Friday, March 30, 2012

Considering The Hunger Games & What Happens When People of Color Are Killed

On a spur-of-the-moment decision, I went to a midnight showing of The Hunger Games when it opened last week. I was wary of Jennifer Lawrence's casting as Katniss (and by wary, I mean I was pissed off) because I had read the series last summer and Katniss is clearly described as not-white, as many of the characters were.

When I saw photos of Jennifer Lawrence, I had a similar feeling about her to Mou Khan's: that she was too soft-looking for the role. And then I saw Winter's Bone, and her acting convinced me that she could be Katniss. Khan (and many others) were apparently unconvinced by her acting, but that raises the question of what our picture of a strong, fierce woman looks like. Many of the strong, fierce women that I know are not always--actually, rarely-- wiry, hawk-eyed, or thin. They look like my mother, my grandmother, my friends. They have soft cheeks and tough souls. After the movie, I texted my other friends that I was "satisfied."

There is so much to unpack about the racist reactions to The Hunger Games, the news of Trayvon Martin's and Shaima Alawadi’s killings, and the hate they expose. When I see someone tweet that they didn't feel as sad about Rue's death because she was black, I realized two things:

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Dayshot: GMBL Granted My Wish

The first time I attempted to use a Gardena Municipal bus, my plan was thwarted because I had my bicycle with me and I did not know that GMBL buses were not equipped with bike racks. I stood there on Manhattan Beach Boulevard forlornly for a few minutes (I did not have a smartphone so I couldn't look up an alternate route) and eventually found my way to wherever I was going. 

So, when I actually began to live in Gardena in August 2010 and got a job in Little Tokyo, I didn't even think to figure out how to get there by bus. I had the privilege of not thinking about it and chose to drive. I eventually moved out of my friend's spare room and signed a lease (gasp) to share an apartment with another friend. There happened to be a GMBL stop directly in front of my apartment building and, upon investigation, I found that one of the lines that stopped there could drop me off within about two blocks of my part-time job in Little Tokyo. Sure, I was disappointed that there were no bike racks on the line, but it was hard to complain when I could jump out of my apartment two minutes before the bus arrived and still make it to work on time.

Then, it happened. The buses were equipped with bike racks! I was surprised and elated when I first saw them, even though their arrival came on the heels of a service change that meant I had to walk two blocks to my stop instead of two minutes (spoiled, I know.) 

Here is a picture of Cornelius the Cerulean Centurion nestled securely in said rack one morning:
Cornelius, racked. 3/26/12
The unfortunate thing is that these racks are made mostly of plastic and feel much less sturdy than the all-metal racks on LA MetroTorrance, and LADOT buses. I suppose these plastic racks were cheaper. I had trouble putting them back up for the first few weeks, probably because they were new and thus sticky. I still have some trouble with the handles now and then. The other all-metal racks work so smoothly. Ah well. It's still a tremendous help that I can take my bike on GMBL, and I like that I can support my local bus line rather than have to use LA Metro when I need to bring my bike along. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Gentrification, USC, & Me

Back in 2008, I had the following email exchange:

May 17, 2008:
Hello! I was reading your online blog and was curious - do you still live at 1821-1839 S. Main Street? I was looking at those apartments some time ago and thought they were wonderful,but was weary of the area. How has your experience been? Also, I remember parking was tight -- do you park at the lot across the street, and how safe has your car been? I also noticed there was a lot for LA Mart down the street - do you know if this is at all available for tenants? Thanks for all your advice!
I replied the next day:
Hi there, 
Thanks for visiting my blog! I do still live there (though I haven't been posting nearly enough lately).  
I've been here since November and the people I've encountered in and near my building have generally been either friendly or at least non-threatening. I think it depends a lot on your own comfort level. I am careful about going out at night and last night was the first time I walked farther than the market downstairs alone (I usually bike everywhere at night). I walked to my apartment from the train station on Grand at about 10PM, and there were people around. Of course I'm always cautious but I try not to let that keep me from doing things. There is a restaurant downstairs that serves beer and has somewhat odd hours, and I see a few intoxicated people around once in a while-- nothing terribly alarming though. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Cheaper than Flying to Chicago // Soul at The Mint

It's hard to believe this is my fifth year puttering around on this blog. I didn't talk much about the part of 2009 that I spent in transition between various cities, but life has a way of bringing us back to things we've left. I received an email yesterday that brought me back to a memory from that period.

Once upon a time, I spent 48 hours in Chicago, of which I spent only 8 sleeping.

JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound were part of that wonderful 40 hours that I spent awake, and they'll be playing tonight at The Mint, a cool spot where I went to see Flying Platforms last year
Goodness. Chicago. 01/23/09
I won't be able to make the show tonight, but you should, if you like soul music. Listen and you'll agree. 

One thing you can't get, though, is the experience of having a Jim's Original Polish sausage sandwich in a warm car after the show while cold wind whips the snow around outside. You'll have to get yourself to Chicago for that. You won't be sorry. 
Sausage goodness. Chicago 01/24/09
Well, if you have a weak stomach for late-night indulgence, you might, but it will probably be worth it.

Funny how just when you are preparing to move toward the new, the past comes back and nudges you for attention. I think it's a good thing.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Imagining Justice for Trayvon Martin (and All of Us)

I stopped by the Million Hoodie March for Trayvon Martin after work today, my hoodie up in solidarity.  There was a huge crush of people and an ABC7 van on Hill just south of Fifth, and the sea of bodies filling the square was heartening to see. I walked my bike carefully through the crowd, careful about keeping people from getting poked by my pedals. I was below the stage, separated by a concrete divider. I stood up on the rail so that I could see above the wall and catch a glimpse of the speakers, trying to listen to what they were saying, taking in the surroundings for the short time I could be there. 
Skittles & Tea 03/26/12
I've been in a few conversations about Trayvon Martin's killing in the last week, and it was only yesterday that it was pointed out to me that there is a language of innocence used as a tool to evoke  an emotional response about the injustice of this boy's killing. Someone presented the question: If he weren't holding only Skittles and iced tea, would that have made it okay? Would we accept this kind of killing if a knife or a bag of weed had been found on him? 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Dayshots: Catalina Island Non-Natives

I got to spend some time at the USC Wrigley Institute on Catalina Island last summer, and I saw these lovely and very large bison roaming about near the campus. 
I called him Grandpa Bison. He seemed grandfatherly.
I thought of these two as whippersnappers.
Apparently, the bison liked to wander onto the campus and roll around in the sandy volleyball courts from time to time. If you happen to land on the island, try the buffalo milk, at least once.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bilingualism is Good for You // Time to Rethink Prop 227

A recent New York Times article, The Benefits of Bilingualism, presents that studies have shown cognitive benefits to being bilingual:
Bilinguals, for instance, seem to be more adept than monolinguals at solving certain kinds of mental puzzles. In a 2004 study by the psychologists Ellen Bialystok and Michelle Martin-Rhee, bilingual and monolingual preschoolers were asked to sort blue circles and red squares presented on a computer screen into two digital bins — one marked with a blue square and the other marked with a red circle. 
The collective evidence from a number of such studies suggests that the bilingual experience improves the brain’s so-called executive function — a command system that directs the attention processes that we use for planning, solving problems and performing various other mentally demanding tasks. These processes include ignoring distractions to stay focused, switching attention willfully from one thing to another and holding information in mind — like remembering a sequence of directions while driving.
This signifies that it's time to take a long, hard look at our monolingual education system and how it came to be, as well as consider its impact on the quality of our public education system.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Sad News

Spring is beginning beautifully. The fact that it is still light out when I leave the office makes me delirious with happiness. But the arrival of this new light is bittersweet, because with its arrival came the news that an acquaintance, classmate, and community member died on Monday.

Jose Roberto Barrera. I learned the news from a classmate at LA Trade Tech as I was walking into class on Tuesday. I was stunned-- I had just seen him last week working at the U.N.I.D.A.D. event. The evening before that, he presented the campaign to our class. He and I were assigned to the same group for our final project, and we had just exchanged phone numbers and email addresses. I didn't know him well, but I saw that he had the kind, somewhat haggard, determined look that is so familiar in people who are committed to organizing work. 

My mind computes that he is gone, yet resists it. The announcement on the front page of the S.A.J.E. website provides some explanation of this feeling:

Dear Friends, 
It is with great sadness that I write to inform you that today we have lost a member of our SAJE and UNIDAD family and that we have all lost a loved and cherished member of our community. 
Jose Barrera, SAJE's UNIDAD organizer, and a long time member of the Los Angeles immigrant and worker rights community, passed away on Monday, March 19, after a tragic accident. 
From the moment that Jose walked through SAJE's doors he inspired us all. His unconditional love for our communities was evident in his relentless dedication to the struggle for justice for immigrants, los carwasheros, day laborers, South Los Angeles residents, and so many other communities to which he dedicated his life. This was most evident through his desire to bring together the different communities and struggles he loved.  
Earlier today, I was reminded of a beautiful tradition I learned in the United Farm Workers in which we remembered and celebrated the lives of our brothers and sisters in the struggle who had passed away. In an acknowledgment of the indelible mark they left in our hearts and in the struggle, and as a reminder that their spirit lives on in our daily work and in the struggle for justice that they dedicated their life to, we would call their name, and all would respond "√≠Presente!" 
In acknowledgement that through his love and dedication to our community Jose has left SAJE, and all of us, better than he found us, today we say:  
Jose Barrera! √≠Presente! 
Jose has been taken from us far too soon, our hearts break, but our struggle and solidarity continues in his honor. 
When we know more about where condolences can be sent, about the service arrangements, and ways in which we can support his family, we will make an annoucement both here and on our Facebook page. 
With great sadness,Paulina GonzalezExecutive Director
As a classmate said on Tuesday, he is still here with us because we have been touched by him and we remember him. No matter that I did not know him well; his presence affected me. The loss of someone dedicated to the struggle always, always leaves a hollowness.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

On Working in Skid Row

Last month, I was invited to write an article about working in Skid Row for the Public Allies National newsletter. Here it is:

I don't really know how to pose for portraits. 2/14/12
As a case manager at SRO Housing, I work with seniors living in the 50-block area of Los Angeles known as "Skid Row," which holds the largest concentration of homeless people in the country. Yes, there is trash in the streets.  Yes, I have seen people use drugs in broad daylight. These are the images that people expect and fear in Skid Row, but I've come to understand that this is only part of the story.  Beyond its needs and problems, there is also great potential.  I've learned to look at Skid Row as a community rather than as a scary, chaotic place. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Time for a Change

It's been 4 years since I changed the header on this blog. Actually, I haven't changed the header since my very first year blogging. (At the time, I think the word "blog" made me cringe a bit.)

The first header was a photo of a woman wheat-pasted on one of the 10 freeway's pillars:
The next one came just a few months later, and it was a photo of a sculpture at the San Pedro Blue Line Station:
I became very familiar with in 2008 from many trips to Long Beach to hang out with One Imagination folks.

This new image is one taken by my friend Kevin while we took a long walk around Gardena, down Vermont Avenue and eastward along train tracks last July. In it, my head has a few weeks' worth of growth of hair after I shaved off my longer-than-shoulder-length locks for the first time, ever:
It's a fitting moment for this change; I've been living in Gardena for over a year now. And the original URL of this blog makes for a much more sensible title now than "South of Downtown," as my writing here (as well as my life) continues to shift and change and transition. 

I am embracing the arrival of a time of change as I scoot within a month of my 27th birthday. Let's go. And let's keep it simple.

Friday, March 16, 2012

DASH Makes Me Happy... and Curious

Today, I had to get from Vermont and Exposition near USC to Traction and 2nd in Little Tokyo. My plan was to take a Metro bus up Vermont to Wilshire where I could hop on the Metro Red or Purple Lines to Union Station, then get on the Gold Line to the Little Tokyo Station. As I waited at the stop, I noticed a stop for the DASH F line, which runs from the Financial District all the way to South LA.
DASH Downtown Map

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Gentrification, USC, and U.N.I.D.A.D. (Part 2) // Parallels to Downtown LA

Photos of the press conference on March 14 may be found here.
I wonder how the second night of the hearings went. It seems that the bulk of the mobilization was for last night. 

This was the first public hearing I've ever been to and I wonder what percentage of these hearings contain as many impassioned testimonies as I heard last night. The question of displacement and the need for affordable housing are issues that I engage with daily as a case manager in Skid Row. While the new shops and art certainly contribute to life in Downtown Los Angeles, the expansion of development seems to be missing one crucial factor: a focus on the rehabilitation of the people (and the system!) who previously occupied many of those streets. The development has steadily moved eastward, from Broadway, to Spring, to Main, and, now, to Los Angeles
Changes in the Baltomore are already in motion. 3/12/12
In the case of this most recent development, law-abiding folks who live in Baltimore, Leland, and King Edward hotels will be protected by a moratorium on market-rate conversions. What protections against displacement do the families living in the West Adams and Exposition Park areas have in the face of USC expansion? (This is a completely honest question to which I hope to find an answer.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Gentrification, USC, and U.N.I.D.A.D. (Part 1)

Tonight I went to the public hearing during which community members were allowed to speak on their feelings about the USC Specific Plan to develop University Park. I was there from 6-7:35 and counted 16 speakers who spoke in favor of the development as it is written, and 12 people who spoke against the development as it is written.

One thing that I noticed is that there is a false sense of opposition between those from USC's community programs like KidWatch and Neighborhood Academic Initiative and those from the U.N.I.D.A.D. coalition. U.N.I.D.A.D. is in no way against further development of student housing or amenities; what I gather the campaign wants is for USC to include community organizations that have been creating and building in the community for years in the development of the plan.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Nightshot: Goodbye Tree

Olive at 23rd, near LA Trade Tech
Did it die? Did it just get too big? Were its roots obstructive? Is now a part of the free mulch program? Whatever the case, tree stumps always make me kind of sad. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Car-free Adventures (Bikes are Helpful)

I just subscribed to The Dirtbag Diaries podcast after hearing about its 5th anniversary, and I downloaded a handful of episodes with titles that seemed interesting. I listened to No Car, No Problem tonight. In it, Fitz Cahall (think Ira Glass, dirtbag edition) shares his epic travels from Seattle to the mountains without a car. 
As with many car-free long-distance travels, a bike is integral to success, and even with the bike and Seattle's transit system, it's still sort of grueling. Fitz touches on something important in the episode which I remember from my epic journeys from LA to Orange County by bike, bus, and rail: there was something about the adventure of figuring out how to make it work that made the extra time and sweat and dirt and stress worth it. 

Cahall hits a nerve when he mentions his sense of contradiction in logging so many driving miles while trying to get away from all the pollution-- I've been feeling that since becoming a wuss about biking home in the cold and dark from the climbing gym that's only 6 (very flat) miles from home. Now that longer, warmer days are on the way, I'll try to get back into alignment. It's hard to believe that just four or five months ago I was carrying my skimboard to work, taking a bus for an hour and a half minutes for twenty minutes of daylight on the water in Hermosa Beach, then busing another hour and a half back home in the dark. How times have changed.

I mentioned in a recent post that one of the reasons I can imagine myself holding onto a car is that it's so hard to get outdoors without one. This podcast from 2008 (which is perhaps when going car-free was at its maximum fad-iness? and when I joined in) reminds me that I haven't actually tried to go climbing without my car. To be honest, it feels inconceivable, being 95 pounds and carrying over a third of my body weight in climbing gear while biking uphill. Someday, though, someday.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Three Year Swim Club at East West Players

I saw the play last Friday. LA Downtown News makes a relevant point about the actors-- it was hard to believe they were teenagers, but their acting made up for that and the graceful hula-swimming was a treat to watch.

Saturday and Sunday are already sold out (this is after they added a Saturday matinee last week) and Friday is on its way! If you haven't gotten your tickets yet, get them now!

This story of Asian American athletes opened at around the same time that The Jeremy Lin Show debuted. Fun coincidence!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Dayshots: Stoney Point

Visited Stoney Point for my first time bouldering outdoors on Sunday. My fingers felt tenderized embarrassingly quickly on the sandstone. I'm looking forward to my next visit, though.
Lizard getting some sun. Who painted the patio?
My climbing partner and I marveled at how quiet the park was, and then I realized that we got there during the hottest part of the day. By the time we left, there were two dozen more people around. 
Would love to finish this traverse someday

While I enjoyed the simplicity of bouldering, I'll reserve it for days when I don't have much time. I prefer dangling in the air more than sitting on a crash pad while frustrated about not doing a move. I like heights.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Slowing Down and Saving Gas // Reluctant Motorist

Photo by Becky Simmons
My period of car-freedom in Los Angeles was relatively short. "There's something revolutionary about not having a car in LA," a car-free colleague said to me recently, and I agree with that. The other part of it was that being car-free takes a degree of strategizing, planning, and safety considerations that a typical Southern California upbringing does not teach. I have friends who have grown up in LA without a car, and continue to do so, and someday maybe I'll have that kind of resolve again. Right now, though, I'm really glad I have a functional, right-with-the-law vehicle because it's pretty hard to get out to nature without a car (car-pooling is preferred, of course, unless it's your first time meeting some stranger from a rock climbing website at the crag-- it's okay to trust your life with them on the other end of the rope, not okay to drive together... there's a trace of flawed-ness in my logic, but only a trace).

I sort of made peace with getting a car back in 2009 when my life was pretty erratic and I was regularly traveling between Culver City, East LA, Little Tokyo, Gardena, Bellflower, and Redondo Beach. With the horrendous spike in gas prices, I've been making a game of trying to get the most miles-per-gallon possible.

What I do to maximize my mileage:

Take my foot off the gas. A lot. I coast to toward yellow and red lights so that I don't have to brake as much to stop. I like to also try to time it so that I'll roll close to the intersection just as the light turns green again, and then not have to use my brakes at all! And I gloat a little inside about people who zoom past me and are still trying to get started up again as I ease past them. I rarely, rarely ever use my brakes on the freeway. Whenever I see traffic moving freely and people's brake lights come on, I wonder what the heck is going on. My first memory of being a passenger with someone who used the brakes to slow down on the freeway when just easing off the gas would have done the job was pretty unpleasant.

I thought I had more tricks than that for mileage, but I guess this is my main one. Also, I weigh under 100 pounds most of the time so maybe that's a factor, too. Every little bit counts, no? My car is twelve years old and rated at about 26 average mpg, and I've been getting between 28-30 (maybe a tiny bit more on those longer drives to New Jack City).

My games might be annoying to some people, but as we quickly approach $5/gallon, saving a gallon here and there might be a game more are willing to play.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

April: From the Ashes // 20th Anniversary of the LA Uprising

After the oldest continuously operated Black-owned bookstore was burned to the ground during the Uprising, the founder said "They were expressing their joy and sorrow and a change in consciousness, I can't mourn over that." (source: LA Times obituary for Alfred Ligon, the founder of Aquarian Book Shop)

I'm really looking forward to this event. I wonder what it will stir up from my childhood in Bellflower. I was just seven years old at the time.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Budgeting for Indulgence // Good Coffee in Little Tokyo

In my first few months of working at East West Players, I bemoaned a lack of good coffee in Little Tokyo. A few months after that, I decided to try out the new coffee shop that took over the space that used to be a Cefiore yogurt shop. And I could no longer claim that there was no good coffee in the neighborhood. 

At first, I sort of scoffed at the idea of fancy LA Mill beans being used in what I think of as a humble Southeast Asian concoction of Cafe du Monde ground coffee with chicory, but Cafe Dulce's Vietnamese Iced Coffee is absolutely wonderful (as Tien noted on her LA Weekly blog, probably the best in Los Angeles proper). At $4.50 after tax, its definitely a once-a-week-or-less indulgence, but one well-worth budgeting for. 
Jar o' goodness sweating
Since I'm more of a sipper than a gulper when it comes to coffee, I bring my own jar so that I can screw on the cap (which I've checked to ensure non-leakiness) and stick it in my backpack as I bike around. Of course, the jar sweats a bit, so I put the jar inside another bag to keep the rest of my things from getting damp. Reminds me of those good ol' days bringing my Pom Wonderful glass to Lost Souls Cafe.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Musings on 1st Street and Community Identity

The ceramic art gallery on First Street in Little Tokyo had a nice run, but it turned out to be a very short one. A few months ago I noticed that it was closed and that yet another Japanese-cartoon-themed shop opened in its place. It's especially disappointing because there are already so many shops like this in the neighborhood, and they feel more like something for a tourist-audience rather than a part of community culture. But, ah well. Business is business. I wonder what businesses could open in Little Tokyo that would seem like an expression or continuation of the neighborhood's history.

For me, Little Tokyo has been the site of building a pan-Asian American community through my involvement with Tuesday Night Project. And now there's The Flying Pig and The Spice Table bringing more pan-Asian dining to the area. I wonder where the neighborhood is headed, and what this means for the Japanese American community in Los Angeles. Kizuna is an organization that is invested in just that-- "Uniting Nikkei for the Future." As a Khmer American who is not involved in any Khmer American organizations, I wonder what it is like to have so much history in this country and the foundation (or weight?) of a closely knit community. But perhaps a Khmer American community is forming (like at Khmerican?) and I'm just not with it. The questions I always come back to are how do I get with it and do I want/need to get with it? That I talk/think/write about it often is some indication that I need to investigate it a bit more.

Tonight: Three Year Swim Club at East West Players, an pan-Asian American institution in the neighborhood for 13 years and counting.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

February Diversions (on the Rocks)

One of my goals for 2012 was to write here a few times a month and actually document the things that I'm doing here in LA.

I haven't been doing so well because I've been, well, doing things. But whenever I look back at my early posts from 2008 and see how much detail I went into back then, I feel regret for the last couple of years of mostly posting very short pieces. The event announcements help me remember some things, but I haven't been writing with the sense of discovery that I had when I first began, and that's a shame since my feelings about Los Angeles have actually grown deeper since that initial year.

So, looking to the future, I'm going to try to let go of some of my self-consciousness and write more about what I've been doing with myself lately. Beyond the scrapping around gardens and working as a Public Ally, rock climbing has been a huge diversion.
My first day at Malibu Creek
In January 2011 I was introduced by a lovely lady to rock climbing at Malibu Creek State Park. Last month I started climbing at Riverside Quarry. While it's not exactly picturesque and feels a little like an outdoor gym due to lots of the manufactured holds and glue, it's still much nicer than being inside a gym. (No offense to my location of choice for pulling plastic, Hangar 18 in Hawthorne.)  The wall is actually quite imposing, and the view from the top is not so bad either.

A huge factor is that I've been kind of wimpy about the 1-hour hikes it takes to climb at Malibu Creek or Echo Cliffs during our LA winter. And because my poor circulation plus cold rock equals numb fingers. I admit to my wimpiness and will eventually overcome it. I hope. Despite not having the pleasure of climbing on perfectly natural routes, the granite at Riverside Quarry is a nice change from the sharp volcanic rock at Malibu Creek and the potential for choss at Echo Cliffs.
My first climb at Riverside Quarry
I've been trying to spend at least one day a week climbing outside, and with 70-degree February days, Riverside Quarry has been an amazing place to feel some real rock under my hands until the days get longer.

Not really looking forward to "springing forward" on March 11, though.