still have the need to inform my 32
parents of my whereabouts. I even saw opportunities for myself to work and raise a family. When I came back to Los Angeles, I felt my eagerness to adapt to American society around me change. For years, I had struggled to fit in — to know the popular cultural references that people grew up with, understand the dating culture, and learn what “success” truly means in this society. After my visit to the Philippines, I started to feel that mastering these things was not enough: even if I could complain about the traffic like a typical Angeleno or declare In-N-Out as the best burger I’ve ever tasted, I could only feel completely at home living in the Philippines. Knowing that I felt drawn to my homeland does not mean the decision to move back is an easy one. My parents live in Alhambra and I have tons
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Kong, told me. “And my future children, they can also enjoy the democracy instead of having to fight hard for freedom of speech.”
Dicioco on his way back to L.A. after a recent trip to the Philippines
of college loans. I also feel an expectation that if I move back, I have to do it rich. And part of me is terrified to leave what has become my home in Los Angeles. I have met here some of the smartest and most compassionate people from different backgrounds, which has made me more open minded to their experiences regardless of my culture and beliefs. So for more than a year I have endured this affliction of feeling pulled between two places. I am not the only one to learn that immigration is not always a simple one-way journey. If I decide to move back to my homeland, I would be joining a large number of educated Asians and Asian Americans returning to their home countries from the United States. Of the 4 to 7 million Americans who currently live abroad, approximately 1 million are of Asian background, according to Edward Park, Professor and Director of the Asian Pacific American Studies Program at Loyola Marymount University. Still, in my adopted hometown of Alhambra, I have a hard time finding like-minded people. Standing in front of the library and boba shops, I talked to immigrants from Hong Kong, India, Sri Lanka, Nicaragua, and Mexico. Each one said he or she had left and was not looking back. At a community forum, one Mexican woman even told me she had already bought a cemetery plot for herself here. One difference I noticed between the people I interviewed and myself was that most of them either left their home country at a very young age, married and had children here, or had a negative experience in their native country. “I would like to stay here in a country that has stable politics,” Mei Lam, who moved to Alhambra from Hong
Sonny Sehmi, a native of England who owns the Indian-British fusion restaurant Hot Red Bus on Main Street with his American wife, said he sees a future for himself and his family in this city. “I live here, I married, I opened a business in Alhambra, about to become a father,” Sehmi said. “Home is where your heart is and my heart’s definitely here.” The more time I spend in the United States, the further I feel from my homeland: the penetrating warmth of the humid tropical weather, the holler of vendors selling taho and fishballs, and the company of people who made me feel welcome even after being away for years. But I also feel a growing urgency to act fast. Growing up in a third-world society, I am scared I might settle for a comfortable and risk-free life instead of living in a place where I can possibly make a bigger impact. It is every person’s right to decide what is best for themselves and their families, but it saddens me every time I hear stories of my own friends and family getting separated from their spouses to work abroad, spending Noche Buena away from their children, or even watching their father’s wake through a computer screen. Unlike millions of Filipinos who remain abroad because of their legal status, not being able to afford to go back home, or having nobody left to go back to, I have the privilege of being able to return. I realized that my last visit to my homeland was not simply fueled by nostalgia for the memories of my life growing up in the Philippines. More than anything else, I think I saw a glimpse of an entirely new future for myself. I just didn’t expect it to be in a familiar place. 5.2.2013
After writing the story, Alfred Dicioco spent three months as part of the inaugural class of the Kaya Collaborative Fellowship, which pairs students and recent graduates with local organizations in the Philippines aimed at bridging economic and cultural divides. “It gave me a sense of what life would be like back in the homeland,” Dicioco wrote. “One thing that I learned going back for an extended amount of time is that home, the Philippines, will never be the same for me again. And yet, I still carry it with me wherever I go.” He continues to work with Kaya from Los Angeles. 33
ROLE REVERSAL BY STEPHANIE LEE
Stephanie Lee and her parents | Photos courtesy of Stephanie Lee
Stephanie Lee’s mother wanted to help her go to college, but did not know how to do so. When I submitted my college applications in the fall of 2009, I thought the hard part was over. But a few weeks later, I found myself hunched over my computer trying to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the standard form to determine how much funding a student is eligible to receive. The document does not look that difficult; the lines of the online application clearly link to corresponding lines of the federal tax form. But I was 17, and instead of my mother helping me to fill it out, I had to try and explain the form to her. My mom, Nancy, was born in Laos and moved to Taiwan when she was 14. In Taiwan, she met my father and studied fashion design and sewing at a vocational school. She immigrated to the United States when she was 27 with her family; my father stayed behind for a job. Since then, they have maintained a long-distance relationship. My brother 34
and I were born in California and we only see our father a few times a year. My mother juggled caring for my brother and me with a series of part-time jobs: caretaking for the elderly, administrative duties at a Chinese school. We never talked about it, but I always knew she assumed I would go to college—and handle all the work of getting there.
It was not that I did not want to be involved in your college applications, I just did not expect that you wouldn’t know how to fill out the forms.
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cess was a do or die situation. Those concerns only grew during the summer before college, when UC San Diego called me and told me they could not find a form I had sent—one that would complete my financial aid application. Only later did I learn forms could be corrected. A study by the Project on Student Debt found that low-income and immigrant parents often overestimate the costs of attending college because they have so little information or experience. Often these parents didn’t go to college themselves or did so abroad in a very different system. Lee (right) at her graduation from AHS
Lee’s desk at UC San Diego
But when it was time for me to apply for financial aid, we both became frustrated. I was sitting in front of my computer at my desk in my bedroom, and I made my mother come over to help me fill out the form. She asked me to explain each item that requested her financial information, and I had a hard time finding the words in my Chinglish to explain it to her. I was applying early in the year, and she hadn’t filed her taxes yet. The form asked for the previous year’s income based on her tax return. When she could not provide me with what I needed, I became annoyed. “Why didn’t you do this earlier if you knew I had to fill this out?” I demanded. “What am I supposed to put for this?” I was angry at her, but mostly I was really scared that if I made a mistake I would never get the money I needed to go to college.
My mom did attend a Cash for College workshop during my senior year. The workshop helped her to understand that any student — regardless of income — could find a way to attend college. She told me the workshop had interpreters in Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, and Spanish, typical of large AUSD meetings, but it was difficult for her to keep up or understand. She was told there would be another event where they would help fill out the forms, but she also understood the students who would help her did not speak Mandarin, the language that she speaks. She figured I could do a better job. I’ve realized later that my friends and cousins had their parents fill out the financial aid forms in their college applications. I thought it was strange at first—but then it occurred to me that the parents actually understood the forms and know more about their finances than their kids. My mother still occasionally says, in Chinese, “It was not that I did not want to be involved in your college applications, I just did not expect that you wouldn’t know how to fill out the forms.” 6.13.2014
Stephanie Lee, a participant in the 2014 Reporter Corps class, started working with the Asian Youth Center upon graduating from Loyola Marymount University. She will be attending Rutgers University this fall to work on an MA in City and Regional Planning. Is she more confident in the financial aid process, compare to when she’d applied as an undergrad? “This time, the FAFSA is just another part of the process,” said Lee.
I thought I’d have to take out $30,000 a year in loans, and filling out the forms made me feel even more nervous. I read on the Internet about people saddled with debt. I felt like the application pro35
DAUGHTER OF AN ARRANGED MARRIAGE BY MONICA LUHAR
Monica’s parents, Ashwin and Smita Luhar, on their wedding day | Photos courtesy of Monica Luhar
Monica’s mother at the age of 19
At the age of 19, Monica Luhar’s mother had an arranged marriage in India. At 19, Monica was a single college sophomore frustrated that she was not allowed to date.
At the age of 19, my mother fastened a red bindi in the middle of her forehead, wrapped herself in a silk sari, and walked seven times around a sacred fire in Karamsad, India with a 26-year-old man she hardly knew. At 19, I was a single Indian American college sophomore who certainly did not have any plans to have an arranged marriage like my parents. And a relationship was not really an option, because my parents did not allow me to date. For years, they had one strict rule: I was to focus on school until I graduated from college. Meanwhile, most of my friends were in committed relationships and some were even engaged to their high school sweethearts. I resented the rule, and felt that they were limiting me from dating because they did not have any experience themselves. Arranged marriages have been a common practice in India — and many other cultures — for centuries, but my parents never pressured me into one. The summer after I received my college degree, my mother casually told me I was allowed to date. My parents understand that since I was raised and brought up in a different culture, it may be hard 36
for me to not marry for love. They told me that race or religion did not matter, as long as the man I dated respected me. But even with this freedom, I have found it challenging to navigate the scene. I am now 23 and feel years behind my friends who started in high school, and I lack a dating model from my parents that resembles my own. Intergenerational disagreements and gaps about relationships between second-generation young adults and their immigrant parents are common, according to a recent study in Marriage & Family Review authored by Olena Nesteruk and Alexandra Gramescu, from the Family and Child Studies Department at Montclair State University. “Because immigrant parents did not experience growing up in the U.S., participants believe that their parents are not familiar with issues relevant to American teenagers,” the authors conclude in a study of 35 young adults who were interviewed about their experiences with mate selection and the influence their immigrant parents had on their dating preferences. Like me, many young
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adults from immigrant families felt as though their parents were strict when it came to curfews and enforcing restrictions on when the appropriate age to date would be. In conversations and a survey with young San Gabriel Valley residents with immigrant parents, I also heard many youth say that they were up against stiff parental restrictions on dating, uncomfortable conversations, and resistance to marrying outside of their racial or ethnic group. “My parents tried to fix me up with boys they like when I was in my 20s and wouldn’t give any of the boys I picked a chance. They automatically assumed they were all bad,” one woman wrote me. “Growing up, this kind of mentality is what I saw in most of traditional Asian parents around me.” As much as I wanted to talk with my parents about relationships, it did not happen until recently. When I was young, my parents did not have the “birds and the bees” talk with me, nor did we even talk about “crushes.” For many years, I struggled to talk to my parents about these topics, mainly because I was too embarrassed to bring up the issues with them. I’d assume they felt the same way, too — because they never experienced what many young adults face when dating. My parents, whose families arranged their match, only had two hours alone together before getting married, just a few weeks before their wedding ceremony. Rather than a date, it was more of an awkward two-hour chat about each other’s likes, dislikes, and career goals. “It felt like a nerve-wracking interview,” my mother recently told me. “But it was probably the most important interview of my entire life.” They have been happily married for 26 years, though they have had their share of difficulties.
I am now 23 and feel years behind my friends who started in high school, and I lack a dating model from my parents that resembles my own.
Monica at 21, graduating from the UC Irvine in 2011
I was very nervous introducing one guy I met to my parents, but they were receptive and even let us spend a little time alone together. I did overhear them talking about whether it was “serious,” and realized that dating for them meant getting ready for marriage. For me, it was more of a dating journey and getting to know someone else. Nothing serious. Through this new experience of discussing relationships with them, I feel much more connected with my parents. In college, I just could not understand why anyone would marry someone without falling in love first. But as I’ve seen their love grow over the years, I have had a deeper appreciation for their arranged marriage. While I do not think it is for me, I no longer think it is necessarily inferior to a love marriage. And I now realize that my parents were trying to protect their first-born female daughter from getting her heart broken. I would not limit my daughter in relationships the way I was, but I appreciate and respect them for doing it to me. 4.25.13
Monica Luhar wrote to us recently to say that she and her parents have found some middle ground. “My parents are still supportive about my dating life (or lack of a dating life),” Luhar said in an email. She added that currently she’s more focused on advancing her career in journalism and traveling the world. She is the site editor for KCETLink-TV’s award-winning news show, “SoCal Connected” and freelances for NBC News Asian America and The Aerogram.
Recently I decided to start introducing guys to my parents. Getting comfortable talking about it, however, has meant adjustments on both sides. 37
EXPLORING FOOD Alhambra is well known throughout Los Angeles for its varied ethnic restaurants, as well as old standbys like The Hat and Fosselmanâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s. Alhambra Source started at a time when food blog culture was thriving, and a blogger who went by the name SinoSoul connected us to a few Alhambra-based ones: Daily Gluttony, the Glutster, and Two Hungry Pandas. We worked with bloggers and other residents to explore how a closer look at a restaurant reveals not only varied flavors, but also peopleâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s journeys. In this selection the cuisine is from Vietnam, Mexico, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, but we could easily have told stories from Lebanon, Indonesia, Japan, and elsewhere to Alhambra. We also saw in our coverage and research that food can unite a diverse community, and it can also be highly divisive across ethnic lines. One place where we saw passion flare was debates over supermarkets. When Super A, a traditionally Latino market, closed, we received dozens of messages about it, many of them inflammatory and concerned that an Asian market would replace it. Through the site, we tried to engage residents in the planning process. We published mobile and online polls asking residents what they thought should replace Super A. There was no single answer. Nathan Solis and Nate Gray, two photographers and writers, went out to try and capture the changing landscape of where Alhambra residents shop for food.
HONG KONG CAFES AND THE ALLURE OF ESCARGOT, CLAM CHOWDER, AND SPAM BY PAM SOSA (DAILY GLUTTONY)
Macaroni with Spam and egg at Garden Cafe | Photos by Pam Sosa
Pam Sosa probed the history of Hong Kong-style cafes and her childhood memories of elbow macaroni. Growing up, I loved my mom and grandma’s interpretation of chicken noodle soup made with packaged elbow macaroni and the same homemade chicken broth that they used to make their peasant-style Chinese soups. Combining a little Western flavor with Chinese flavors was not at all foreign to my family since they are from Hong Kong, home to cafes that serve Hong Kong-style Western food, or Canto-Western food, a culinary phenomenon often nicknamed “see yau sai tzan” in Cantonese or “Soy Sauce Western Food” in English. Here in Alhambra, the Hong Kong-style cafe tradition is very much alive. Venture into such places as Baccali Cafe and Rotisserie, Sunday 40
Bistro, and Garden Cafe along Valley Boulevard, and you might mistake them for any old Western cafe or coffeeshop. Waiters dish out filet mignon, Caesar salad, clam chowder, escargot, spaghetti bolognese, and omelets — each for no more than $14 per plate. But no Hong Kong-style cafe menu is complete without traditional Cantonese fare, meaning you can order something to the likes of chicken and salted fish fried rice or wonton noodle soup with that grilled salmon filet. Such cafes originated in British-colonial Hong Kong, according to an Associated Press write-up on Canto-Western cuisine, and kept growing because many Hong Kong locals found these cafes to be more affordable and comfortable than their
authentic Western counterparts. “You could call this Hong Kong’s earliest fusion food,” Lau Kinwai, a food columnist at the Hong Kong Economic Journal, told the AP. “Chinese people were trying to handle what they saw as exotic food at the time. They were applying their own flavors and culture to the Western dishes they were exposed to. I suppose that in the literal sense of the term, Soy Sauce Western Food can be considered “fusion cuisine,” but I don’t think it’s the most accurate label. To me, true fusion cuisine conjures up images of wasabi mashed potatoes, of ginger-soy marinated fish and avocado tacos, and of Mongolian beef sliders. It’s more of a creative venture where flavors from different cultures morph into a new dish, whereas Soy Sauce Western Food involves emulation of or borrowing from Western food culture and tailoring it to the Chinese palate. Yet while Soy Sauce Western Food may lack creativity, it plays a crucial role in easing the culinary cultural divide. I can relate to the reasons for Soy Sauce Western Food’s existence—the whole dynamic is not so different from my own family’s attitude toward Chinese and Western foods. It was definitely challenging for my family to branch out and try other cuisines, so I grew up on a diet consisting almost exclusively of Chinese food. When we went out to eat, we almost always ate at Chinese restaurants, not simply because they loved the food but also because their frugal mindsets perceived Chinese food to be a better value than Western food. Every once in a while, though, someone would want to venture out of their comfort zone and eat a Western meal. But when we did, we hardly ever ate at Western restaurants. Instead, we ate my family’s home-cooked, Chinese-Western hybrid versions of these foods. In addition to macaroni noodle soup, my grandmother would make her interpretations of hot dogs and pizza, relying on the same dough used to make Chinese mantou buns to make hot dog buns and pizza crust, ketchup for pizza sauce, and sliced up hot dogs for “pepperoni.” A family favorite was a dish in which a can of creamed corn was mixed with wok-fried chicken and spooned over a bed of rice — it’s a hearty but visually unappealing dish that is also commonly served at Hong Kong-style cafes. My family’s attempts at cooking and eating Western foods were just one way in which they tried to assimilate with American culture. The
Braised short rib at Cafe Spot
truth is that assimilation can be a scary ordeal, no matter if one was a Chinese local living in British-colonial Hong Kong, or an immigrant in the United States, and both deal with the unfamiliar in ways that they feel the most comfortable. For some, eating other cultures’ foods in a restaurant served and populated by their own kind makes the whole fitting-in process less stressful, however counterproductive that may be. For others, eating different foods that have hints of Chinese flavors, like a steak au poivre with pepper sauce containing traces of soy sauce and white pepper, is more manageable than eating the real deal at a French bistro. Making it even easier is being able to eat unfamiliar dishes alongside the familiar Chinese ones like chow fun and congee. All of this is possible at Hong Kong-style cafes, a reflection of my family’s way of slowly eating their way into a new culture. As an adult, I’d say that I’ve embraced the melting pot concept. I’ve enjoyed foods from a wide array of countries and love introducing them to my half-Chinese, half-Puerto Rican toddler — a toddler who, by the way, can’t get enough of the creamed corn and chicken with rice that I cook. For me, eating Soy Sauce Western Food now isn’t about assimilating on anyone’s terms, but rather, about reliving a comforting piece of my family’s past. I will keep tossing those cans of creamed corn into the wok and will keep ordering macaroni with Spam at any of Alhambra’s Hong Kong-style cafes. 6.21.11
Pam Sosa — who previously blogged at Daily Gluttony and Rants and Craves — has retired her food blogs to focus on her son and her career in the apparel industry. Photos of her meals can be seen at instagram.com/dailygluttony. 41
FRUTERIA HUERTA Jugos, licuados, raspados and helados While jugos, licuados, raspados and helados (juice, smoothies, snow cones and ice creams) are common in parts of East Los Angeles, Fruteria Huerta is a rare Latino market on Valley Boulevard in Alhambra. Neighboring establishments include a Yoshinoya, a liquor store, and several Chinese businesses. Fruteria Huerta â&#x20AC;&#x201D; the name translates to something like fruit grocery â&#x20AC;&#x201D; sells a variety of aguas frescas (water refreshments), including sandia, frescas or mango (watermelon, strawberries or mango). The most popular drink is a vampiro, named for the blood-red stains it produces, which contains oranges, beets, carrots, celery, and lemon. The flavor is cool but alarming with all the vegetables and fruits fighting for your palate. 6.12.11 / NATE GREY AND NATHAN SOLIS
1705 Valley Boulevard Alhambra, CA Fruteria Huerta storefront | Photos by Nate Grey
Nopales, edible cactus
A=AMERICANIZED, B=BETTER, C=CHINESE The ABCs of Chinese restaurants in the SGV BY JOE SOONG
Photos by Tim Loc
Joe Soong came up with a list of unconventional advice on how to find authentic Chinese food in the San Gabriel Valley. As a Chinese-American who happens to have many non-Chinese friends, I have been asked many times for recommendations to Chinese restaurants. To help, I have created a tutorial in how to determine if an establishment is a legitimate purveyor of genuine Chinese cuisine. In Los Angeles County’s restaurant rating system, each establishment is graded on numerous factors, with an “A” being the highest possible grade. However, a different, informal rating system applies to Chinese restaurants. Here’s a summary of the Chinese system that, like the Los Angeles County rating system, also appears as a letter grade in the restaurant’s window: “A” = Americanized. This is the least desirable rating, where the food establishment focuses too much on superficial attributes such as cleanliness and proper food temperatures. Instead of real Chinese food, it features mundane Americanized entrees such as sweet and sour pork and egg rolls. A real Chinese restaurant does not proudly display an “A” rating. “B” = Better. This means the restaurant is better than an “A”, but not as good as a “C.” “C” =Chinese. Real, homegrown Chinese food is served at this establishment. You won’t find reviews for these restaurants on the local TV news. 44
There are many factors that distinguish a superior “C” restaurant from other inferior Chinese restaurants. They are as follows:
1. The restaurant clientele must be minimally 95 percent Chinese and they will be speaking any one of the numerous Chinese dialects. Don’t worry about feeling out of place. Most patrons will be focused on their food and not on who walks in through the front door.
2. A real Chinese restaurant uses circular tables that can crowd up to 12 people at each table. If you’ve been to a Chinese wedding, you know what I mean. To guarantee equal access for all, the entrees are placed on the round, rotating Lazy Susan in the center of the table. In contrast, many Americanized Chinese restaurants have long rectangular tables for larger groups. This works well if everyone orders their own entrée (non-Chinese style) or if you don’t mind being bothered by repeated, constant requests to pass entrées around to everyone else. In inauthentic Chinese restaurants, the wait staff will make pleasant small talk and will periodically
check up on you to see how you are doing. This may not be the case in a real Chinese restaurant. So, if you don’t see your waitress again until it’s time for the check, don’t worry, it’s not personal.
3. The wait staff will not be native English speakers and may have difficulty communicating with you. This is a positive sign because it indicates the waiters and waitress were hired to serve a primarily Chinese clientele and the restaurant most likely prepares the food accordingly. In other words, you will be served real Chinese food. On the down side, because of the language barrier, there is a high likelihood that at least one of your entrees will be a dish you did not order. Enjoy the braised pork spleen.
4. In a restaurant serving true Chinese food, the menu almost seems to be an afterthought, which is a good thing. This means that the food establishment did not spend too much time on it, primarily focusing its efforts on the food. The menu will be a minimal affair, most likely composed of simple, laminated, and possibly food-stained Xerox copies. If the menu resembles a wedding album with a fancy cover, pictures, and possibly designed by a graphic artist, then the restaurant is probably not authentic. In a real Chinese restaurant, the menu was probably created by the same person who hired the wait staff, ordered the vegetables from the wholesaler, and who looked at you like you were an idiot when you asked him if he could take the chicken out of the Kung Pao Chicken because you are a vegetarian. Remember, in a real Chinese restaurant, the customer is right only some of the time.
5. Item descriptions in a Chinese menu are also telling. In a fake Chinese restaurant, entrées are described in flowery, verbose prose to persuade you to select the item. In an authentic Chinese restaurant the food sells itself. Let’s use barbeque pork buns as an example: Fake Chinese restaurant: Shanghai steamed buns – Sweet, succulent, Shanghai style barbequed pork in a steamed bun, hot to the touch, but oh-so-tasty in your mouth. A true pearl of the Oriental, from the
Great Wall of China to your dinner table - $3.75 each Real Chinese restaurant: Pork bun – 3 for $2.25
6. The most important factor of all: Don’t worry if the restaurant doesn’t look like your idea of what a restaurant should be. That’s part of the fun and adventure of living in an area with the diversity of Southern California. Try a restaurant you’ve never tried before, order an entrée you’ve never tasted and maybe discover your inner Jonathan Gold. You just might be pleasantly surprised… 3.31.2011
There was a bit of an uproar when this article was published. “The author doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” wrote one reader. “Anyone who has eaten out extensively in town should recognize this as a humor piece,” another reader responded. “At the time, I was hoping the readers would get that it was a satire that poked fun at some of the older style Chinese restaurants,” Joe Soong wrote to us in an email. “Fortunately, most folks appreciated the story’s humor, and understood the intent.” These days, Soong is still working in labor relations for the City of Los Angeles; he resolves differences between labor and management. And he still dines in Alhambra, of course. “I really like the increasing amount and diversity of restaurants in Alhambra, whether [it be] Asian, Western or another type of cuisine,” wrote Soong.
Alhambra Market | Photos by Nate Grey 46
ALHAMBRA MARKET Convenience food meets bacalao, manteca, and morro Alhambra Market appears dominated by convenience foods. But a closer look reveals its culinary gems: products for making ethnic dishes that require more than a microwave. Many items are geared toward Mexican cuisines. In the refrigerated section are blocks of manteca, traditionally used in everything from refried beans to pie crust. The Alhambra Market also stocks items from other countries; a wide selection of wines from Argentina and packages of yerba mate come in pounds instead of ounces. Packages of bacalao (salted cod) from Spain, and numerous hot pepper sauce flavors from Peru, such as panca and rocoto. Mini-cobs of purple corn for making a Peruvian drink, chicha morada, sit next to dried morro seeds for a Salvadoran version of horchata. Thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s even Peruvian soy sauce for making arroz chaufa (a Peruvian-Chinese version of fried rice).
Sauces from Peru
9.15.11 / NATE GREY
2289 West Main Street Alhambra, CA
Yerba Mate, a herbal brew
Olive oil from Spain
Fruteria Huerta Storefront - Photo by Nate Grey 47
IN SEARCH OF THE ALHAMBRA TACO BY JAVIER CABRAL (THE GLUTSTER)
Maria and Eric Hernandez | Photos by Albert Lu
Javier Cabral went looking for something besides noodles and soup dumplings in Alhambra. Contrary to popular belief, Alhambra is not just noodles and dumplings. Ok, ok, it might be 53 percent Asian noodle soups and rice-flour dumplings, but if you look beyond the soy and fish sauce, you will find La Cafeina Cafe & Taqueria. Even the most skilled taco hunter would have trouble finding La Cafeina. My game was off until la jefa (Alhambra Source’s editor Daniela Gerson), tipped me off to it. La Cafeina’s on a street you probably always pass to buy your economy sized containers of granola at Costco, but if you don’t work around the area, chances are you would never think twice about the nopal facade. But if you go in you’ll be rewarded. At La Cafeina, you will finally find a decent sope, thick, golden-brown maize boats fried until crispy then 48
topped with a thin spread of seasoned beans, charred meat, chopped cabbage, dry crumbled cheese, sour cream and a fresh salsa. You will also find wholesome huaraches, “sandal-sized” thin cakes of chewy griddled masa that are browned at the edges and topped similarly to sopes. And amidst these Mexican antojitos (corn-masa based wholesome snacks), you will find a taqueria-style taco in Alhambra at last. Maria and Eric Hernandez, the mother and son team behind La Cafeina, have been bringing tacos to Mexican-food-starved Alhambran’s since 2007. Maria is from the Mexican coastal city of Acapulco, hence her awesome seafood dishes. Even the excellent (according to la jefa) chicken pozole is done in the coastal style. Street food inspires Eric — born and raised in Alhambra, but influ-
I went on a Friday during peak lunch hours and it was pretty empty inside. But it also happened to be the last drag of lent season, so maybe that’s why. Even though I have not been to a Sunday mass in about four years, I chose to go with the whole religious theme for the hell of it. I’ll take any excuse to eat more ceviche and seafood tacos in my life!
La Cafeina storefront
The ceviche tasted just as it looks. Basically a chunky pico de gallo glorified with extra-large hunks of meaty Swai filet laid atop a flash-fried corn tostada. I prefer my ceviches to be a little more on the acidic side and this one was lacking that, but nothing a squeeze of a quartered lemon can’t fix. My table-mate seemed to enjoy the carne asada sopes too, although she found the charred nubs of meat a bit “hamburger-tasting” for her liking.
Nachos at La Cafeina
enced by his many childhood forays to all parts of Mexico with his family. Since he was young, Eric always had dreams of opening up a restaurant one day, and Maria never failed to support his vision. Now, they work together every day — with son in charge of cooking and mother behind the cash register — and “get along finely,” Maria asserts. They both acknowledge Alhambra is not be the best place for authentic Mexican food, but that may be working in their favor. “Its not like East LA where you could find a taco anywhere you go, but I feel we are definitely building our niche for that here.” Eric says. Now, what makes a taqueria-style taco? For starters it has not been anywhere near a deep fryer nor is it associated with ground beef. Instead, they are light, delicate corn creatures, pliable mini-tortillas minimally topped with a controlled amount of grilled meat, a tablespoon or two of salsa, and raw minced herbs and vegetables on top. At Cafeina, the taqueria-style tacos are even more pristine, each staggered at least an inch apart from each other and presented in an utmost disciplinarian fashion. No messy meat to eat with your fingers afterwards.
The seafood tacos were unique, with the unusual presence of bottled tartar sauce in lieu of crema mexicana. I’m a mayonnaise head so I actually liked this touch. I opted with uno de pescado y uno de camaron, con todo, of course, and found the seared seafood nuggets quite tasty. There was just one thing that seemed to be missing from the menu of an Alhambra taqueria. When I ask Eric the inevitable question: “Will you ever have an Asian fusion taco?” He simply answers, “Maybe in the near future, but most Asian people I know love Mexican food so I don’t see why it’s necessary.” 408 South Palm Avenue Alhambra, CA 5.2.11
Since reporting this story, Javier Cabral earned the title of “restaurant scout” for Jonathan Gold at the Los Angeles Times, was the staff Metro Fellow at Zocálo Public Square, and is now serving as West Coast Editor for Munchies, a food website started by Vice. Cabral wrote to us saying he “returns to Alhambra at least once a week for groceries at 168 Market, dim sum at Shanghai No.1 Seafood, cold Szechuan noodles at Spicy City and a young coconut milk tapioca drink at Phoenix Desserts.”
THE PUNJAB STORE Mango kulfi ice cream to natural hair dyes
Reflection in the window at The Punjab Store | Photos by Nate Gray
The Punjab Store opened in 2001 in a shopping mall on East Main Street. Products come from all over India, including its namesake state of Punjab. There are cooking utensils and household products like hair dyes. Boxes of tea, bags of naan, and the bright green bird’s eye chili peppers bring bright colors to the store. It’s also a great secret for vegetarians, with the mango kulfi ice cream being all-natural and devoid of eggs. Then there’s the variety of different grains, rice, spices and vegetable samosas. The natural hair dyes are a popular item–the employees at Punjab mention that the dye can last for a few days and older Chinese women buy 10 boxes at a time. 6.27.11 / NATE GREY AND NATHAN SOLIS
1300 East Main Street #101 Alhambra, CA
Ulundu Vade (South Indian savory donuts)
Paneer, a fresh cheese common in South Asian cuisine
Shelves stocked with American and Indian products
BUILDING A CULINARY EMPIRE BASED ON MAMA LIANG’S MILITARY CUISINE BY EVELINA GIANG AND WESLEY WONG (TWO HUNGRY PANDAS)
Liang’s Kitchen’s special chicken | Photo by Wesley Wong
Why were there pictures of the Chinese Air Force on the wall? When I wasn’t devouring Liang’s Kitchen’s special chicken, I craved that perfectly flavored rice, tender chicken, and spicy brown chili sauce. I once drove 25 miles from Alhambra to Rowland Heights just for a bite. So imagine my excitement when I heard last year that it was coming to San Gabriel, mere miles from my home. Since then Liang’s newest kitchen has become a favorite spot for my boyfriend Wes and me. One thing, though, remained a mystery while we savored the Three Flavor Chicken or slurped down our hot bowls of Beef ‘n Tendon Noodles: What was the story behind the Chinese Air Force photos and airplanes plastered on every wall and hanging from the ceiling? I happened to know the owner’s son, Austin Liang, who had studied with me at Mt. San Anto52
nio College. Eager to get some answers about the chicken and the Chinese military memorabilia, I asked if he could arrange an interview with his father, Ivan Liang. The first discovery at the interview was that Liang’s Kitchen’s cuisine was not what I thought it was. While most food bloggers have labeled his food as Taiwanese (including Two Hungry Pandas in our first entry about Liang’s Kitchen), Liang emphasized that his food is multiregional “juan cun cai” or military village food. The Liang’s Kitchen dynasty started in Taiwan during the 1950s at military villages where members of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) sought refuge after losing the Chinese Civil War. Ivan Liang’s mother, affectionately known as Mama Liang, tended to the kitchen while her husband served in the Chinese Air Force as a pilot.
Residents of the villages came from all parts of China, so Mama Liang learned to not only cook Southern Chinese food, which is her heritage, but also, Sichuan, Hunan, Taiwanese and other regional foods.
The Liang’s Kitchen dynasty started in Taiwan during the 1950s at military villages where members of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) sought refuge after losing the Chinese Civil War. “People all lived in one area. People from Sichuan, Hunan, Shanghai,” said Liang, who grew up in the villages. “We lived together; we go to each other’s house to eat.” In 1975, the Liang family followed relatives to America in search of a better life. Mama Liang, urged by her friends and family to make money off of her delicious food, did what she knew best: She opened a new kitchen in Monterey Park and introduced her “juan cun cai” to Southern California. (While Liang maintains they are the only military cuisine in the area, in Taipei there are various restaurants preserving the cuisine even as the villages disappear). That first Mama’s Kitchen, opened in 1981, expanded to the spot in Rowland Heights where I discovered the amazing chicken. But Mama Liang retired in 2000 and sold Mama’s Kitchen, which was a surprise to Ivan who had just come back from Thailand. “I asked her, why did you sell the restaurant?” recalled Ivan Liang. Her response: she was simply ready for a break. But he was just getting started. The success of Mama’s Kitchen prompted him to revamp what his mom had retired. With an emblem of Mama Liang on the door and logos, Liang’s version of the restaurant continues to serve the military village food his mom brought to America. He is a very busy man, with five restaurants in San Gabriel, Monterey Park, Rowland Heights, Arcadia and up north in Cupertino. In the next three months, he is slated to open another three restaurants. The secret to his success, Liang maintains, comes from his mother’s recipes. “When people eat my food, they have a lot
of memories,” he said. Even if customers did not grow up, like Liang, in a military village, he said the tastes bring them back to their own mama’s kitchen: “People love my food because it is food you eat when you were a kid.” From beef pancake rolls originating from the Northern China to Three Flavors Chicken, a take of the Hainan Chicken Rice, Liang’s Kitchen offers a large and diverse menu of foods at very affordable prices. The Family Style Cold Noodles is such a simplelooking dish that Ivan felt it needed an explanation. One of the few vegetarian dishes, the Cold Noodles may “not look like much,” says Ivan, but he urged us to try it. The perfect combination of a sesame and peanut oil blended into the cold, refreshing noodles. Slightly sweet. Oh, so good. The Beef and Tendon Noodle, as we wrote on Two Hungry Pandas, is a must order at Liang’s Kitchen. Tender chucks of braised beef and beef tendon float atop a bed of strong and chewy knife cut noodles in a thick broth. Pickled vegetables add a sour kick to this homey Northern Chinese dish. We also recommend it with the thin noodles. The Sliced Beef Wrap with Green Onion Pancake is scrumptious. Tender and lean pieces of beef wrapped within a crispy, slightly thick green onion pancake. The juices from the beef complemented by the sweet sauce makes this one of our favorites. 8.10.2010
The Liang’s Kitchen in San Gabriel was short lived. “Liang’s expanded rapidly, opening both familyoperated and franchised restaurants around the SGV and San Francisco Bay Area as well as single locations in San Diego and Flushing, New York,” LA Weekly reported. “Its collapse was almost as quick, leaving a few independent operators to soldier on.” One of those happens to be in Monterey Park. As for Two Hungry Pandas, comprised of Evelina Giang and Wesley Wong, the duo has disbanded to focus on other ventures. Giang wrote to us to say she still lives in Alhambra, travels around LA to “play in social sports,” and runs a co-ed flag football league for LASportsNet. Wong is in the San Gabriel Valley and works in computer forensics. Giang documents her food adventures on Instagram at @hungrybabypanda, while Wong can be found at @eatsmeetswes. 53
HOW DO YOU SAY DOLLAR STORE IN BURMESE? BY DANIELA GERSON
Thin Thin Kyaw in front of her new store in 2012 | Photo by Nathan Solis
Kyaw Myanmar $ Store is likely the first Burmese take on the allAmerican institution. It’s very likely the first Burmese take on that allAmerican institution — the dollar store. In an Alhambra twist, Kyaw Myanmar $ Store recently replaced the Dollar Indian Store on the corner of Mission and Atlantic. The proud new owner, Thin Thin Kyaw, sees a business opportunity providing goods to her fellow immigrants from Myanmar (Burma) despite the challenges of importing products from a nation still under U.S. sanctions. She also hopes that the modest corner store, with its bold new sign emblazoned with Burmese letters, will draw local attention to the transformation her native country is undergoing. 54
Kyaw’s father, Maung, has been an Alhambra resident for more than a decade. He says that when he tells people about his homeland, located in Southeast Asia, on a sliver of land between India, China, and Thailand, they often think he is talking about somewhere in the Caribbean: “When we say Burma, they say Bahamas,” Kyaw said. “They have never heard of it. We just come here to let people know what Burma is, and how we are struggling.” The store’s opening comes at a hopeful time for the resource-rich but revenue-poor nation. After more than a half century of military rule, Burma is holding elections and freeing political prisoners, and there is talk in the international
community of lifting sanctions. Joseph Stieglitz, the economist and Nobel laureate, wrote recently that he believes the changes are as significant as the Arab Spring, but require a lifting of sanctions to be completed. In the meantime, Thin Thin Kyaw quickly discovered how lack of free trade impacts pricing in an import business. When she took over the store from the previous Indian owners, who had decided to focus their efforts on their new restaurant and store in Rosemead, her aim was to add products from her native country and elsewhere in Southeast Asia to the Indian wares, as a way of expanding the shop’s clientele. But while sourcing the Indian products was easy — warehouses exist locally for Indian goods and shipping is free on purchases of $1,000 or more — getting the Burmese goods turned out to be a challenge. “The sanctions are here, so the stuff cannot get out right away from Burma,” she said. Instead, she has to import them from producers in Thailand, or ask friends and family visiting Burma to bring them back in their suitcases. Word has already spread quickly in San Gabriel Valley’s Burmese community, amongst the largest in the nation. Most of the area’s immigrants come from Burma’s small Chinese minority, according to Chin Khai, pastor of Alhambra’s Myanmar Full Life church in Alhambra. Although he says the community is growing and includes poorer refugees and reflects Burma’s full ethnic diversity, most in the San Gabriel Valley are relatively affluent and educated: “Doctors, engineers, business people,” Khai said. “People who are looking for a good place, a nice place, they also come and live in this area. People who have their family members and settled here.” At his church, he says, the news of the market has created a wave of excitement. “We just spread the news,” he said. “People are happy.” He only wishes another Burmese store would open closer to where he lives in Arcadia. For Kyaw, a former zoology teacher, it is also an opportunity to return to her roots after a tumultuous journey. Kyaw fled Burma in 1988 amid a deadly repression of student uprisings. She went with her then husband to Jamaica where she taught school, but when she moved without him to the United States, she couldn’t find a job in her profession. Instead, she raised her daughters in Ohio and opened a sushi restaurant.
With her youngest daughter now in college, Kyaw decided to move to be closer to family in Alhambra. But she had a hard time finding a job in the Los Angeles area as a foreign-educated, middle-aged woman. One day, she noticed that that the Indian Dollar store was up for rent and decided to become an entrepreneur once more. Putting the sign up in Burmese was a particular point of pride. Burmese is related to Tibetan and Chinese, but has its own script of circular letters that even her own children can barely read, but which she felt was important to put on the wall to show that her nation had left its impression in this corner of California, where one more often sees Chinese, Vietnamese, and Spanish signs. The argument that many Westerners make for lifting sanctions is that it would help the nation’s poor farmers and enable multinational companies to provide capital needed to develop Burma’s financial system. But Kyaw sees an additional direct benefit for expatriates, who for decades have been largely cut off from their favorite childhood products. She would love to be able to import products whose names she has never learned in English and can’t find locally: a purple fruit with white inside, or special flowers that are used in salad. “We’re waiting for those things to eat,” she said, eyes gleaming as she stands behind her new counter. 1107 West Mission Road Alhambra, CA 3.16.2012
Months after Thin Thin Kyaw opened the store, the US government officially lifted an import ban and President Obama reestablished diplomatic ties visiting Rangoon. Has the situation gotten better at Alhambra’s Burmese dollar store since the article was first published? “Yes, a little bit,” said Kyaw. She said that Burmese rice is an item that she can now get directly from her home country. “It’s goldmedal Burmese rice,” said Kyaw. “It’s very small at first, but gets bigger when you cook it. It has a nice smell.” Other goods, like certain fruits, are still out of her reach; she has to import these items through Thailand. As for her business, Kyaw said that it’s “Doing good. Doing very well.”
Produce at Cali Mart | Photo by Tim Loc 56
CALI MART Wax gourd drinks and dried bamboo shoots Cali Mart (加州超市) is one of various large Asian markets on Valley Boulevard with an emphasis on fresh produce, spices, and a seafood section so lively you could stick your hand into a bin of moving crabs or snapping turtles. Previously a Lucky’s supermarket, Cali Mart is the type of market where American brands are the minority. The shelves are stacked with juxtapositions: a container of Yoplait yogurt next to a packet of dried shrimp, dried bamboo shoots next to bananas and oranges. There are aisles of sweet and bitter juices, cans of wax gourd drink and Wang Wang milk drink. Large purchases get you a free bag of rice — who can ask for more in this economy?
Soft drinks at Cali Mart | Photo by Nathan Solis
5.26.11 / NATE GREY AND NATHAN SOLIS
1000 Easy Valley Boulevard Alhambra, CA
Produce at Cali Mart | Photo by Tim Loc
Fish for sale | Photo by Nate Grey
MY BANH MI MY THO FIX BY MICHAEL LAWRENCE
Daniel Dai works the register | Photo by Tim Loc
A regular at the sandwich shop, Michael Lawrence, shares the journey of the Dai family from My Tho to Alhambra. Several times a week for the last 15 years, I’ve gotten my morning fix of Vietnamese dark roasted coffee with sweetened condensed milk—ca phe sua nong—at Banh Mi My Tho. While I sip my coffee, I like to watch as workers hustle deliveries of fresh French bread rolls, trays of fresh snacks and large bags of rice and customers order their sandwiches and street snacks in Cantonese, Mandarin and Vietnamese. From their location in a small strip mall on Valley Boulevard just west of Garfield Boulevard, Banh Mi My Tho has been serving Alhambra for over 18 years. The Dai family first opened across the street from the long gone Sir George’s Restaurant and Bob’s Big Boy (now Noodle World) down the street. Their name comes from the combination of banh mi, Vietnamese for sandwich, and My Tho, their hometown in Vietnam. 58
The road from My Tho to Alhambra was arduous and long. After Saigon fell to Communist forces in 1975, the Dai family fled South Vietnam on a 20-foot boat, landing in a refugee camp in Malaysia for a few months. Actual refuge came when a family in Illinois sponsored them. Daniel Dai, the youngest son, told me they learned a great deal about being financially responsible from their sponsor, which later helped them open their own businesses. After a year in Illinois, they joined other family members in Brooklyn and opened a Chinese restaurant. They struggled to make their restaurant successful in a predominately Italian and African American neighborhood, so after eight years they headed west to Alhambra to be close to family. Again, they opened a Chinese restaurant but faced competition. And then the elder Dai
Banh Mi Thit Nuong | Photo by Tim Loc
I asked Daniel Dai to explain what their secret is. “Vietnamese food is a blend of many cultures. The French were there and the Chinese were there also,” he said. “We marinate our meat with both lemon grass and garlic, unlike other places who use ground meat we slice our meat thin on a meat slicer that goes all day long. This is the same menu from when we first opened, but we have taken the ingredients from the sandwiches and created other dishes. Our bread comes from a French bakery every morning and is heartier and thicker than the standard baguette. The franchises get their bread half-baked and finish it up on location…Also we have consistency and it’s always my mom, dad or me that are watching over the process and other places have turnover of the employees so the food changes.”
Vietnamese food is a blend of many cultures. The French were there and the Chinese were there also. Dan Dai, Phung Dai and Daniel Dai | Photo by Nathan Solis
noticed there was only one Vietnamese sandwich shop serving Alhambra. That is when they opened their current business and found the right combination to make their mark on the culinary scene. Like the Dais, about 10 percent of Alhambra residents are foreign-born Vietnamese, mostly with a Chinese background. But their customers come from all over the world — and even from the Westside of Los Angeles. In the years since they opened, banh mi have become very popular in the San Gabriel Valley and have attracted a loyal following of people who love the combination of the crusty French bread filled with delicious combinations of Vietnamese fillings of marinated meats and vegetables. With the appearance of the large chain franchises like Lee’s Sandwiches, Mr. Baguettes and Banh Mi Che Cali, it is a testimony to the quality of the small “hole in the wall” businesses like Banh Mi My Tho that they continue to flourish and attract a loyal fan base. Los Angeles Magazine even gave their grilled pork sandwich (banh mi thit nuong) the Best Sandwich award in 2010, and LA Weekly gave it the tongue-in-cheek 2011 award of Best Sandwich Shop that Looks Like a Gas Station.
Daniel is planning on continuing the business. “This is my legacy and I want to pass it on when I have children. I enjoy seeing all of the people coming here but it is hard work: the prices are low and the costs are high. I might change it up a bit and use more technology.” Mom gives him the look when she hears this but Daniel quickly adds, “I will keep the formula the same.” 304 West Valley Boulevard Alhambra, CA 4.20.2012
Michael Lawrence emailed us recently to say he still gets his daily coffee fix there, and that he hasn’t grown tired of seeing the “parade” of vendors who bring their “colorful Vietnamese snacks” to sell. Has anything changed at the store since the article was published three years ago? Phung Dai told us that her son, Daniel Dai, is taking on more responsibilities at the store. “The prices go up a bit,” Phung added. “Because of inflation. The meat is almost double now.” She also noted that rising rent has contributed to the price changes. But there are some things that have never changed at Bahn Mi My Tho. The menu? “No, it’s the same,” said Phung.
ALHAMBRA FARMERS MARKET The Alhambra Farmers Market, which takes place every Sunday at 8:30am, has been a staple of the city for more than 30 years. It features a range of products that are hard to find elsewhere such as organic chrysanthemum greens, jujube dates, and fresh garbanzo beans. From 2010 to 2012 Kevin Chan served as our correspondent at the market. He sampled everything from strawberries to bitter melon, and shared recipes that heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d picked up along the way. On his experience eating a watermelon radish, Chan wrote:
When thinking of radishes, most of us will think of those tiny, sharp-flavored red-skinned roots that usually come tossed haphazardly in a salad. I tend to think of the larger, pale radishes such as daikons which have a much milder flavor. I pretty much accepted that these were the only extremes of radish: a tiny, potent grenade or a hulking giant with a gentle touch. This all changed when I came across these watermelon radishes from Briar Patch farms. The farmers market relocated in 2014, on the day of its 30-year anniversary. 2010-2012 / KEVIN CHAN
South Second Street between Main Street and Commonwealth Avenue
Watermelon radishes | Photo by Kevin Chan
Farmer Yao Cheng shows a daikon radish | Photo by Daniela Gerson
THE RISE AND FALL OF SUPER A
Produce selection at Alhambra’s former Super A | Photo by Nate Grey
Super A, known for its distinct look and variety of goods, closed down as it lost out to development and more contemporary supermarkets. The bold red sign with the A in the middle is an instantly recognizable symbol for anyone who grew up in Alhambra in the last three decades. But Main Street’s Super A Foods is likely soon to go to make way for new developments on Main Street, following the route of the nearby recently demolished old library and Atlantic Edwards Theater.
grocers didn’t see a viable market. It opened in Alhambra in 1981, a time when there were few local grocery stores in the area. Today, newer kiosks and displays clash with the wood paneling that have adorned the walls since the market first opened. Amen recognizes that his market is in need of remodeling, but it requires “serious cash” that the company can’t afford.
An architecture firm is pitching designs to the city for a mixed-use residential and commercial project on the site. City officials have said that a new, highly desirable supermarket will be in the development, but have not revealed which one.
Meanwhile, cash has flowed into redevelopment efforts as the city has welcomed a number of major chain grocery stores — such as Costco, Fresh & Easy, and Ralphs. “The store is not profitable and the city does not want to work with us on a deal,” said Jim Amen, vice president at Super A Foods. “How do you turn around and make a profit from this economy?”
Louis Amen started the Super A Foods Company in 1971, with the aim to entice customers in smaller neighborhoods where bigger named 62
It’s not for lack of trying. Over the years Super A has changed its goods to reflect the diverse community in Alhambra. On its shelves are Asian spices and gelatinized coconut water (nata de coco) from the Philippines, as well as more mainstream goods like name brand cereals, soda or frozen pizza. Not far away are Oaxacan cheeses, fresh masa dough for making tamales and tortillas, and even packages of nixtamal (corn cooked in alkaline, the step before masa) a common ingredient in pozole rojo. While these ethnic goods are available at any number of American, Mexican, Chinese and Filipino grocery stores, it is rare to find them all in one place — even in Los Angeles. Photo by Nathan Solis 2.1.13 / NATHAN SOLIS
The last days of Super A More than a year after a developer proposed new designs to the city, Super A finally lost its lease, according to Store Director Nick Sawaya. “The money is not the problem. They want to do development over here,” said Sawaya, who worked for the Super A company for 24 years before coming to Alhambra a year and a half ago to be store director. “I wanted to remodel the place you know, make it nice. But the city had other plans. It didn’t renew the lease.” Former City Manager Julio Fuentes announced during the Jan. 14 City Council meeting that a commercial and residential project will take Super A’s place. Sawaya said construction is set to begin in March. The city projects it will take two years to complete.
come to a close,” Raymundo said. “I don’t understand why it has to be closed since it’s a good store and it has a lot of customers. It’s sad because this will probably become more apartments. We don’t need more apartments.” 8.25.11 / IRMA UC AND DANIELA GERSON
The announcement of Super A’s closure unleashed on Alhambra Source dozens of e-mails from loyal Super A customers, bemoaning where they would now shop. The site of the former market is now home to Pacific Plaza, which brings 120 residential units and 18,000 square feet of commercial space. Developers say they plan for residents to begin moving in this September, and that retail stores will include an organic market, a 85°C Bakery, and a restaurant.
COMMENTS POSTED ON 2.2.2013 BY ALFRED
In previous meetings, council members have advocated for a supermarket in the new plan. “That market is the most critical point of the development, and it’s really important because Alhambra is underserved by markets,” Councilwoman Barbara Messina said at a September 2011 Alhambra Redevelopment Association meeting. “It needs to be a market like a Trader Joe’s or Bristol Farms, a market that is going to serve everybody. We do not need, and I don’t mean this to be offensive, but we do not need an ethnic market there.” Messina later added that she had supported Super A remaining in the community.
“I think the loss of Super A hurts because as much as there are ethnic supermarkets around Alhambra, most of them are Asian. The only Hispanic one that is near a major street is Alhambra Market on Main.” POSTED ON 2.1.2013 BY TONY
“Opposition towards an ‘ethnic’ market makes no sense in a city whose demographic is decidedly ‘ethnic.’ Placement of a Bristol Farms or Whole Foods will not do the general public any good unless the goal is to gentrify Main St.”
Manuel Raymundo, 66, a resident of Alhambra for less than two years, was confused as to why the store was closing. “I am very sad to see this store 63
MAKING CONNECTIONS Alhambra Source has cultivated a wide range of contributors across social backgrounds, ethnicity, and age. Through their reporting they have been able to make connections spanning these divides. The pieces in this section reflect the curiosity of community contributors and tend to be personal in nature. Joe Soong, for example, took time to go to a tai chi class for the first time in Alhambra Park and learn the story of the man leading the movements. Tim Loc talked to a waiter whose dim sum restaurant had just burned to the ground. And Kerrie Gutierrez went to visit a Mexican American artist who created a studio in an industrial part of town. Readers, in turn, often commented that these stories made them feel more connected to the city, and to people of different backgrounds.
A VISIT TO MRS. LIN, ALHAMBRA’S PSYCHIC BY JOE SOONG
Outside Mrs. Lin’s establishment | Photo by Albert Lu
If you’ve lived in Alhambra, you’ve likely seen the tiny red gingerbread-like house with the white picket fence many times as you waited at the intersection of Atlantic Boulevard and Commonwealth Avenue. And, on at least on a few of those occasions, you probably wondered, “Who is Mrs. Lin, the Psychic?” After years of wondering, my curiosity finally got the best of me and I called to arrange a visit to meet her. I entered a small but functional office, consisting primarily of a sofa, a wicker chair, and small table. Rose Lin, 61, welcomed me and within minutes told me I would have a successful future as a journalist. I liked the way our meeting was beginning. The first thing that struck me about Mrs. Lin was she did not look like a Mrs. Lin. That is, as a longtime Alhambra resident, I’ve learned to associate the last name Lin with persons of Asian descent. So when I entered the small, nine feet by nine feet office, I expected to meet an Asian woman. Not 66
quite. Rose Lin has singularly Caucasian features, although, as I found out, she also had a bit of San Gabriel Valley in her.
When I entered the small, nine feet by nine feet office, I expected to meet an Asian woman. Not quite. Lin sat me down, and as she told me about my future, she also let me know a little about her past. Born in Colorado to a Chinese-French father and German-Irish mother, Lin and her family left the state when she was very young. They eventually moved to California, first stopping in San Francisco before setting down roots in Alhambra more than three decades ago. Lin became aware of her abilities when she was very young. “When I was seven years old, I began
to see things,” she said. “I remember seeing a kid playing on a slide and he slid down several times. Then I sensed he would fall the next time he went down the slide and I told his mom, who didn’t do anything and the kid fell off the slide.” Recognizing her skills, friends began to consult her and Lin eventually turned her advisory skills into a career. At first she just provided her services from her Alhambra home. That grew into a business with a brief stint on Valley Boulevard, and at her current Atlantic Boulevard location for nearly 15 years. “I have all I need here” in order to conduct palm and tarot cards readings, which are the most popular client requests, explained Lin. One of her two daughters, Kate, inherited her psychic skills and the mother and daughter team work together, with Kate seeing clients a few days a week when Lin is not there. I asked for a reading and Lin obliged, dealing several tarot cards, explaining the meaning of each card and the relationship between them. It was admittedly fascinating and I began to understand why so many were drawn to psychic guidance. Additionally, she interprets astrological and birthday charts, performs sand and crystal readings, as well as other types of readings. Several times a year she also performs house blessings to rid homes of unwanted spirits. The cost of each reading varies with the type and complexity. One of Lin’s most interesting roles is as a conduit to the deceased. Several times a year, she performs a past life reading, where someone who has passed away may place an idea into the mind of a living relative or friend, who will not initially realize where or why the thought originated, causing them to approach Lin for guidance. “My role,” said Lin, “is to help them find out and understand what that idea is.” Ethnically, her clientele is diverse and reflective of Alhambra’s population. Half are Asian, 30 percent Hispanic and the remainder Caucasian. Yet, Lin noted, they all have the same concerns: Regardless of ethnicity, most questions relate to affairs of the heart, business, or family life. Located in an area with a significant non-English speaking population, Lin has adapted to her clientele. She performs birthday readings for the lunar calendar, which is favored by many Asian cultures, as well as the traditional Western
calendar. Members of her family can also provide translation in Chinese or Spanish during a session if needed. Lin believes that regardless of ethnicity women tend to be more inquisitive about important life issues and her customers bear this out. Whether in person or via telephonic consultation, she has four to five clients each day on average, with women composing 70 percent of the total. Her clientele encompasses all age groups, but she does have some restrictions. “A few times a week, students from some of the schools around the area will come by,” said Lin. “Kids who are thirteen or fourteen years old will ask for a reading, but I refuse and ask them to bring an adult.” On occasion, she also has parents bringing in babies for a palm reading. They are sometimes so young, Lin has to gently uncurl the child’s fingers to see the palm. “I won’t read the palms of babies because they are still developing and it’s too early to say what could happen,” said Lin. However, if requested, she will assist the parents in selecting a name for the child. Not every question from a client will have an answer. She has self-imposed limits on the issues she will address. Lin said, “The questions I won’t answer are ‘When will I die?’, ‘What will I die from?’, and ‘Will I have a miscarriage?’” She prefers to turn away from the negative and focus on issues that send a more positive message. Lin realizes that there are many who are skeptical of her abilities and she understands their doubts. However, it is not her goal to convince them. For those who don’t believe her, she says, “Don’t believe. I’m not here to make them believe me.” 1100 West Commonwealth Avenue #E Alhambra, CA 10.20.2010
What, exactly, did Mrs. Lin predict for Joe Soong’s future? “The only specific prediction she made for me at that time was that I would have a successful career as a journalist,” Soong wrote to us in an email. “Back in 2010, this story was one of the first ones I did for [the Source], so it actually was the beginning of a long and enjoyable opportunity.” 67
A PLUME OF GREY SMOKE, A DIM SUM WAITER WITH NO RESTAURANT BY TIM LOC
Firefighters working to put out the fire | Photos by Albert Lu
As the remains of Blue Ocean restaurant smolder, a waiter finds that his services are needed in other, unexpected ways. The first thing I noticed was how quiet it was. The gardeners always came early on Thursday mornings, and I would shove my head beneath the pillow to drown out the symphony of weed-whackers. But today there was no noise. And it stayed that way until my grandmother began shouting from the backyard. I went outside and found her and my mother gazing into the distance. That’s when I saw it: a towering plume of gray smoke that spun and billowed into the sky. We estimated that the fire was two blocks away; a safe enough distance, but a little too close for comfort. My mother left for work with this advice: “If the fire comes here, you could run.” I agreed that it was a solid plan. 68
But I went out later to gauge the aftermath when the smoke had abated. The police had blocked off traffic on Valley Boulevard between Monterey and Second streets, sending a glut of cars into the residential streets. The funny thing was, while traffic control was air-tight, residents were mostly left to their own devices. Business owners stood outside their stores with their arms crossed. The mechanics at the Shell gas station had set up foldable chairs on the lot — a ringside seat to the spectacle. Mechanic Hai Le showed me photos he’d taken on his iPhone, complete with a running commentary on the sequence of events. “The fire, when it started, was very small. Only a little smoke. But 20 minutes later, the fire was shooting out of the roof,” Le said as he scrolled through the images. I asked him if he was afraid that the fire would spill over to the gas station. “Yeeeah!”
he replied. His eyes were practically out of their sockets. It was a stupid question, OK. One elderly Asian woman, no more than five feet tall, was walking alongside a big yellow hose that led to Blue Ocean Seafood, which I discovered was the scene of the fire. She followed the trail until she was standing a few feet from the backdoor of the restaurant, which was no longer ablaze but still simmering. She stared at the building as if it were a sculpture at the Getty, and when a gust of white smoke blew over her, she turned around thoughtfully and headed in the opposite direction. I went further down the block to inspect the front of Blue Ocean. I’d had dim sum in this building on countless Sundays (back then it was known as MVP Seafood). Now the windows were blown out, the roof had caved in. Inside were the charred remains of banquet chairs, light fixtures, and roofing material. The walls, however, had held up nicely. A stream of water ran out the front door and spilled onto the gutters. There was a small crowd of onlookers outside Harbor Kitchen, which sat directly across the street from Blue Ocean. There was a giddiness in the air—the sign that a grave disaster has passed. The men, mostly Asian, joked around in both Mandarin and Cantonese. A Caucasian man told his friend of a restaurant that served “amazing shrimp etoufee.” Among the onlookers was Vincent Chang, who worked as a waiter at Blue Ocean. He’d arrived after most of the flames were put out. “No one called me, so when I get here all I see is this. I don’t know what happened. They sent all the workers home,” Chang said.
you don’t show me an ID,” the officer threatened. Then, finally, the smoking man produced a driver’s license and a pack of Marlboros from his pocket. The policeman wrote up the citation, barked a few words of warning, and the three men dispersed. The work was not over for Chang, however. He was now tagged as The Guy Who Can Translate, all thanks to his act of goodwill. He provided his statement to an officer from an arson department, then translated for the others who were also asked to provide testimonies. Chang didn’t show an inkling of reluctance. He retained his cool throughout the whole ordeal. Perhaps it was something he’d picked up from working at a dim sum restaurant—which are often loud and packed to the rafters with hungry diners. At some point the irony hit me: in the background was his former workplace, which had been reduced to a pile of rubble, and here he was, going back to work when the day had came to an end for everyone else. 5.13.2011
A policeman caught one of the onlookers stubbing out a cigarette on the curb. The officer asked for the man’s ID, but the man seemed to not understand. “Does anyone here know English?” the officer asked the crowd. Chang stepped forward without a moment’s hesitation. But in spite of Chang’s efforts, the smoker was still oblivious. “I bet he’s got a fake card,” one of the onlookers said in Cantonese. “Oh yeah, he’s probably got a fake card.” The tension mounted. The policeman was irate, the smoking man was flustered, and Chang seemed nervous about the prospect of getting someone in trouble. “We can take you to jail if
The Alhambra Fire Department later concluded that the blaze started as a kitchen fire, discrediting some readers’ suggestions of insurance fraud. After more than two years of being vacant, the building was restored to welcome a new restaurant: Shi Hai, which food critic Jonathan Gold praised as having the best pork-bone congee in town. Tim Loc, after writing the article, spent three years in New York City for graduate school. He’s back in Alhambra and serving as managing editor for the Source. He’s finished writing a novel about a college radio station and is pitching it to literary agents.
YOLANDA GONZALEZ ENVISIONS AN ARTISTIC REVIVAL IN ALHAMBRA BY KERRIE GUTIERREZ
“Marissa in Blue Dress” by Yolanda Gonzalez | Image from yolandagonzalezart.wordpress.com
Gonzalez, who owns an art studio on Palm Avenue, has been a prominent name in the modern Chicano art scene. Her work was recently exhibited in Bordeaux, France.
As I approached Yolanda Gonzalez’s gallery and studio in an industrial complex on Palm Avenue, I wondered what I would see. Then someone opened the curtains illuminating a large panel of nudes. I entered and a voice greeted me with a warm hello. Behind a huge table covered with canvas sat a striking woman with lively eyes and a bright smile. Gonzalez comes from a long line of artists dating back to her great grandfather, Juan Nepomuceno Lopez, of Durango, Mexico. One of her most prized possessions is a drawing by her grandmother, Margarita “Mague” Lopez, called Cristo Medico. When Gonzalez was 7 years old, she received a paint set from Lopez. That sparked her life’s passion. Since then, she has made a name for herself in the art world, establishing a large base of patrons and collectors. The long-time Alhambra resident has a vision to now use her personal success to expand the local art scene into a thriving center for the area. “I hope to use my art to help create a vibrant art community in Alhambra,” she said. “I’d love it to be like Bergamot Station, where people could come and do an art walk. That would be great!” Gonzalez’s Ma Art Space is both a gallery and a studio. She showed me four recently commissioned paintings of different fruits and vegetables, some of which she had bought from Super A Foods supermarket on Main Street. Her favorite art medium is acrylic on canvas, although she works with a wide variety from ceramics to wood panels. Some of her current commissioned works include murals for Para Los Niños, White Memorial Medical Center, as well as a school in Los Angeles, in conjunction with Bounty paper towels. Gonzalez has lived in Alhambra for 20-plus years and has had her studio in Alhambra for about 10 years. Initially, her studio was part of the Ratkovich Company’s The Alhambra, where she was artist in residence. After a brief stay in a space on Valley Boulevard, friend and fellow artist Howard “Howie” Swerdloff told her about the spot on Palm Avenue. Swerdloff, owner of Howeeduzzit Gallery, shares the same complex. Along the way she has become enmeshed with the local art scene—Dan Ryder of J6 Creative in Alhambra does her giclee prints, and she said, “I absolutely love Nucleus (art gallery)!”
At one point, she says, the mayor of a large, nearby metropolis offered her a studio space, but Gonzalez decided to commit to Alhambra. “The Alhambra community makes me feel at home and safe,” she said. “I like the culture and community of Alhambra. The people are considerate and there is a love for family. You know, when I see families walking together in the park and on the street, I love it!” 8.27.2010
Yolanda Gonzalez wrote to us recently to say that she’s been showcasing her work around the world. She’d participated in a Chicano art exhibition at the Museum of Aquitaine in Bordeaux, France in 2014, and her art was recently featured in the Los Angeles County Arboretum’s “The Nature of Sculpture Art in the Garden.” Kerrie Gutierrez has been busy as well. The mother of five—all of whom have attended AUSD schools—and grandmother of three received her BA in Liberal Studies in 2013 and is completing her education specialist credential and MA in Special Education.
GALLERY NUCLEUS AT 10 BY IAN DALE
A line of visitors wait to enter Nucleus | Photos courtesy of Gallery Nucleus
A decade of creating a space for accessible art, partnering with studios, and drawing artists from around the region and world. Gallery Nucleus founder Ben Zhu realized in the early 2000s that there was an abundance of concept art being produced in preliminary development of films, but the artwork wasn’t available for most people to see. After speaking to fellow Art Center College of Design alumni, school connections who went on to work at major animation studios, Zhu wanted to create a place to showcase the work of entertainment artists in a more serious gallery setting.
to “blind confidence.” “It was a weird pivotal moment in my life. I just knew that if I didn’t try it [then], I would never try it,” Zhu said. “But I had no idea what I was about to get myself into.”
“There was no gallery showing concept art by Miyazaki, or drawings from Street Fighter,” Zhu said. “Basically stuff that I would love to see and a lot of my friends would love to see.”
Nucleus moved a few blocks east in 2008 to its current location at Main and Monterey streets. With a larger exhibition area, a second gallery space upstairs, and a studio and production space, the new location enabled Nucleus to expand their exhibitions and customize the space for each event, according to Zhu.
At age 24, Zhu quit his job as a video game artist to open Gallery Nucleus, a move he attributes 72
As an Alhambra resident, Zhu chose his first location at Main and First streets. Nucleus’s premiere exhibit, “The Main Event,” opened on Oct. 9, 2004. It featured nine artists, many of whom still exhibit at Nucleus.
Over time, Nucleus broadened its focus, featuring not only concept art but also works from the realms of children’s literature, comics, and all forms of visual storytelling. The gallery has featured established veterans such as movie poster artist Drew Struzan—of Star Wars fame—as well as rising contemporary artists. Highly sought-after fine artist James Jean and Caldecott-winning children’s illustrator Jon Klassen were both featured at Nucleus early in their careers. Nucleus is known for an unusual approach to art shows. Gallery openings are often themed events that include games, food and drink, music, and giveaways. Past exhibits have featured children’s book readings, hands-on crafts, arcade game battles, and costume contests. One exhibit of wildlife-themed artwork even included a petting zoo in the middle of the gallery. The tribute exhibit to the “Adventure Time” animated television series in 2011 was a breakthrough for Nucleus—it was the first time the gallery worked directly with the show’s creators for an event. Zhu and his staff featured not only fan artwork but also authentic production work straight from Cartoon Network vaults. The success of that exhibit has led to more partnerships with major studios like Warner Brothers, DreamWorks, and Nickelodeon. These events are characteristics of Nucleus’s overall atmosphere: an approachable art gallery, Zhu said. “It’s just the nature of our business,” Zhu said. “Illustrators and animators are the most down-to-earth people I know... I think it’s nice to be more social, to be more engaging.” Nucleus’s prices are accessible as well. The gallery offers over 1,000 prints in addition to originals, priced at $20-75, depending on size. “Decorate your walls,” Zhu said. “Art is actually a lot more affordable than you think. Especially original art. We probably sell the most affordable stuff that you can get.” With Nucleus’s website, Zhu and his team have pioneered innovative approaches to selling art. The gallery was one of the first and few galleries to post photos of all the artwork online for each exhibit. Nucleus’s comprehensive web presence has broadened its audience to fans and art collectors around the world, and artwork, prints, and books continue to sell for years after each exhibit has ended, according to Zhu.
Final Fantasy Art Director Yusuke Naora greets fans after traveling from Japan to Alhambra
Success has not come without difficulties, however. While many of the gallery’s neighbors closed their doors during the recession, Nucleus has faced their share of challenges to stay open. Zhu said he has grown as a businessperson as he and his team have re-evaluated and streamlined their services and offerings. “It’s definitely not glamorous, owning a gallery,” Zhu said. As for the next 10 years, Zhu would like to continue working directly with film, animation, and game studios to put on official events. He and his team are also considering expanding with galleries in other cities. Zhu hopes to continue to improve the gallery’s online presence and to eventually become “the place to purchase illustrative and entertainment art.” 210 East Main Street Alhambra, CA 12.16.2014
Ian Dale wrote to us to say that he still visits Gallery Nucleus. “I have lived just down the street for about 8 years so it has been easy to keep up-to-date with what they’ve been doing,” said Dale. “As an artist myself, Nucleus has been a constant source of inspiration and education that has been pivotal for my own development.” Currently, Dale is wrapping up a two-year freelance illustration project for “The Bible App for Kids,” and interactive, animated storybook for mobile devices. “It’s an interesting time period,” Dale wrote. “I’m in my mid-thirties now and starting to make real progress on some goals and dreams I’ve had for years.” His portfolio can be found at www. iandale.net. 73
DEMOLITION DAY AT THE EDWARDS ATLANTIC BY NATHAN SOLIS
Edwards Atlantic Cinemas | Photos by Nathan Solis
The Alhambra Theater, circa 1939
Recalling the end of a childhood favorite, now reconstructed as the Community Development Commission Housing Authority. Soon the parking structure will be the only remnant of Alhambra’s oldest movie theater. The Edwards Palace on Atlantic is scheduled to be demolished to make way for a new Los Angeles County building. With it will go one of Los Angeles’ most historic movie theater sites which arrived in the city at a time when an organist accompanied silent movies, and later reinvented itself as one of the first multiplexes. James Edwards III, at the tender age of 23, bought the theater on Atlantic Boulevard in 1939 for just $400, according to a 1991 San Gabriel Valley Tribune article. Despite his young age, he already owned several other theaters in the Monterey 74
Park area that he operated with his wife Bernice. The Great Depression did not stop the theaters from thriving: It was Hollywood’s Golden Age, when movies with sound were first becoming popular. Edwards eventually purchased the property next door to the Alhambra theater and converted it to a second auditorium — turning the theater into one of the first multiplexes in the area. “Everyone since who says they invented (the multiplex) is wrong,” Edwards told the Los Angeles Times in a 1988 article. The second screen was initially referred to as the annex — with an unassuming entrance opposite
the concession stand — until the 1960s when it was renamed the Gold Cinema. In the 1970s the two theaters were combined to become The Alhambra Twin Cinemas. Tragedy struck when the Whittier Narrows earthquake damaged the building beyond repair on October 1, 1987. Three years later, at the same place where the Twin first stood, Edwards built the Atlantic Palace, making it the flagship of his more than 425 screens in Southern California at the time. Neon lights, gold columns and large red curtains in the cinemas were the hallmarks of the movie watching experience at Edwards. But when Edwards died in 1997 at the age of 90, the success of his theaters went with him. Three years later Edwards Cinemas filed for bankruptcy, after his sons rapidly expanded the chain, according to a 2000 Daily News article. The Regal Entertainment Group, headquartered in Knoxville, Tennessee, acquired Edwards Cinemas and the Atlantic Palace. While most Edwards Theaters changed their names, the flagship theater on Atlantic was allowed to retain its name. The Edwards Cinemas long run ended this year when the building was sold to the County. In February, the staff at the theater were reduced to a skeleton crew and the price of admission was dropped to $3. By July the gold columns and bright red marquee of the Atlantic Palace were all that remained, as the remnants of the building rattled and shook with each hit from a bulldozer. For 72 years Alhambra was hope to a theater with the Edwards name which resulted in countless memories. I will never forget waiting in line to watch Batman Returns. There is 6-year-old me, standing next to my father, both of us covered in Batman stickers that an usher gave us when we got our tickets. 2.28.11 - 7.14.11
Nathan Solis, a freelance reporter, now writes for The Eastsider. His story was one of Alhambra Source’s most commented stories, with dozens of residents sharing memories of attending films there. The site of the theater— Main Street and Atlantic Boulevard—is now home to the Community Development Commission Housing Authority (CDC) with a staff of more than 500.
COMMENTS POSTED ON 8.7.2011 BY BILL
“I drove back to the Edward 10 site and just stood on the sidewalk. So many memories there, so much joy, so much adventure, and so much popcorn and candy. I loved that place. It was a part of me.” POSTED ON 3.11.2011 BY CHUEY ELIZONDO
“1954/55 I saw the original Frankenstien, got so scared ran up the aisle out to the lobby... looking to see if he was catching up with me. Ran into a woman and her kids and popcorn and soda went all over.”
ALHAMBRA “HOODLUMS” TRANSFORM CAR PARTS INTO ART BY SARAH GREAR
At the Alhambra Art Walk | Photos by Leonard X Oxford
Alhambra auto body painters turn spare car parts into canvases, creating pieces of art on hoods, doors, fenders and trunks. The “Hoodlums” started as an experiment. Alhambra auto body painter Gabriel Mejia gave a few spare car hoods to some artist friends, curious if they could use them as a canvas. What came back were diverse works of art, and something Mejia had never seen before. “I was blown away by the artwork they brought back — each artist had put their heart into what 76
they painted,” Mejia, a 27-year-old Alhambra native, said. Instead of the traditional airbrushing, the painters used acrylic and oils. Mejia sprayed a clear coat on the hoods to preserve the paint before placing them back on a car or on a wall. When Mejia’s boss, Carmelita Haltom, saw Mejia loading the hoods on a truck with his friend photographer
Wesley Frias, she asked, jokingly, “Hey, what are you hoodlums up to?” The name stuck. The “Hoodlums” are made up of Mejia and Frias, along with eight graffiti, abstract and traditional artists from Downtown or East Los Angeles. After collecting more pieces, Mejia and Frias began to organize shows to feature the art, taking the hoods to a fashion show in Jennifer Lopez’s Los Angeles studio off of Slauson Avenue, and participating in the Downtown LA Art Walk on the second Thursday of the month. Their colorfully painted hoods, doors, fenders, and trunks - with images of creatures, poetry, and Dia de los Muertos faces - leaned against the fountains on the corner of Garfield Avenue and Main Street at Alhambra’s first Art Walk in May. The Art Walk was the first time the hoods had been seen in Alhambra.
I was blown away by the artwork they brought back — each artist had put their heart into what they painted. Although he has yet to sell a hood, Mejia is confident he’s onto something that will find the right buyer. While he admits he doesn’t know a lot about art, after spending nine years working in body shops he definitely knows how to work on cars. And he believes the more art on the hood, the better. “If you’re an artist, I would love to see your work,” he said. “Give you a car part, and you can do what you do.”
Not your average car hoods
Gabriel Mejia, who now works at the Wondries Family Collision Center, said that the Hoodlums have expanded their horizons: “We’ve started doing more doors and fenders.” He and the other members are thinking about hosting an “immersive” car art event this summer, which will also feature live bands and a display of classic cars. As for Sarah Grear, since the article’s publication she has written for the Alhambra Chamber’s newspaper, spoken at Social Media Week Los Angeles, contributed to Los Angeles Fashion, a National Public Radio ad campaign, and the Open Places Travel Blog. She also hosts online writing classes on her website, sarahgrear.com. 77
FORGET WEST HOLLYWOOD Choosing Alhambra as a young, gay Asian couple BY INTHAVA BOUNPRASEUTH
Inthava and Mark in front of their Alhambra apartment | Photos courtesy of Inthava Bounrapseuth
The San Gabriel Valley may be more conservative — and less gay friendly— than West Hollywood or Silver Lake, but Inthava and his partner wanted a suburban environment. Mark and I have officially lived together as a gay couple in Alhambra for one year. The San Gabriel Valley may be more conservative — and less friendly to homosexuals — than West Hollywood or Silver Lake, but it’s a suburban environment that we value. Like any other family in our community, we want quiet and safe streets, good schools and neighbors we know and to whom we can relate. We also appreciate that living here is worlds apart from what it would be if we had remained in the countries in which we were born. Mark is eth78
nically Chinese, but grew up in the Philippines; I have Lao and Thai roots. In these countries gay people face more discrimination than here. Although Alhambra is composed of many immigrants from Asian and Hispanic cultures and their children, we still feel very at home due in part to their assimilation into mainstream American culture, which increasingly includes gay rights. Still, Mark and I cross the line between Asian modesty and American liberalism when we show affection in public. Just the other day we stepped out of the Rite Aid on Main Street, looked at each
certain extent, we’ve adopted a degree of individuality and freedom.
Inthava as a child (far left)
other, and spontaneously kissed. We didn’t check behind us to make sure it was okay. The man waiting in his car didn’t seem to notice, nor did the couple walking into the store. We feel a sense of invisibility here because although people see or sense that we are gay, they tend to literally turn the other cheek, which is a very Asian thing to do.
...although people see or sense that we are gay, they tend to literally turn the other cheek, which is a very Asian thing to do.
Mark and I were fortunate enough to have immigrated to the United States during this time when gay rights have come to the forefront. We both have participated in activism and realize there is still much left to fight for. Ultimately, though, our choice to live here in Alhambra has little to do with our sexuality. Mark grew up here, so it was a bit of a homecoming for him. Streets are familiar to him and some of his high school friends still live a few blocks away. It’s been a bit of a homecoming for me as well: Mark and I are starting a new life together. And perhaps, one day, our very own children will call Alhambra home as well. 3.1.2011
Since the publication of this story, gay marriage became legal in California and Inthava and Mark got married. Inthava wrote to us saying that they moved to Ontario to be with his parents, “which has made it much easier for us, since we’re both in school at this time.” Inthava earned his master’s in clinical psychology at Antioch University, and is now pursuing a doctoral in clinical psychology at the Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpenteria. Mark is working towards a Masters of Science in Higher Education at Cal State Fullerton. “Can’t really complain at this time,” Inthava wrote. “We’re both doing what we want to do. We’re healthy and we’re happy.”
Indeed, I think one root may be the Asian ideals of modesty and saving face. Growing up, my parents always reminded us to make sure we kept our noses in our books and not in other people’s business. Our own family affairs were and still are the only business that really matters. Another reason why I feel Alhambra residents look the other way is because they tend to want to save face. So when we kiss in public, and others look away, I almost feel as though they are trying to spare us any embarrassment by staring—not that we’re embarrassed though. How thoughtful, right? But I doubt that Mark and I would ever feel so at liberty to kiss each other in public in the countries in which we were born. Homosexuality is not punishable by law in the Philippines, China, Laos or Thailand, but gay rights and equality are lacking. If we were to live in rural Laos or China, family pressure for us to marry women and have children would be far greater. Because we have more opportunities in the United States, and because we have assimilated to the American culture to a 79
DON’T SHOWER — BUT DO EAT LOTS OF PIG KNUCKLES AND PAPAYA FISH SOUP BY KARIN MAK
Pigs knuckle, ginger, and egg stew | Photo by Tina Zeng
Following special rituals during a month of rest after giving birth can have profound effects on the mother’s health, according to Cantonese tradition. But Karin Mak is not sure they are for her. My first-born child is due tomorrow. He will be the first grandchild on both sides of the family. So perhaps it’s not surprising that for months my partner and I have been bombarded with advice on pre-natal health, parenting approaches, diapering, and all the stuff to buy. But what really caught me off guard was when my well-meaning mother recently warned me that my health would be forever compromised if during the month after the birth I left the house; took a shower; or failed to drink certain dishes, in particular one made with pigs knuckle, ginger, and eggs. 80
She explained that in many Chinese cultures the post-partum period is considered crucial for the mother to properly recover from the birth and elaborate rituals are followed. For the Cantonese, in particular, the choe yuet or “resting month,” has profound effects on the mother’s health for the rest of her life. This was all new to me. So my mother called my aunt in Hong Kong, who asked my cousin Danielle to e-mail me a list of the practices. She sent me a long list of what to do – and not do:
• Refrain from taking a shower or bath for a month. Use only water boiled with the skin of ginger to shower, if you really have to. • Try not to shampoo your hair for the first week at least. Again use ginger water to shampoo if you really have to. Blow dry hair immediately. • After giving birth, drink roasted rice water instead of plain water for several days. • Drink the roasted rice tea or boiled water. Do not drink straight from the tap. • Keep warm all the time. Danielle also gave me a list of things to eat, and not eat. Here is a selection: • Eat a dish made from pig’s knuckle, ginger, sweet black vinegar, and eggs to aid the recovery. Cook the pig knuckle ginger vinegar (at least) one month before the arrival of the baby. (Keep the ginger skin for the shower. Dry the ginger skin and store in bags.) • Do NOT eat pig livers or pigeons, or drink soups made from these ingredients, as they will stop the production of milk. • Any kind of fish soups or papaya fish soup will help the production of the milk. For the most part, the list left me quite overwhelmed (except for avoiding pig livers and pigeons). No showering for one month? Or leaving home? My mother also told me about the importance of drinking certain nutritional soups, which I, of course, did not know how to make. It was difficult for me to figure out how much I should follow and respect these traditions passed on from my mother, or should I act more “American” and ignore the “traditional wisdom?” A Taiwanese friend of mine compromised with her mother and agreed not to leave the house for two weeks. But I was told that Danielle’s sister Cressida in Hong Kong regrets not taking the period seriously and now is suffering from various health problems. Learning about the choe yuet was quite scary, particularly in my last month of pregnancy when I dealing with fear of how my life would change after the birth, and if I would regain the body I once knew.
tum period. I was right. I discovered three women, all working out of employment agencies, who offered services to help conduct these practices.
For the Cantonese, in particular, the choe yuet or “resting month,” has profound effects on the mother’s health for the rest of her life.
Finding their contacts was as far as I got. I realized that following choe yuet by the book wasn’t for me. I couldn’t do all the practices – and, despite Cressida’s experiences – didn’t believe I needed to. After all, access to nutritional food and modern amenities such as running hot water that most likely were not available when these customs were established. I will be open-minded and do what I can from the list, but not follow it blindly. And the pig knuckle in ginger vinegar is waiting in the fridge. 12.1.2010
After the birth of her healthy baby boy, Karin Mak tried not showering, but gave up after a few days. She wrote that she “did enjoy eating the vinegar egg dish.” She has since had another child, and wrote she “did not get to practice any traditional Chinese post-partum practices after his birth, mostly due to the needs of taking care of two children instead of one.” Mak works at the Asian American Resource Center at Pomona College and also teaches the class “Asian Americans and Social Documentation” at Harvey Mudd College in the Department of Asian American Studies as an adjunct assistant professor. While she did not engage in most of the choe yuet with her children, she felt “ fortunate to connect with my roots and contemplate the approaches to post-partum care when I was pregnant with my first child.”
Danielle, who has maintained her youth and vitality, hired a woman who specialized in post-partum care to help take care of her and her baby and prepare the specific foods important to recovery. Living in Alhambra where about a third of the population has Chinese ancestry, I had a feeling there would be local resources about the postpar81
SHAVE AND A HAIRCUT, WITH A NEW TWIST BY ALFRED DICIOCO
Aundrea Hofmann cuts Thomas Luong’s hair | Photo by Daniela Gerson
For more than 50 years, Main Street Barbers — formerly Merchain’s Haircutting — has been offering traditional men’s barbershop services, including warm towel service after a cut and an old-fashioned razor blade shave. While the barbers were busy prepping for my first cut, I asked a man the regulars know as “Big Mike” if he was getting a haircut. “I’ve already been here twice this week,” Big Mike said. “I’m just here to read the newspaper.” Big Mike is one of many regular customers who visit Alhambra’s Main Street Barbers for more than just a fresh ‘do. For more than 50 years, the shop — formerly Merchain’s Haircutting — has been offering traditional men’s barbershop services, including warm towel service after a cut and an old-fashioned razor blade shave. 82
Last year, long-time employee Irene Dominguez took over ownership, and she has been making some changes. Among the most significant was the name. As the new owner, Dominguez wanted to preserve the traditional vibe of the shop while making it her own. “We knew it was going to be different, but we also have four generations of loyal customers who come anyway,” Dominguez said while showing me around the shop. “So it didn’t matter if we changed our name or not.” Indeed, on a recent visit regulars were either waiting for a haircut or stopping by just to say hello to the employees and exchange hugs like long-time friends.
Paul Merchain cutting hair | Photo courtesy of Irene Dominguez
A photo of the Merchain brothers hangs on the wall at Main Street Barbers
Former owner Paul Merchain maintains a chair in the corner, around which pictures and memorabilia from his service in the Korean and Vietnam wars hang on the walls. Now in his 70s, Paul still works at the shop about twice a week.
While new customers are discovering the old shop, regulars like Big Mike like to hang out there even on days they don’t need a haircut. Big Mike compared the shop to a certain bar where everybody knows your name: “This place is just like Cheers.”
As a teenager, Paul shined shoes before learning how to cut hair at his brother Ray’s barbershop. The Merchain brothers eventually ran the business together until Ray passed away in December 2011. Paul sold the barbershop to Dominguez, a hairstylist raised in East LA who has been working with the Merchains for 19 years. In addition to changing the name, Dominguez has also made an effort to reach out to new customers via social media. Stylist Aundrea Hoffman created a profile for the barbershop on the popular customer-driven website Yelp, where users create reviews and rate local business. The shop has a perfect five-star rating.
We knew it was going to be different, but we also have four generations of loyal customers who come anyway.
1336 West Main Street Alhambra, CA 11.12.12
Former owner Paul Merchain passed away a year after the article’s publication. He had been cutting hair in Alhambra for more than half a century. Irene Dominguez, who took over at Main Street Barbers, said that Merchain was a “ fabulous barber” and that “he was like a brother to me.” Describing the changes that Main Street Barbers has seen over the past few years, barber Aundrea Hoffman said that the shop has gotten more Asian customers lately. “Which is what Alhambra is. It’s a big melting pot.” Alfred Dicioco says he still visits Main Street Barbers.
“We haven’t advertised our barbershop for 26 years until now,” Hoffman said. “Even on a slow day, at least one or two people come by and say that they found out about us on Yelp.” 83
A ‘MOVING MEDITATION’ Tai chi mornings at Alhambra Park BY JOE SOONG
Tai chi in Alhambra Park | Photo by Daniela Gerson
Tai chi, an increasingly popular Chinese form of exercise, is a sport you can find practiced in almost every park in Alhambra if you look at the right hour. The scene reminded me of a kung fu movie at half speed. On a chilly winter morning in Alhambra Park, Michael Chan’s left arm slowly extended up and outward in a blocking motion to deflect an imaginary fist, followed by an equally deliberate front leg kick directed toward an invisible opponent. Five students imitated his motions. Their graceful, rhythmic movements belied their age, which I would guess ranged from late 50s to mid 70s. But it wasn’t kung fu, karate, or any other fighting style. It was tai chi, an increasingly popular Chinese form of exercise — and a sport you can find in almost every park in Alhambra if you look at the right hour. 84
Bespectacled and wearing a white beret with a light blue jacket and dark sweatpants, Chan, 75, has been a constant presence in front of the Alhambra Park band shell every morning from 7:15am until 9:00am, seven days a week — except during inclement weather. “No tai chi in the rain,” said Chan. Chan was born in Calcutta, India, in 1935 to Chinese parents. His parents, like many of their peers, had relocated to India for employment opportunities. However, the increasingly hostile relations between the two countries as a result of the Sino-India War in 1962 caused his family to return to China. In 1978, Chan left Hong Kong
for Los Angeles, where he lived in an apartment, before moving to Alhambra because he liked the weather and his new home would be near a park.
No tai chi in the rain.
Chan, who looks at least 10 years younger than his age, began practicing tai chi, which means “supreme ultimate,” as a result of an unfortunate circumstance. He was a printing press mechanic at the old Los Angeles Herald Examiner, but lost his job in 1989 when the paper closed. Unemployed at 55, he found he suddenly had time on his hands. Because he had seen the numerous groups in the nearby park and always wanted to learn, Chan thought tai chi would help him keep active, decided to give it a try and found he enjoyed it. As an added benefit, he also likes the social interaction of the tai chi group. Tai chi, which has been described as “moving meditation,” originated in China and its origins can be traced back as far as 2,500 years. Many movements were originally developed for defensive purposes and derived from the martial arts. More recently, tai chi has been widely adopted in Western countries. Per the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, more than two million U.S. adults had practiced tai chi in the past 12 months. Mainstream Western medicine has also been taking increasing notice of tai chi. According to the Mayo Clinic, there is some evidence that tai chi has therapeutic benefits. Among them are a reduction in anxiety and depression, improved balance and strength, and lower blood pressure levels. Chan and his students are convinced: “Because of tai chi, I have good health and a few minor sicknesses,” he said. When the prior teacher departed about two years ago, Chan, as the most experienced remaining member, became the de facto instructor, which is how the teaching responsibilities have been inherited through the years. The tai chi routines, which are called “forms,” are composed of specific movements and vary in difficulty. Forms can take from four to eight minutes to complete. In choosing each routine, Chan gauges the skill level of those who show up that day and makes his selec-
Michael Chan practicing with a peer | Photo by Nathan Solis
tions accordingly. If more beginners are present, then more basic forms are practiced. However, if the attendees are more experienced, Chan can utilize more difficult selections. During the first hour, the routines are usually performed to recorded music. A woman who attends regularly brings a portable radio to play her tai chi cassette tapes, which can be purchased at most Chinese bookstores, and stays until about 8 am. Afterwards, they practice silently, with Chan’s soft spoken directions and questions about the routine as the only sounds. On occasion, he may teach the sword or the fan during the last portion of the session. According to Chan, there are always newcomers who want to learn tai chi, particularly in summer months when the weather is warmer. Although some have stayed as long as seven years, Chan said, “Some stay a few months, most stay one or two years, then they leave to practice themselves.” With one notable exception: his wife doesn’t like tai chi so she stays at home. 10.20.2010
Joe Soong revisited the park recently to see if Michael Chan, now 80, was still doing his routine. “He hasn’t stopped his tai-chi. The only interruption was when he was sick for a year and couldn’t participate,” Soong wrote in an email. Chan, who used to go to Alhambra Park every day, now goes six days a week, leaving Sundays open for church. Reflecting on the article, Soong said that the story expanded his notion of what exercise was. “I can’t run as fast or as far as I used to. In writing the story, it was encouraging to see that there is a pleasant option for the rest of us when we won’t quite be able to ‘Just Do It’ anymore.” 85
ENLISTING TO ESCAPE INTERNMENT An Alhambra veteran’s story BY CONNIE HO
Jimmy Makino wears his 442nd Regional Combat Team cap | Photos by Felix Cervantes
Jimmy Makino was a young man when he was forced to enter an internment camp in 1942. Desperate to escape, the Alhambra High alum volunteered for the same army that was keeping him there. Jimmy Makino sat with other Japanese Americans at the Gila River Relocation Center in Arizona, an internment camp. The Alhambra High School graduate raised his hand. “I’m outta here,” Makino said to the astonishment of the War Relocation Authority officers. “I’m volunteering for the army of the United States of America.’” This is how Makino, now 92, begins the story of how he joined the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the most decorated fighting unit for its size and length of service in the history of the US Military. More than seven decades later, Makino sits in the living room of his San Gabriel home surrounded by medals, black and white photos, and old Alhambra High yearbooks, and tells me 86
he’s one of the last living members of the 442nd in the San Gabriel Valley. The World War II unit was composed almost entirely of Japanese Americans, and they fought with the motto “Go For Broke,” a gambling term for risking it all. Makino was born in 1921 in Los Angeles and grew up in San Gabriel with his parents and three older sisters. His parents emigrated from Japan years before he was born for better economic opportunities. “This was the place to come to, the United States of America,” Makino says. He attended Alhambra High School, playing on the junior varsity football team — then called Team B — and loved woodshop class. But the family’s destiny changed in 1942. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government ordered
itary, he did see stark black and white segregation. “This is one of the first things that hit me in the face. Oh boy, I got to go to the bathroom. Where do I go? Black or white?” Makino says. “Of course we didn’t go to the black, so we went to the white bathrooms.”
Makino’s Congressional Gold Medal
Americans of Japanese descent in parts of the western United States relocated to internment camps. Makino was one of the 120,000 Japanese Americans forced to leave their homes. “The War Relocation Authority were the big guns and whatever they said goes,” Makino says. “There was a reading of what would happen to us and that’s exactly the way it went.” Makino’s football, a gift from one of the coaches at Alhambra High, was the only possession he brought with him to the relocation center. Conditions in the camp were sparse at best. Showers were in one big room with 10 showerheads. The restrooms were separated, male and female, but with no partitions in between the toilets. Residents were given three basic meals a day. “Whatever they had in the kitchen, whatever the cooks could make, they did the best they could,” Makino says. “That’s what they fed us and that’s what we survived on.”
Soon Makino was fighting in the war, traveling to Europe and North Africa in the 2nd Battalion of the 442nd. He fought alongside the highly decorated 100th Battalion, known as the Purple Heart Battalion, a nickname that stemmed from their unit receiving over 4,000 purple hearts. Makino received a bronze star and combat infantry badge for his bravery after a leg injury in Italy. “They were throwing mortars and they threw a big rock and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ This rock was as big as a Volkswagen,” Makino says. “And here comes the mortar shells, one hit me on the right lower leg and I thought to myself, ‘It’s warm. Gosh, warm, what warm, how can that be?’ It was my own blood running down my calf into my shoe.” Makino returned to San Gabriel after the war ended in 1945, got married two years later, and went on to have a career with a telephone company. He and his wife Masayo, parents to daughter Holly, have lived in the city for over 60 years. These days, Makino volunteers with the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles to keep his story alive, especially with younger generations. “All of this is a part of history,” Makino says. “If any of what we’re talking about gets written down in paper form, and if they get to read it, I hope they understand.” 8.18.2013
Looking to make money and fill time, Makino found a job in the post office that paid $17 a month. “Daily, it was up to you to occupy yourself,” Makino says. “We were going nowhere and that was an all-day job.” Makino became so desperate to leave the internment camp that he was willing to fight for the government who put him there. “That was my way of getting out,” Makino says. He enlisted in the U.S. Army and was sent to Camp Shelby in Mississippi to train with other members of the 442nd, many originally from Hawaii. While Makino did not find much discrimination against Japanese Americans in the mil-
Alhambra resident Nahan Gluck, a veteran who used to volunteer at the Japanese American Museum with Jimmy Makino, told the source that Makino is now living at Monta Vista Grove assisted living. “Many times, the teachers would ask the kids to write about what they remember from their museum trip, and a lot of them would mention Jimmy,” said Gluck. Since writing this article, Connie Ho has contributed to KCET, Laguna Beach Magazine, Newport Beach Magazine, and Westways magazine. She has also assisted as a web manager for the Journalism and Women Symposium. Looking back at her days at the Source, Ho said that it had “been a great learning experience in terms of covering communities of color.” 87
WONG FU & FUNG BROS SGV YouTube sensations
Wong Fu Productions: On set at the El Monte DMV for Wong Fu’s feature length film | Photo by Lucy Truong
The Fung Brothers: On a promotional shoot | Photo courtesy of the Fung Brothers
These creative, young entrepreneurs created a new way to make a living with stories about Asian American life broadcast on YouTube. For many people outside of the San Gabriel Valley, their introduction to the “626,” the local area code, comes through YouTube. This is in large part thanks to Wong Fu Productions and the 88
Fung Brothers, video producers who use the SGV as a prominent backdrop in their viral hits. Both parties sat down with us to talk about how the 626 has influenced both their work and frame of mind.
Wong Fu Productions
A trio of friends at University of California, San Diego started shooting videos for kicks in 2003. YouTube wasn’t in existence yet. The term “viral hit” had not yet been coined. Three years later they moved their business to Alhambra and began to build a web video brand that has grown to more than 2.3 million subscribers on YouTube. They released their first feature length film in April. Wong Fu Productions founders Philip Wang, Wesley Chan, and Ted Fu are originally from the Bay Area. But it is the San Gabriel Valley that they often capture in their impressive portfolio of video sensations—most of which feature Asian Americans in roles rarely, if ever, seen in mainstream media.
Four years after Wong Fu landed in Alhambra, two brothers from Seattle created a minor internet viral sensation in 2010 when their hip hop ode to San Gabriel Valley eats, “JJ Hong Kong Cafe,” got more than 50,000 views. At the time, Andrew Fung told the Los Angeles Times food blog, “The song doesn’t do the SGV complete justice because there are tons of places missing, but it’s safe to say I will be coming back very very soon.”
Why did you choose to move to the San Gabriel Valley as opposed to another place like Hollywood? Wesley: After we graduated we never went back home. Los Angeles is so big that finding out where to situate ourselves was tough. Phil had been to the San Gabriel Valley and he suggested the 626 area because it was a nice transition. It’s not like diving into Hollywood or the West Side. It’s a little more modest. It has all the resources we need and there’s a sense of familiarity because of the Asian American demographic here. The lifestyle is very nice. The food is good—it’s affordable. There are a lot of businesses and locations that we’ve used for our productions. We shot a good amount at Nucleus and we’re friends with Ben, the owner there. Philip: We’ve also done a lot of events at the local high schools. Alhambra High School was one of the first high schools that we went to. We’ve been to Mark Keppel. We’ve had something at San Gabriel. We know there are a lot of kids out here who watch YouTube and are very proud to see us shoot around the area. We’re really grateful for the young people supporting us. What’s attractive about YouTube? As Wong Fu grows do you see yourself continue producing for YouTube? Philip: I think YouTube is a great medium for independent artists and creators to share their work because they’re in full control of what they want to make and how they want to release it. We’ve been doing this for many years, but in the past few it’s been harder to stand out because so many people are using it now. We definitely keep our mind open to other opportunities. We all see YouTube as a great way to stay connected with the fans but we’re using it as a tool, as a community to grow something bigger.
Andrew kept his word — he and his brother David are proud new residents of the San Gabriel Valley. And this time their more extensive tribute to local restaurants, “626” named after the area’s zip code, has gotten nearly 200,000 hits. You both grew up in Seattle. How did you end up making a video about the SGV? David: Growing up we were huge hip-hop heads/ nerds and we would always see rappers making songs repping Brooklyn, Chicago, LA, wherever they were from. It’s basically a glorification of where you’re from or the life you live. As kids we would come visit our cousin in Monterey Park and experience this unique Asian American fusion lifestyle. After we graduated from college we came down and spent a few months with him, living the SGV lifestyle (boba shops, cafes, public parks, etc.) and decided to make the move down to SoCal. Coming from Seattle, life in the 626 seemed so unique and special to us because we didn’t grow up around it. So we just wanted to make an anthem/ ode to the lifestyle that we love and we know so many others do as well. What did you want to show with this video? David: We wanted to show how cool and special the 626 can be, especially for food. It’s the most densely Asian part of the US (and specifically Chinese) so I think the culture in the 626 is really unique and incredible. Hopefully local people got a visual/audio representation of how cool and distinct where they live really is, and for those outside the 626 to see how cool it is as well. 3.14.12 / ESMEÉ XAVIER
1.29.15 / KYLE GARCIA
FINDING FAITH The City of Alhambra is home to roughly 50 houses of worship. They reflect the diversity of the city, and also how institutions have needed to adapt to shifting demographics. Jesse Chang, a faith-based organizer, went in and spoke to leaders at varied houses of worship. In these excerpts, he takes readers behind closed doors across the city â&#x20AC;&#x201D; from a Serbian Orthodox cathedral that serves the region, to a Vietnamese Chinese association started by refugee boat people, to one of the cityâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s older churches where there are now congregants who speak 27 different languages.
MANDARIN BAPTIST CHURCH Not just for Chinese worshippers
Mandarin Baptist Church | Photos by Nathan Solis
Pastor Alan Chan
The Mandarin Baptist Church of Los Angeles— the largest Protestant congregation in Alhambra—started in 1961 as a prayer meeting in a Hollywood home and now attracts 1,700 worshippers each Sunday morning. Despite the name, the church is not just for Chinese faithful. Its congregants are black, white, Latino and from diverse Asian backgrounds. Pastor Alan Chan shared the congregation’s story.
How did the church end up in Alhambra?
What was the reason for specifically having the word “Mandarin” in the church’s name? Pastor Alan Chan: Many Chinese churches at the time were Cantonese speaking, so the founders felt a great need to reach out to the Mandarin-speaking population, most of who had roots in mainland China and came to the United States via Taiwan and Hong Kong. We were one of the first churches to focus primarily on the Mandarin-speaking population and we continue to do so. We also added a Cantonese Sunday service in 1983. English Sunday service and fellowship were started the next year after the church was founded to minister to the younger generation.
The first meeting place was at First Southern Baptist North Hollywood. Later they moved to the Silver Lake area because at the time there were many Chinese immigrants in those neighborhoods just west of Chinatown. When the congregation outgrew that space in the early 80s, it was the perfect time for the church to move out of the Silver Lake district to follow the shifting immigration pattern of Chinese to the San Gabriel Valley
What changes have you seen in the evolving Chinese immigrant landscape over the years? While those coming directly from mainland China have been the driving force of growth of the Chinese congregations in the last three to four years, our English-dominant young adults have increased quite a bit and many come back after college. But we also get some from Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam. The majority of our congregation is ethnically Chinese who live in the San Gabriel Valley. 11.28.11 / JESSE CHANG
110 West Woodward Avenue Alhambra, CA
AMERICAN HAI NINH COMMUNITY ASSOCIATION Buddhist faith and Vietnamese Chinese fellowship
Guang Yin, a Buddhist goddess of mercy | Photos by Nathan Solis
Administrator Peter Hui next to the prayer boxes used by his congregation
Just west of the heart of Main Street is the American Hai Ninh Community Association. Visitors are met with the distinct smell of incense that pervades the space. Peter Hui, the organization administrator, told how he connected with the association as a refugee and its role as a place of Buddhist worship and community meeting center.
How did you get connected to the association?
What led to the forming of the association? Peter Hui: The association started from a group of Vietnamese Chinese who came from Hai Ninh province in Vietnam after the Communist take over in 1975. Our founding leader, Wong Yu Sheng, was a general in the South Vietnamese army. We had our first location downtown in 1991, and then moved to Alhambra in 1996. We are a non-profit organization that serves the immigrant community as well as a place to continue Chinese cultural traditions. We also give money and send people to help with service projects back in Asia, like the past Sichuan earthquake and floods in Taiwan.
I was one of the first boat refugees from Vietnam in 1975. We escaped by a small boat and connected to a larger boat bound for Malaysia. We ended up staying in Malaysia for a few years before we were able to immigrate to LA in 1986.
What sorts of activities are done here at the association? Twice a month during the first and 15th of the lunar calendar we have a vegetarian meal for the community. The association is always open for individuals to pray to Guang Yin (the Buddhist goddess of mercy) and Tien Hou (the goddess of fishermen). Every year, we have several festivals including a lantern festival, Lunar New Year festival, and a May festival where we remember our founding leader. 6.26.2012 / JESSE CHANG
501 West Main Street Alhambra, CA
SAINT STEVEN’S SERBIAN ORTHODOX CATHEDRAL A Southern California center for the Balkan community
Saint Steven’s Serbian Orthodox Cathedral | Photos by Nathan Solis
Looming over Fremont Avenue are the Byzantine gold domes of Saint Steven’s Serbian Orthodox Cathedral, where hundreds worship each Sunday from all around the Southland. Father Nicholas Ceko, a son of immigrants who fled the Communists after World War II, shared why a Serbian Orthodox cathedral was constructed in Alhambra, and why Christmas is in January.
The Serbian population of Alhambra is officially almost non-existent. How did a Serbian Orthodox cathedral end up here? Father Nicholas Ceko: Orthodox Serbs from the Balkans came to America starting in the middle of the 19th century. During World War II, waves of people came to the United States and it was at this time that the first Orthodox Church in Los Angeles, Saint Sava Parish, was no longer able to handle their growing demands. They bought the land for the new church in Alhambra in 1948.
January 7 is the calendar day your church observes Christmas instead of December 25. Why is that? We actually do celebrate Christmas on December 25, but we use the Julian Calendar. The “New Style” Julian Calendar, popularly called the Gregorian Calendar is used not only as our civil calendar, but also by the Church in the West. For other Orthodox like the Serbian and Russian Orthodox, we still use the “Old Style” Julian Calendar. 1.2.12 / JESSE CHANG
1621 West Garvey Avenue Alhambra, CA
Church membership includes over 500 families, some of them third-generation Serbian-Americans. It has broadened over the years to include other ethnicities and many converts from other faiths. Members commute from as far north as Ventura south to San Clemente.
ST. THERESE CATHOLIC CHURCH Alhambra’s Latin service
Deacon Joe and Lorraine Mizersky | Photo by Jesse Chang
Fr. Philip Sullivan at the church’s family festival | Photo by Nathan Solis
With more than 1400 registered families, St. Therese Catholic Church is thriving with a very diverse congregation. But the only service other than in English is in Latin. As a deacon of the church, Joseph Mizerski, “Deacon Joe,” and his wife Lorraine have served at St. Therese Catholic Church for the past 11 years. Before that, they’d faithfully attended the church for decades—Joe has been with St. Therese for 46 years, and Lorraine for 70. They explained why they have services in Latin, and why there are monks instead of priests.
Yes, explain why you have a Latin service!
You have witnessed some real changes in this church and community over the years. Can you describe some of those changes? Joseph and Lorraine Mizerski: This used to be the neighborhood church; people would walk to this church and send their kids to school here too. Back then it was a mostly well-to-do Anglo congregation, but nowadays it’s diverse both socio-economically and ethnically—Anglo, Filipino, Chinese, Latino, Vietnamese. There’s been a recent influx of young families, some connected to the school, but it’s a good mix of generations. We have 1400 registered families, with a few thousand who attend our five Masses on the weekends. However, unlike All Souls (on Main Street) which has a Spanish service and St. Thomas Aquinas (in Monterey Park) which has a Chinese service, all our services are in English, except with the one Latin service. 94
There are still some who are nostalgic for the past,* and so we still have a well-attended Latin Rite service where we attract people from all over our region, since we’re one of the few Catholic churches who still offer this. *Vatican 2 in 1965 was the official endorsement from the Roman Catholic Church that services could be done in the vernacular instead of Latin. The vernacular is the overwhelming practice now within the Roman Catholic Church.
Is there a difference of having monks instead of regular priests at St. Therese? The monks are contemplatives, so there are regular times when they retreat and meditate as part of their order. They always wear their brown monastic robes too. Because they take a vow of poverty, they cannot own anything, unlike regular priests. So if they have a car, it’s a car that belongs to their community rather than the individual monk. Stipends or honorariums they receive for services also go back to the community purse. 10.19.2012 / JESSE CHANG
1100 East Alhambra Road Alhambra, CA
FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH How a “maintenance church” became a thriving congregation
Pastor Leland Hamby | Photo by Nathan Solis
Inside First Baptist | Photo by Jesse Chang
First Baptist Church, entering its 129th year, is one of Alhambra’s oldest churches. Pastor Leland Hamby shared how the congregation went from being “a maintenance church” of aging Caucasian congregants to a thriving congregation with services in three languages and members from 37 countries. Hamby retired in May 2014.
so we know who we are, who we are serving, and who lives in our community.
What was First Baptist like when you arrived in 2001?
The wide diversity in our congregation can mean very different viewpoints. This requires us to talk a lot more, and find more creative solutions. Fortunately, I haven’t had to really do anything that was too far out for me. Having a diverse, multiethnic staff has definitely helped.
Pastor Leland Hamby: Back in the sixties, attendance peaked at 2,500 for an Easter service. But by the time I got here in 2001, church attendance was only at about 140, our average age was 78 and majority Caucasian.
How did you convince this “dying church” to change and grow? I told the church cabinet that if we wanted to grow, we basically needed to reach out to young families. Now our overall average attendance on a Sunday is a bit more than 450, and it reflects a wide diversity of groups: Asian, Hispanic — people from 37 countries speaking over 27 languages. Sunday Service is simultaneously translated (using our 120 headsets) into Spanish, Mandarin, the hearing impaired, and channel four is “on demand:” Korean, Tagalog, etc. While there is a still large contingent from Atherton Baptist Homes across the street, the average age has been reduced to the 40s. We regularly watch our demographics both in our congregation and in our community
How did you and your congregation handle so much change and diversity, which can often lead to tension, misunderstanding, and conflict?
But the many viewpoints has required a lot of listening and learning. You have to be willing to do things that are different from your own customs, and to be willing to be a part of their culture and customs. 6.2.11 / JESSE CHANG
101 South Atlantic Boulevard Alhambra, CA
TAKING A STAND One way we have heightened awareness amongst residents was a series of question and answer profiles with wide-ranging city leaders, excerpts of which are featured here. We also have kept a close watch on municipal developments, and contributors researched and reported on how these issues impacted them. Esmeé Xavier did that with her dog park story – an issue that, in terms of soliciting the residents’ passionate responses, probably comes in second only to supermarkets. Esmeé’s story, and subsequent polls, pushed the issue which has frequently appeared on City Council agendas since then, though a dog park is still elusive. One of the more meaningful intercultural exchanges was in the reporting for Michael Lawrence’s story “Is Alhambra Disappearing?” He came to a community contributor meeting determined to write a critical piece about how historic homes were being replaced with McMansions, many of them financed by Asian developers. A Chinese community contributor, Zaimung Hu, went with him to translate and check out the houses. Her first reaction was confusion. She could not understand why anyone would prefer an old house rather than a big, beautiful new one. Other issues covered include alternative transportation, housing for homeless, and immigrant integration. These stories all demonstrate ways in which residents, working with a professional editor, can combine perspective and reporting to impact local policy.
WILL ALHAMBRA DISAPPEAR? BY MICHAEL LAWRENCE
Illustration by Jee-Shaun Wang
Alhambra was ranked on a list that no city wants to be on: “500 Places to See Before They Disappear.” It’s one guide book in which no city wants to be listed: Alhambra is number 364 on Frommers’ list of “500 Places to See Before They Disappear.” The author, Holly Hughes, laments the loss of green space and a rich architectural heritage to new development. “With larger buildings occupying the same small lots, Alhambra has also lost a significant amount of green space in the past 20 years,” she writes in the 2009 edition of the book. “Despite pressure from some preservation activists, the town government has been slow to enact zoning, which might, for example, promote single-family housing, control add-ons, mandate landscaping, or limit population density.” I bought a home in Alhambra 25 years ago, because I fell in love with the older neighborhoods and the character homes from the 1920s and 1930s. But over the years I noticed that many of these beautiful homes were being destroyed and replaced or modified with oversized, tract house style structures. It made me sad to see the qualities that make Alhambra unique disappear. 98
As a result, I joined the Alhambra Preservation Group, where I have fought for the preservation of our historic homes and neighborhoods. For years we have watched as our city has dealt with mansionization, the construction of oversized houses in older neighborhoods that generally have small lots with single story homes. “Spec” builders often buy these homes, bulldoze the older home and build a much larger home to replace them. The mansionization of Alhambra, like other cities in the San Gabriel Valley, coincided with its transformation into a so-called “ethnoburb.” The term was coined by Wei Li, a professor of Pacific Asian Studies at Arizona State University, who has researched the Chinese community in the San Gabriel Valley. She defines it as a “suburban ethnic clusters of residential areas and business districts in large metropolitan areas.” In a 1999 article written for Journal of Asian American Studies she makes the connection between the changing populations and housing. “In upscale cities like Arcadia and San Marino, many new homes were
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ing homes in a way that detracts from the history that these neighborhoods represents. Although Alhambra adopted an anti-mansionization policy in the mid-1990s, the regulation was a weak one and its failures are much more visible than its successes. The current policy, unchanged since it was first written, allows new homes or additions to be up to 75 percent bigger than the median size of surrounding homes. This policy is flawed because the median size will always increase as each new home is added to the neighborhood.
A craftsman home being demolished | Photo by Michael Lawrence
built for wealthy Chinese that involved mansionization, i.e. the building of grand, mansion-like houses,” she writes. What happened in the 1990s in Arcadia and San Marino, is happening today in Alhambra. I’ve observed as the razing of older homes to build larger houses often causes conflict between longer-term residents and newer populations. At a January 3, 2011 Alhambra Planning Commission meeting, architect Kai Chan represented his Chinese-American clients in response to a coalition of neighbors and preservationists who objected to his proposal to tear down a 1936 Spanish style home on South Sierra Vista Street, replacing it with a two-story Mediterranean style “mansion” with a square footage of twice the existing home. I felt sympathy for the clients and also frustration that the current anti-mansionization policy was not more clearly defined, allowing the project to pass through the planning department and Design and Review process without more questions about compatibility to the neighborhood.
I was grateful for the Planning Commission’s clear and direct disapproval of the project; requesting a complete redesign that will be both smaller in scale and a better blend with the existing neighborhood. President Maria Murray, in summarizing the commissioners’ disapproval of the design said, “A lot of people have purchased homes in Alhambra because of the styles that Alhambra offers. They come to Alhambra because they like the neighborhoods. Living in the past is something many people like.” The gap between the desires of preservationists and newer immigrants is a complex issue that brings to focus the different cultural backgrounds and what brings value to a property. Should the older homes be torn down and replaced with something new or enhanced and preserved? The first option is much more appealing to some members of the Chinese community. This was made clear to me when I asked a Chinese contributor to The Alhambra Source to take a look at the mansions on 6th and Norwood and give me her opinion. She could not understand what was wrong with the houses and said: “ The homes were beautiful and much better than the small older closet homes.” 1.31.2011
In defense of his design, Mr. Chan argued, “There is always an argument between something new and preservation. For example in Paris you can see the art center, an ultra modern building right in the middle of the old neighborhood and there was a lot of controversy — people were shocked, but in the end that building became the most popular building in France. Allowing variety makes a building stand out and become more rich…I think in regards to history and Alhambra in the 21st century we do not live in the past. I want to represent the time now and that is what I believe in.” Adding a home that does not integrate into a historical neighborhood sets it apart from the exist-
These days Michael Lawrence spends much of his time working with Grassroots Alhambra, a non-profit community organization, to oppose the construction of 70 housing units in the Midwick Tract. He said that the group strives “to bring more transparency to our local government and involving community participation in the decisions made that affect our neighborhoods.” When asked if he feels that anything has changed since his 2011 article, he responded: “Sad to say that over the last four years much of the charm of the Alhambra I love has continued to disappear despite a growing opposition to the irresponsible overdevelopment.” 99
VALARIE GOMEZ Director of the San Gabriel Valley YMCA It seems like you’re always on the move. What’s your daily routine like? I started at 5:30 this morning. I set my alarm for 4:45. Today my first meeting was at 7 with [El Monte Councilman Juventino] “J” Gomez. Then at 8:30 I had another meeting with the United States Tennis Association because they want to bring the program here. Then at 9 I had a meeting with the president of the Alhambra Firefighter’s Association, which continually gives back to the Y. They’re going to be donating an archery area to our camp. And at 10 I was over at San Gabriel City Hall luncheon, and that lasted until I came here. Valarie Gomez with students from Century High School | Photo by Albert Lu
When the San Gabriel Valley YMCA lost $350,000 in state funding during the recession, Director Valarie Gomez responded by ramping up the Y’s fundraising efforts, securing over $100,000 in 2011 alone. Reflecting on the struggles and triumphs of the past few years, Gomez said, “It’s been life changing.” The Y served a purpose that went way beyond a workout facility. “People were laid off. We reached out to them,” said Gomez. “What I saw is that any one of us can be one step away from a crisis.”
It seems that some people don’t realize that the YMCA goes beyond the swimming pool and workout room. What’s something about the Y that people may not know? We never turn anyone away for lack of payment. We offer scholarships and financial assistance for students. We also offer free memberships to students at Century High School and Del Mar High School, both continuation schools. These are kids who have been kicked out of high school for whatever reason. They’ll come to work out.
Do a lot of people come up to you and say that they learned how to swim at the Y’s pool? Absolutely. And people will say “Oh yeah my grandmother used to bring me to the pool on Main Street, and now I bring my kids here.” It’s just huge to me. 4.28.2011 / TIM LOC
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MARK YOKOYAMA Chief of the Alhambra Police Department As an Asian officer, did you ever face prejudice in the police force?
Chief Yokoyama | Photo by Albert Lu
Mark Yokoyama was sworn in as Alhambra’s first Asian police chief in 2012. Upon his arrival he told the Source that his goal was to help the Alhambra Police force become a “progressive, contemporary, and sophisticated” department. Since then, he has integrated new technologies, and embraced social media – including a partnership with Alhambra Source implementing Weibo, a Chinese version of Twitter. He has also worked on recruiting Asian officers, which he notes, “continues to be a challenge,” but adding “on a positive note, based on our current staffing, 17 percent of our department is Asian, which is comparable to or higher than other police departments.”
I did face some barriers. Back in the early mid 80s when I was going through the police academy there was an almost stereotypical role that I was given: they saw my role was community relations – not out making arrests and being involved in enforcement activities. They’d said I was quiet. I don’t know if it’s true for all Asian cultures, but for many there is some quiet nature to them. That was taken as I wasn’t going to be able to be confrontational, have command presence, be able to control a situation. That wasn’t the case. I am quiet by nature, but if I need to take control of a situation I’m going to do it.
Has the situation changed for Asian officers? It’s gotten a lot better. The academies of 25 years ago you may not have any Asian officers. I teach in two police academies, and now you’ll see two or three out of 30 or 40. Still, there’s a long way to go. In Cypress the community was probably 35 percent Asian, yet we only had one or two Asian officers.
When you came into this job you said your goal was to create a “progressive, contemporary and sophisticated” department. Have you accomplished that? Some of the ways we have done this is through the use of Facebook, Twitter, Weibo, WeChat, and our on-line web solutions where we have produced applications in Chinese, Spanish and English. We have created ways for the public to interact with the police department more, whether that be via social media, mobile phone apps, anonymous tip reporting, or our website. 5.18.2011 AND 3.12.2015 / DANIELA GERSON AND KYLE GARCIA
FIVE WAYS TO ENGAGE CHINESE IMMIGRANTS IN THE SAN GABRIEL VALLEY BY SIYE WALTER MA
From left: Siye Walter Ma, Alhambra Police Chief Mark Yokoyama, and Alhambra Mayor Stephen Sham introduce the Weibo presence after Ma’s article is published | Photo by Alfred Dicioco
Siye Walter Ma suggests embracing new technology to reach immigrants, starting with using Chinese social media. While the Asian population continues to grow nationwide — it’s the fastest growing ethnic group in the country according to the Pew Research Center —a new study from Brown University shows it is still just as segregated from whites in Los Angeles and other metropolitan areas as it was 20 years ago. I believe this segregation is a problem, especially for social and health organizations in the San 102
Gabriel Valley that are trying to reach the Chinese community. As an immigrant myself who works closely and cross-culturally with immigrants as a court interpreter, I pay close attention to how Chinese and Asian immigrants in the San Gabriel Valley consume media. Here are five ways policy makers and community organizations can better connect with them.
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1. Jump on to China’s social media There are no Twitter or Facebook feeds in China due to the country’s censorship laws, but Chinese versions of these sites do exist. Take Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter. With more than 500 million users, the microblogging site has attracted Asian residents and immigrants alike who use the site to communicate with friends, exchange news, and stay connected. Follow the conversation!
2. Go mobile With the rise of mobile technology, many Southern California residents have a smartphone these days, including new immigrants. In fact, since they often have to move from place to place, new immigrants may rely on their smartphone as their primary way of accessing the internet. Making your information mobile-compatible is a smart way of ensuring they will be able to reach it.
3. Chat it up Most smartphone users in China are sending instant messages to their friends and family on WeChat. The mobile chat application is also very popular with Chinese immigrants in the San Gabriel Valley. WeChat’s most distinguishing feature is its ability to search for nearby users. You can run a search anywhere in San Gabriel Valley and find hundreds of WeChat users in the area. WeChat also offers a “channel” feature to broadcast to thousands of young immigrants in the community at once.
4. Get some face time While online engagement is important, don’t forget about the impact of in-person interactions. Try heading to local ethnic supermarkets and shopping centers during the evenings or weekends to talk to immigrants out for some shopping or dining. Check out 99 Ranch Supermarket in San Gabriel or the Yogurtland plaza in Alhambra to start.
Photo by Nathan Solis 7.16.13
Following the article’s publication, the Alhambra Police Department contacted Siye Walter Ma and Alhambra Source and worked together to develop an account with Weibo, a Chinese version of Twitter. The APD became the first government agency in the country to do so and Ma described it as an “unprecedented” success. “Within 24 hours, it had over 1500 followers, exceeding its Facebook counterpart’s followers at the time,” wrote Ma. A year later that reached to more than 40,000. “Since its launch, many police departments from America and Canada followed Alhambra’s step.” In 2015, the APD worked with Ma to make history again, becoming the first police department in the country to join WeChat, a Chinese instant messaging service in which residents could contact the department directly. Ma, when not coordinating the Chinese social media efforts with police departments, continues to work as a courts interpreter, but is planning to change careers to information technologies and is considering a move to Japan.
5. Learn some Chinese Or at least have a translator on hand. You don’t want important ideas getting lost in translation. Nothing ruins an outreach campaign more than looking unprepared, or worse, disrespectful. If you’re working on a social or health issue, try reaching out to local Chinese or Asian organizations for help. With a combination of these strategies, you can reach new immigrants, both young and old, rich and poor. 103
JAMES ROJAS Urban planner How do you feel about transportation in Alhambra? I think the city has developed far too much of an infrastructure of buildings, but hasn’t developed anything for cyclists, walkers, and public transportation. The city is decreasing the quality of life by promoting more car activity. Plus they’re building a lot of bad development that encourages more car activity.
What is a message you would like to send to the city government? James Rojas and a mock-up city | Photo by Tina Zeng
In 2011 urban planner James Rojas helped create Alhambra Beyond Cars (ABC), a non-profit organization that focuses on mobility issues in Alhambra. ABC is currently on hiatus, but Rojas is still concerned with design locally and beyond. Indeed, his career choice was based upon experiences in the city: “In 1980, a developer came to our door and had a three story model of a building he wanted to build across the street from our house. And what happened, the city had rezoned our neighborhood without telling us,” Rojas told the Alhambra City Council at a February 2015 meeting, where he spoke in opposition to the proposed Midwick development. After that, Rojas knew he wanted the skills to make sure that did not happen again: “I went to MIT to study city planning, and study how to get people to be involved in the planning process.”
Think about Alhambra’s future. Think about diversity in age, income, health and sustainability. A healthy city is a walking city. 3.5.2015 / TINA ZENG
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PINKI CHEN Event organizer You go to China often. When you tell people there that you organize a Lunar New Year festival in America, what do they say? They’re always amazed. They never realize the large number of overseas Chinese population in the world, not just in the US, but in Africa, England, all over the world. I think they take comfort that after half a century abroad [as immigrants in the US], people still celebrate the Chinese holidays.
Pink Chen launching a Year of the Rabbit Celebration | Photo by Daniela Gerson
Pinki Chen has been organizing Alhambra’s Lunar New Year festival for over 20 years. “It was quite by accident that I became an event organizer,” said Pinki Chen, owner of K&K Communications. “It started 19 years ago, when the former council member and mayor, Paul Talbot, [who went on to become the city manager of neighboring Monterey Park] realized the Asian population had increased and that there was a need — and opportunity — to showcase the culture.” Chen said that she doesn’t plan on retiring unless there’s a suitable replacement. In 2011 she talked with the Source about the long process of planning a festival, how people in China don’t realize that Americans celebrate the Chinese New Year, and how the festivities are different in China.
We know there are a lot of superstitions around Chinese New Year, like not cutting your hair and cleaning like crazy. What are some others? You’re not supposed to work because then you’ll spend the whole year working.
How do you deal with that? I work. That’s why I’m working all year! 2.2.2011 / VICTORIA GAVIA, JAMES HO, ALAN TAM, AND YVONNE LEE
A PARK FOR BUDDY? BY ESMEÉ XAVIER
Buddy Xavier | Photo by Esmeé Xavier
In 2012 contributor Esmeé Xavier asked for a dog park for Buddy, her golden retriever and border collie mix. Will she get her wish?
My family and I are proud owners of a golden retriever and border collie mix named Buddy. Like other respectable dog owners, we consider him to be part of the family. But unlike the kids of Alhambra, Buddy has an extremely limited amount of space to run around because — as local canine owners are well aware — we have no dog park here. Not only is there no place for Buddy to run free, he is officially barred from city green spaces: A law exists in Alhambra, dating back to the 1970s, which forbids dogs from entering all the public parks in the city, even while kept on a leash. Instead, my family often drives more than 20 minutes to Pasadena to let Buddy run free and socialize with other dogs. 106
For years, Alhambra residents have been speaking out about the lack of options for dogs in the city’s public spaces. The most recent example came during last week’s City Council meeting when Jody Vegnone asked about allowing dogs on leashes to enter public places. “I’m wondering if times have changed in Alhambra,” he asked. “I don’t think anyone wants to see dogs running freely throughout the park, but if they’re registered, and owners are lawfully picking up after them and so on, I’m just wondering what the harm would be in that.” Councilman Steven Placido said that the creation of a dog park is an item on Alhambra’s strategic plan — and that the biggest question is determin-
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ing a location for an official dog park. Until dogs have a park to call their own, Vegnone responded with the suggestion that Almansor Park might have enough size to accommodate both people and dogs. But Councilwoman Barbara Messina disagreed: “Almansor has so many youth activities and games that the dogs might mess with while kids are playing, and that’s something that parents would not be happy about.” City officials did not provide other sites that could be possible alternatives to Almansor, although Mayor Luis Ayala said that they would continue seeking out potential locations for a dog park. What sites those are and when it will become a reality is still unclear. “We’ve been looking at this for the past two years,” Director of Community Services Cynthia Jarvis said in a phone interview. “It’s still in the exploratory stages.” It appears to me that there is more than ample space within Alhambra’s existing public facilities for the creation of a dog park. The Pasadena OffLeash Dog Park covers around 2.5 acres, which are divided up into two separate fields — one for small dogs, and one for larger dogs. While that kind of square footage is ideal, we don’t really need all that much space for a successful dog park, just a relatively small, fenced-in square of grass with enough room for dogs to run freely. In the meantime, loving dog owners are forced into a difficult position. Despite signs and stamps in the cement that read “no dogs,” I’ve snuck Buddy several times onto local parks, including Story and Alhambra, because it just gets boring staying on the sidewalk. (I don’t recommend this to all dog owners though because Buddy is welltrained, and I’ve been lucky enough to visit Story Park a few times during the day when there wasn’t a single other person out there — not to mention it’s illegal). Yet there are a number of sites within the city that could easily fit an official dog park. Almansor, for instance, has a few unoccupied patches of space that aren’t in use by any city activity (i.e. near the covered picnic area next to the pond). Just across the street from Alhambra park is an expansive stretch of grass where I see almost no human traffic, which makes it just another example of spots throughout the city that might benefit from opening its gates to Alhambra’s canines.
Dozens of residents weighed in after this story was published on where they thought Alhambra should create a dog park. Nearly three years later, on March 5, 2015, the Parks and Recreation Commission saw a presentation about a possible dog park on New Avenue and Ramona Street. Residents showed up at the meeting to voice their disapproval, raising concerns that the proposed site is too close to residential homes. City officials said they would continue to work with residents and explore other possible areas. Esmeé Xavier has not been around to keep up with these developments: Since March 2014 she has been traveling and teaching English in South America. “I started in Colombia, made my way through Ecuador, and am now in Peru,” Xavier wrote to us. She’s keeping in touch with Buddy via Facebook.
SAVE MONEY, PROTECT THE EARTH, AND RISK YOUR LIFE BY NEEL GARLAPATI
Neel Garlapati rides his bike
Alhambra should be a great biking city. But there is not a single bike lane, speaking to the low priority the city has placed on infrastructure for cyclists. In the spring of 2006 my partner’s lemon of a Nissan Altima was on its last legs, requiring repairs more expensive than the car was worth. We were (and are) cheap, young, and foolish — and so we donated the car to our favorite radio station, took the tax write-off, and hoped for the best. We made do with one car for four years. With some coordination, patience and luck, we found that reliable, quick transportation options do exist in our corner of Los Angeles County. Not as quick as hopping in your car and turning on the ignition, but doable. The secret, I found after several years, is that a bicycle is almost the great equalizer of public transportation in the sprawling suburbs 108
east of Los Angeles. The key word is almost — getting to work is no jaunt through the park, and there are some risks involved. Alhambra should be a great cycling city. We have a number of transit hubs available to us just out of walking range, but well within comfortable riding range, making a bike commute downtown or further into South LA, Koreatown, or even the Valley entirely feasible. Last winter the MTA announced a new express bus line - the Silver Line - which connects the San Gabriel Valley to the South Bay. The line runs from El Monte to the Artesia Transit Center and can get me from Cal State LA to my
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office in Exposition Park in about 28 minutes. With a bike, for me what was once a 15-minute walk from bus stop to home becomes a three-minute bike ride. Combined with my 15-minute bike ride, the total commute is 43 minutes when I time the connections right. Compared to 35 to 40 minutes grinding through traffic on the 10 Freeway, it’s a very attractive option. But here’s the catch. The first time you try to ride your bike down Atlantic Boulevard at 5:30 PM, you will realize that Alhambra is not, in fact, a great cycling city. Most roads are highly congested and only wide enough for the cars that are on them, and residential streets, when available, can be just as dangerous with riders forced to weave in and out of parked cars. There is not a single bicycle lane in Alhambra, and while I am not a big proponent of bike lanes (I think that they often exacerbate the problems, because drivers don’t learn how to drive alongside bicycles, and cyclists don’t learn how to ride defensively alongside cars) it does speak to the low priority the city has placed on providing an infrastructure for cyclists. My commute, while enjoyable, is particularly treacherous. I start out with an easy ride through residential streets, then merge onto Ramona Road running right alongside the 10-East. Ramona is a narrow street that gets busy with angry commuters trying to beat freeway traffic. The last thing they want is a bicycle slowing them down— which is exactly what I do. I get honked at frequently, and sometimes it seems that drivers try to pass as closely as possible just to intimidate me. I might occasionally react with my own choice gestures, but again I don’t blame the individual drivers. Ultimately we, as a community, have to figure out a way that bicycles can be used as a reliable, safe means of transportation, so that residents and people who drive through Alhambra understand how to coexist. Until then, it is going to be rough going in what should be a supremely bike-friendly city. My in-laws can’t understand why we are so cheap, and my partner worries when I leave the house groggy on a cloudy morning. I love riding my bike, but I wonder about my longevity whenever an SUV whizzes inches past. I have spent the last few months trying to figure out ways to make my two-wheeled commute work, but until this commuter city changes the way it considers its bike commuters, bicycling will be a last resort instead of a first option. Call it defeat if you want to, but
this month we finally buckled under the pressure – the horn honking and the treacherous blind left turns – and bought a Honda Civic. 8.27.2010
Bike advocates arrive at Alhambra City Hall for a meeting in 2011 | Photo by Albert Lu
Following this article’s publication, in 2013, five San Gabriel Valley cities teamed up with two non-profit organizations—Day One and Bike SGV—to collaborate on a Bicycle Master Plan for the San Gabriel Valley. The next year, the five cities unanimously adopted the final master plan document. But Alhambra did not participate in the plan. Instead, the city consulted with Alta Planning + Design to release a draft of its own bike plan in 2013. Bicycle advocates criticized the plan for not adding enough dedicated bike lanes, leaving major streets out of the routes. In March 2013, staff postponed a presentation of a revised draft to Alhambra City Council. There are currently no updates regarding the bike plan, according to Director of Administrative Services Chris Paulson. Neel Garlapati now works at Claremont McKenna College as Director of Foundation and Corporate Relations. Does he bike to his new job? “The College is a good 27 miles from Alhambra, so biking is not really an option,” Garlapati said. He added that he sees “more people biking in the neighborhood” and that he feels “drivers have become a little bit more aware” of cyclists “but there are still some streets that are very risky.”
CARLOS MONTES Civil rights activist You were among the leaders of the school walkouts in 68. When you look at the quality of education today, in particular for Hispanic and Latino students, do you think anything has changed?
Carlos Montes | Photo from www.stopfbi.net
Activist Carlos Montes, a familiar face in the 1960s Chicano Movement and a co-founder of the Brown Berets, said he moved to Alhambra 24 years ago seeking a peaceful enclave that was close to his homebase of East Los Angeles. Then on May 17, 2011 the FBI and deputies from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department executed a search warrant on his home. He was arrested after the search turned up a firearm—as a convicted felon, he was not allowed to be in possession of a weapon. All charges were dropped by January 2014. He moved to El Sereno shortly after to run for City Council in Council District 14, but failed to make the ballot. He is currently the president of the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council. In this position he has helped the neighborhood advocate to stop USC from building a street in Hazard Park, and Exide Technologies from dumping lead in the vicinity.
We’ve made some gains, but it looks like recently we’ve been losing ground. The original demands of the walkouts was that we wanted ethnic studies and bilingual education. We wanted teachers and administrators that reflected our backgrounds. We’ve gotten a lot of that, but still have the issue that public education is underfunded. It’s under attack by those who want to privatize it. And there’s also the dropout rates, and the wide achievement gaps. The Mexican-American youths, the Latino youths, and the Chicano youths – they’re still behind in reading and math. And with college admissions…well, back then it was even worse. I mean we weren’t even going to college. We were being channeled into certain trades and into the military.
Most residents probably see Alhambra as a peaceful community. Do you feel safe in Alhambra after your incident? No I don’t. I don’t feel safe in my home. They [the FBI] came at five in the morning and busted down my door. Some of my neighbors—and they’re all really friendly—they give me funny looks now [laughs]. They saw this whole thing and their neighborhood was disrupted. 3.17.2011 / TIM LOC
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ROZ COLLIER President of the Alhambra Teachers Association Why was it important for you to join the Teachers Association? I think anyone who gets involved with union activity is there because they experienced some kind of injustice. I know as a child of poverty what public schools mean to me. I grew up in a project in the Bronx. I lost my father when I was five or six; my mother died when I was 17. If it weren’t for the public school system in California, I could never have achieved what I achieved. I could never have gotten a PhD. Never.
Budget cut protest outside Alhambra High School in 2011 | Photo by Albert Lu
With her fiery red hair, no-nonsense Bronx accent, and healthy dose of charisma, Rosalyn Collier, PhD, says an innate desire to pursue justice drives her: Students today are being denied the opportunities she received. The former math teacher—she taught in the Alhambra Unified School District for more than 25 years— says she is fighting to regain those educational advantages and working to improve the relationship between labor and management, aiming for a “we” mentality instead of “us” versus them.
What brought you from New York to California? And what were the education opportunities you found here? I came to California on a vacation and found out about the school system. At that point I was paying through the nose to go to night school at City University of New York. So when I came out here and found it was free, I took every class I could take at community college. Whenever there was a scholarship, I became the financial aid genius. But it was there for me to do. It’s not there anymore. Sometimes, an injustice is so big that you can’t fight it yourself, so you link to an organization that has a philosophy and ideology that are in tune with yours. I felt that the Association gave me a venue for expressing and working against things I felt were unjust.
What were the educational programs most painful to see cut in Alhambra during recent budget cuts? We were sad to let go of adult education. I think there were student recovery and recreational programs, as well as parent classes. Watching its impact on the community go to nothing was most painful. I think right now the state is trying to figure out where adult education should happen, whether in high school or community college. 5.11.2011 AND 3.4.2014 / JENNIFER SMITH AND KRISTINE HOANG
WHY IS ALHAMBRA STOPPING CHURCHES FROM HOUSING HOMELESS FAMILIES? BY JESSE CHANG
Family Promise SGV co-director Karen Roberson with a current client | Photos by Jesse Chang
Family Promise is a faith-based SGV effort that houses the homeless. City officials said it violates safety and zoning laws. Jesse Chang thinks this is a mistake. A San Gabriel Valley single mom with two kids was self-employed until the recession hit. Then her business tanked, and she resorted to cleaning homes and her childâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s school. Soon the family was homeless, living and sleeping in her car at local mall parking lots. Her story is all too familiar to clergy. Homeless individuals or families often approach churches for assistance: money for a bus token, food, or a room to stay in overnight. With the recession, the request for help has increased. As a community organizer working with faith groups, I was intrigued three years ago when a church leader told me they had heard about a 112
better solution to homelessness. Family Promise, a national non-profit network that helps families get permanent housing by utilizing a network of local churches, was creating a new project in the west San Gabriel Valley and recruiting members. The program leverages church resources to find a local solution to homelessness â&#x20AC;&#x201D; providing homeless families with a hand up, not a handout. A network of area churches currently hosts three to four families a week, feeding and housing them overnight while offering job and housing resources and counseling during the day. Family Promise helps families save any generated income to get back on their feet when they exit the program.
TAKING A STAND
It is easy for the city leaders in this discussion to only focus on rules and laws, but I believe that the city has overstepped its bounds and infringed on religious freedoms. I also feel the city is failing to seize a viable solution for its residents. According to Family Promise, 75 percent of the more than 47,000 homeless they help nationally each year exit the program within 65 days. Already, during their time in Family Promise, a Pasadena family saved enough money to rent a house. The father got a drivers license and the mother began contributing and working outside the home. All of this was accomplished when a network of faith communities banded together. Program participants
After years of preparation, last winter the program launched with South Pasadena, Monterey Park, Sierra Madre, Rosemead and Pasadena congregations participating. But while Alhambra churches were interested as well, the city put up obstacles to the program: officials have maintained during more than a dozen conversations and meetings that housing these families would be a violation of local regulations.
Family Promise gives local churches the opportunity to make a personal connection with the issue of homelessness and offer a local solution. I hope the city will want to partner with this network in creating even better ways of tackling the issue of homelessness—of people going through tough times—in our community. 7.12.2012
Instead, the city, which currently lacks a homeless shelter, maintains it has designated two potential locations for homeless shelters. A church actively seeking to participate, First Baptist Church of Alhambra, does not fall into those two areas. Officials’ suggestions to build a shelter in the allowed zones were impractical and outside of the format of Family Promise’s program where churches share responsibility for hosting a small number of families at a time who rotate locations. When First Baptist tried to host the program in January, the city threatened to issue a temporary restraining order. The response in Alhambra is in stark contrast to neighboring Monterey Park where the city encouraged Family Promise, providing Block Grant money to the program and where three churches are now host congregations. Restricting Family Promise is a serious loss for Alhambra. More than 5,000 homeless people live in the San Gabriel Valley, including about 1,800 people in families, according to the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments. But only 343 shelter beds are designated for families. And not one is in Alhambra.
Jesse Chang accepts the Community Advocate Award at Southern California Public Radio on behalf of Alhambra Source
Alhambra Source was presented with the New America Media Community Advocate Award for this story by Jesse Chang. Unable to house homeless at their church, First Baptist started housing families in off-site hotels. Three years later, Chang says that First Baptist still does so, as the city has not changed its policy on homeless shelters. Chang remains involved in the community through his work for Kingdom Causes Alhambra - Monterey Park, a faith-based non-profit that organizes local churches to be more engaged locally, and helps create outdoor classroom gardens for campuses in the Alhambra Unified School District. 113
Featured in this collection
Siye Walter Ma
CONTRIBUTORS Creating a window into how an American city functions “As an international student from China and urban planning student, Alhambra Source gave me great opportunities to get to know how the American communities and government functions. And I met a lot of interesting people here through various community contributor meetings, outreach events, and reporting. I am glad that through my work as a Chinese translator, we are enhancing the understanding among different ethnic groups in the community.” -JUE WANG
Jump-starting a career in photography and civil service “Through Alhambra Source, Daniela has connected me with professionals I thought I would have never met, such as journalists and photographers from The Los Angeles Times who gave me my first ever photo critique and professionals from KPCC who provided so much help and support while as a Reporter Corps member. Although I did not exactly chase after my dream to travel the world as a National Geographic or TIME Magazine photographer, four years later, looking back, I truly treasure the experience and opportunity I have gained from Alhambra Source, as well as meeting so many dedicated community members in the city and beyond in the San Gabriel Valley.” -ALBERT LU
Finding a new lens through which to view one’s own community “As a long-time San Gabriel Valley resident, I wanted the chance to write about and explore my own community. Alhambra Source seemed like an exciting place to do this, so I jumped at a chance to help write a column (called See | Hear | Do) about fun things Alhambrans can do around their city. The writing assignments led me to see the city with new eyes. It provided me an excuse to wade into the middle of a laser tag battle zone and to get to know a group of dedicated weekend guitar warriors who meet each week to work on their chords at Rick’s In and Out. I couldn’t have asked 116
for a better lens through which to see the community! I’ve moved away from the area and no longer write the column for Alhambra Source, but I miss getting a chance to go outside of my comfort zone and entice others to do the same.” -ELIZABETH CHOU
Alhambra Source’s impact on civic engagement is immeasurable, and I’ll always be grateful for it “There were some really dark days that had me down. Seemingly one-way conversations with the city and being accused of tilting at windmills. That started to change when I was introduced to Daniela Gerson at a water contamination meeting. I remember her telling me about a local hypermedia project she was organizing through a grant from the Annenberg School of Journalism and that it would focus on Alhambra. It was like an oasis in the desert. My favorite memory was the day the site went live. Its impact on civic engagement has since been immeasurable, and I’ll always be grateful for it.” -ERIC SUNADA
Connecting with my community, learning about education, local government, and civic engagement on a deeper and more practical level “Working for Alhambra Source was the perfect opportunity for me coming off of college. Living outside of Alhambra while I was in school, the Source gave me the chance to connect with my community, learn about education, local government, and civic engagement on a deeper and more practical level. In the past, I had a rigid idea of how to get involved with my community through voting, volunteering, and just by being a good citizen. But it wasn’t enough for me to just sit around. Writing and interviewing residents gave me an outlet to think critically and see my surroundings not just for what it is but how it can be better. I’m really glad that there is an organization like the Source that values my opinion and makes me feel that my voice matters in my own city.” -ALFRED DICIOCO
On Alhambra Source Turning enthusiasm and ideas into real stories “My favorite Source memory has been the lively story pitching sessions during our monthly meetings, particularly when the Source was just starting out. There were many community contributors attending those meetings, all with more enthusiasm than actual writing experience, with each member pitching ideas that reflected their particular interests. Then Daniela, with a gentle but firm hand, would prod and push us along and help us hone those ideas into real stories.” -JOE SOONG
Connecting to an adopted hometown via random information tidbits and participating in a team “For this non-native of Alhambra, the Alhambra Source has met a felt need to get more involved with my new favorite town. Both through reading it and participating on the team, I’ve been able to become more connected and aware of what’s going on nearby. I enjoy learning random tidbits about Alhambra and appreciate the give-and-take of information that the Alhambra Source involvement has allowed!” -IAN DALE
Impacting policies of my hometown, one dog park at a time “Growing up here, I didn’t feel that there was anything particularly special about the place, other than the food. However, when I began interning with the Source in 2011, that was the first time when I ever felt truly connected to my home town. One of my favorite experiences with the Alhambra Source came after my editor Daniela Gerson pushed me to write about something I cared about. I chose to talk about Alhambra’s lack of a dog park, and how current city ordinances restrict dogs from entering any public park, even while kept on a leash. The piece included a poll for readers to vote on the issue, and the results showed that a lot of residents felt the same way. It even prompted some readers to speak up at city council meetings, and eventually the issue made it onto
the council’s agenda for serious consideration. At the time, I was skeptical of my own ability to have some kind of impact; but the Source created this very opportunity, and it is there for anyone in Alhambra who wants to contribute.” -ESMEÉ XAVIER
Learning to trust myself to ask good questions, and learning about my community in the process “My favorite memory with Alhambra Source was when I and my fellow Reporter Corps members interviewed Dr. Roz Collier, president of the Alhambra Teachers’ Association. It was my first interview as a journalist and I was incredibly nervous. I remember thinking that I was surely going to mess things up—but I didn’t. I left the interview feeling informed, enlightened, and more curious than ever. Before the interview I was worried about asking the wrong question, but afterwards, I couldn’t care less! My questions came naturally to me from then on. The Alhambra Source helped me learn how to trust myself, and taught me a great deal about the issues affecting my community.” -ELISA PEREZ
Learning about the value and power of journalism and how it can impact our lives “Being involved with the Alhambra Source has opened my eyes to news and journalism. Before I never put much thought into what I see on the news and how it can impact our lives. Being a part of a team that is producing articles has taught me how valuable and powerful it can be. My fondest memories would have to be the wonderful article Nasrin Aboulhosn wrote for my mom. Other than that, the get-togethers have all been memorable. The annual event like the first one at Nucleus, the happy hours, and the monthly meetings. It was great to meet some neighbors and hear what different people are interested in.” -TIM GANTER, WEB DEVELOPER
Participants in the Reporter Corps class of 2012-2013. From left: Albert Lu, EsmeĂŠ Xavier, Irma Uc, Jane Fernandez, Javier Cabral, and Alfred Dicioco | Photo by Gus Ruelas
From the beginning Alhambra Source has been a collaborative effort, across disciplines at University of Southern Californiaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, between community and academia, and among Alhambra residents of all backgrounds. Hundreds of students, scholars, researchers, government officials, and community members have contributed to this effort. The principal investigators, who had the foresight to create the project and who have continued to propel it forward, are USC Annenberg professors Sandra Ball-Rokeach and Michael Parks. We are grateful to the Annenberg Foundation, USC Annenberg, and Southern California Edison for financial support of Alhambra Source; and to the McCormick and Shannon Foundations for financial support of Reporter Corps. We are also grateful for the contributions made by Clifford Bender, Tony Chen, and Martha Rivera. Dean Ernest Wilson, former Annenberg Communication School director Larry Gross and current director Sarah Banet-Weiser, and former Journalism School director Geneva Overholser and current director Willow Bay have all provided critical backing to the project. Bruce Missaggia 118
helped ensure funding reached the project. Nancy Ruiz provided administrative support, and local knowledge. The dedicated Annenberg research team behind the Alhambra Source has tenaciously pursued the project since 2008. The team of Communication doctoral students, part of the Metamorphosis research group, include many who have since gone on to hold faculty positions at other institutions: Nancy Nien-Tsu Chen, Katya Ognyanova, Wenlin Liu, Andrea Wenzel, Chi Zhang, Nan Zhao, Zheng An, Jin Huang, Hayeon Song, Nikki Usher, Fan Dong, Chris Chavez, Joe Phua, Carmen Gonzales, Benjamin Stokes, and Cynthia Wang. Former Masters students include Wendy Carillo and Teresa Gonzalez. Students who helped with research activities covered in Spanish are Yvonne Lopez, Renee del Castillo, and Adriane Nicole Carranza. Our Chinese translators who helped with research and reporting are Mingshi Di, Lillian Ma, Jue Wang, Abigail Kang, and Yvonne Luo. From the beginning Evelyn Moreno has played a key role in research, as well as provided immeasurable administrative assistance as manager of the Metamorphosis Project. A very small staff has run the actual site, ranging between one and three. Everyone involved has, by
necessity, taken on multiple roles that go beyond any traditional job title. Tim Ganter developed and built the website; Nasrin Aboulhosn served as the site’s first managing editor and contributed to many of the stories in this collection as well as adeptly guiding project development. Tim Loc is the current managing editor and has reviewed and improved each of these pieces. With a small staff, we have been very grateful for energetic and enterprising interns: Anthony Perez, Alfonso Villegas, Tina Zeng, Emma Birur, Esmeé Xavier, Alfred Dicioco, and currently Kyle Garcia, who also provided extra help to bring this collection together. A fluctuating group of community contributors has come once a month, on their own time, to think up how to create and populate a site. Then they have gone off to write the stories that created it. On other times, they stood outside at farmers markets and local events to help spread the word about the site. They include Albert Lu, Ana Ibarra, Cecilia Garcia, Celeste Candida, Connie Ho, Courtney Hong, Dan Bednarksi, Deanna Ong, Elizabeth Chou, Eric Sunada, Erick Uribe, Evelina Giang, Felix Cervantes, Franklin Tzeng, Gregory Miller, Ian Dale, Inthava Bounpraseuth, Irvin Fong, Ivan Ho, Javier Cabral, Javier Gutierrez, Jazlynn Pastor, Jee-Shaun Wang, Jefferson Yen, Jennifer Smith, Jenny Hu, Jesse Chang, Jessica Chen, Joe Soong, Karin Mak, Kelly Yamagishi, Kerrie Gutierrez, Kevin Chan, Kris Fortin, “Latino Foodies” (Art Rodriguez and Stephen Chavez), Leonard Oxford, Lisa Monatano, Liz Gonzalez, Lucy Truong, Melissa Michelson, Michael Lawrence, Mimi Li, Miyako Martinez, Nancy Martinez, Nate Gray, Nathan Solis, Neel Garlapati, Pam Sosa, Paul Wong, Peggy Wong, Rachel Yanez, Raymond Tran, Rick Eng, Sarah Grear, Shirley Duong, Taro Takeoka, Thomas Wong, Tom Trinh, and Walter Ma. We are additionally grateful to Joe Soong, Courtney Hong, Connie Ho, and Raymond Tran for providing their skills as second readers to stories. Rachel Yanez volunteered her help as a Spanish translator, as did Ivan Ho and Walter Ma. Jee-Shaun Wang contributed his artistic talents to this project. High school students and young adults have energized the site via our Reporter Corps and Youth Feed programs. Alhambra High teacher Mark Padilla first welcomed me into his journalism class and helped me reach our first students, Sara Harris brought her experience to help develop the high school program, Natalia Bogolasky helped with video, and Konrad Fiedler contributed pho-
tography workshops. For Reporter Corps, Jasmín Lopéz and Molly Callister served as contributing editors and played key roles in developing and facilitating the program. Participants included Alan Tam, Albert Lu, Alfred Dicioco, Anthony Perez, Arthur Wang, Elisa Perez, Irma Uc, James Ho, Jane Fernandez, Jimena Jaramillo, Johnny Huynh, Kristine Hoang, Libby Gutierrez, Luis Chavez, Maia Villa, Monica Luhar, Raymond Penaia, Stephanie Lee, Victoria Cabral, Victoria Gavia, and Yvonne Lee. We also depended upon journalist mentors and presenters who volunteered their time for Reporter Corps: Tami Abdollah, Ashley Alvarado, Alexandra Berzon, Kim Bui, Adolfo Flores, Cheryl Guerrero, Jennifer Hoche, Jesse Katz, and Kerstin Zilm. Various USC classes worked with Alhambra Source in developing stories. Students in Roberto Suro’s immigration journalism course produced stories on translation issues, notably Elizabeth Aguilera and Natalia Bogolasky. We also worked with reporting courses taught by Anna Gorman, Barbara Pierce, and Mei Fong. Dana Chinn’s cross-disciplinary Knight mobile project created a project in Alhambra in partnership with Asian Americans Advancing Justice. An Annenberg alumnus, Pekka Pekkala, added his invaluable skills to help promote the site. As partner in the Civic Engagement and Journalism Initiative, Willa Seidenberg was a key supporter and collaborator. From when we first showed up on Main Street, many members of the Alhambra community have shown support for the project and have been subject of research and journalistic interviews. At the beginning stages of the project, researchers interviewed representatives from various San Gabriel Valley-based community organizations to understand their work in Alhambra: Helen Au, Lynn Chen, Peter Phui, Brian Lee, Rose Marie Markus, Jesse Chang, Rosy Aguilar, Eugene Taw, and Rudy Tellez. In order to understand coverage of Alhambra and perceptions of the Source they also conducted focus groups with local journalists: Adolfo Flores, David Barron, Annie Zhang, Lauren Gold, Raymond Gao, Gloria Alvarez, and Yibiao Huang. In addition, researchers conducted a total of 12 focus groups with local residents and business owners. 119
The Alhambra city government and school system welcomed the project, indulged interviews, and has worked with us over many years. At City Hall, we appreciate the patience of former City Manager Julio Fuentes, Chris Paulson, Lauren Myles, and the entire City Council (Barbara Messina, Gary Yamauchi, Luis Ayala, Stephen Sham, and Steven Placido); at the Alhambra Police Department, Chief Mark Yokoyama, Sergeant Brandon Black and Sergeant Gerald Johnson; and at the Chamber of Commerce Owen Guenthard, Dulcy Jenkins, Irma Hernandez, and Sharon Gibbs. At the Alhambra Unified School District, Superintendant Laura Tellez-Gagliano, Assistant Superintendant Laurel Bear, and Roz Collier at Alhambra Teachers Association have been particularly helpful. Mike Eng and Assemblyman Ed Chau have entertained many questions and supported us at events. Various local businesses and organizations have supported Alhambra Source. Ben Zhu and Gallery Nucleus hosted many of our events starting with our press conference to launch the site. Ben also provided initial design for the site. Others that have supported Source events are Joanna Vargas and the Fit Factor, Spirit House, La Cafeina, Honey Badger, and Lizard Theater. Asian Americans Advancing Justice has been a key collaborator, especially Mike Pedro and Kim Dam. Alhambra Preservation Group and Alhambra Historical Society provided insight into the history of the city. Lynne Collmann and the San Gabriel Valley Humane Society contributed a weekly column. Sam and Jackie Wong have been extremely generous in creating a scholarship with Alhambra Source to encourage young adults to reflect on their immigrant heritage and write about it. Critical to site development have been insights from people who care about local journalism and its impact on communities. Among them are Roberto Suro, Alexis Moreno, Charlie Firestone, Jesse Katz, Jesus Sanchez, Jonathan Gold, Lew Friedland, Mary Lou Fulton, Josh Stearns, Jan Schaffer, Kevin Davis, Sandy Close and her colleagues at New American Media, Janine Warner, Vikki Porter, George Villanueva, and Tony Cheng. At our office in Alhambra we have benefited from the camaraderie of other Annenberg projects sharing the outpost, answering editorial questions, assisting with site development issues, and volunteering to run training programs for student 120
journalists. This unique group includes Albert Sabaté, Bobby Kirkwood, Deborah Schoch, Felix Gutierrez, Jessica Perez, John Gonzales, Lauren Whaley, Michele Henry, Michelle Levander, Richard Kipling, Ronald Campbell, and Roger Smith. Bobby Kirkwood also developed Alhambra Source administratively. Tiffanie Tran, our designer, is the newest addition to the Alhambra Source team. She has expertly and tirelessly designed this project so that it visually reflects the effort invested in creating the project. There are many friends and family who have supported me personally on this journey. Yvonne Hung took me to my first Taiwanese sweet shop and Hong Kong café in Alhambra, and encouraged me to pursue this path. Audrey Singer edited early versions and helped contextualize why Alhambra is important in the context of shifting national demographics. And Talia Inlender has provided her incomparable insight, extraordinary editing skills, and unwavering support to me, and ensured the completion of this project. Finally, we are grateful for our readers. Your comments, suggestions, and interest have fed this project and provided it with critical realworld impact. — DANIELA GERSON, ALHAMBRA, CALIFORNIA, MAY 2015
PLACES WE VISITED
St. Therese Catholic Church
HUNTINGTON DR ATLANTIC BLVD
Mandarin Baptist Church
Hai-Ninh Community Association
First Baptist Church
Main Street Barbers
Punjab Indian Grocery
N TO NG
FAIR OAKS AVE
Mrs. Lin Psychic
La Cafeina Cafe
Myanmar Dollar Store
RD Baccali Cafe & Rotisserie
Banh Mi My Tho
HELLMAN AVE NEW AVE
St. Steven's Serbian Orthodox Cathedral
MONTEREY PARK D Organizations and Businesses SR Y
E RMarkets Restaurants and TE M
Places of Worship
Alhambra Source: Voices from the New American Suburb This book is a collection of stories selected from the community-driven, local news website Alhambra Source (alhambrasource.org). Nearly one hundred residents have contributed to the site since it launched in 2010. The diverse group of contributors — ranging from high school students to retirees and who combined speak more than 10 languages — reflect their global suburb. Their work reveals a glimpse of what more of the United States may look like in coming years, and provides examples of ways in which residents can shape community via a news outlet that cuts across linguistic divides. Alhambra Source is part of a research initiative of the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Since 2008 a multidisciplinary team of scholars, Metamorphosis Project researchers, journalists, and students have been investigating how local news can impact civic engagement and bridge ethnic barriers.
community news and voices noticias y voces de la comunidad