On Jan. 21, the evening earlier than the Lunar New Yr, a gunman killed 11 folks and injured 9 others at a ballroom dance studio in Monterey Park, California, frequented by immigrant elders. For a lot of throughout the nation and even the remainder of Los Angeles County, the city turned merely the most recent American metropolis to host a mass taking pictures. However for Asian Individuals, notably these in southern California, Monterey Park represents the epicenter of a multiculturally wealthy San Gabriel Valley area that’s house to long-established ethnic enclaves, current newcomers, in addition to a technology of creatives melding traditions to create new genres of meals, movie and artwork. Latest Hollywood News requested Philip Wang, co-founder of early YouTube adopters Wong Fu Productions, present Netflix host and a longtime resident of the world, to mirror on his hopes for the legacy of the neighborhood.
On Lunar New Yr’s Eve, my spouse and 13-month-old son had been on our manner house from visiting our PoPo and aunties once we hit some site visitors coming down Garfield Avenue approaching Garvey Avenue within the late afternoon. “Oh yeah, in the present day is Monterey Park’s Lunar New Yr competition,” I mentioned. We determined to park and test it out so we might introduce our son to the colours and smells of the colourful neighborhood ringing within the Yr of the Rabbit (and the Cat). 1000’s of individuals within the predominantly Chinese language and Vietnamese metropolis had been out having fun with the festivities. The primary road was closed to motor autos, and dozens of distributors had been out promoting lamb skewers, boba drinks, bubble waffles and auspicious decorations. I paused at one sales space to look at two Chinese language seniors, one molding clay into cute characters, one other making lollipop artwork with melted sugar.
It’s no secret that the previous few years have hit the Asian American neighborhood laborious, with an increase in anti-Asian hate crimes introduced on throughout the pandemic. So to see all this pleasure — Asian pleasure — at this excellent occasion, I needed to soak it in. This is Monterey Park, I assumed to myself. This is why “the 626” — my chosen house for the previous 20 years — is so particular.
We left the competition feeling linked to our metropolis and as if the Lunar New Yr was off to an ideal begin.
I might by no means have imagined how that may change only a few hours later when information broke of a mass taking pictures on the very intersection we had simply handed. I instantly contacted different native pals to test on their security and see if there was any inside data that hadn’t made it onto social media but. Rumors and theories had been already swirling on Chinese language-dominated WeChat amongst dad and mom about potential causes, and shortly, nationwide consideration was falling onto this little neighborhood in the course of the evening.
I’ve a sense that many individuals studying this piece heard of Monterey Park for the primary time that weekend. I wouldn’t blame you. Even many Angelenos aren’t acquainted. And for lots of these working within the leisure trade, particularly, for many years Asians type of solely existed in Chinatown by Hollywood requirements. Solely just lately have we lastly gotten to interrupt out past the “Chinatown episode” (the one time Asians usually ever received to look on a community TV present) to inform extra distinctive tales. However Monterey Park is just not Chinatown — not within the Hollywood sense, a minimum of.
Now, this isn’t meant to be a full historical past of Monterey Park, though it has fairly an attention-grabbing timeline that’s been influenced by geopolitics and its share of native racism and xenophobia. However its most notable attribute is its demographic. Monterey Park was the primary metropolis within the continental U.S. to have a majority inhabitants of Asian descent. Beginning with Japanese and Chinese language Individuals who had been pushed east, the Eighties and ‘90s noticed an inflow of ethnic Chinese language refugees from Vietnam, prosperous Taiwanese and mainland Chinese language. With an increasing number of immigrants transferring to the San Gabriel Valley, different close by ethnoburbs like Alhambra, San Gabriel, Arcadia and Temple Metropolis spawned from Monterey Park. Mixing with the present Latino inhabitants, these demographically and culturally related cities collectively gained the nickname “the 626” (for its space code), a melting Sichuan hotpot of taco vehicles and tea outlets, fruit stands and big Asian plazas. Meals is probably going the rationale most outsiders have even been out this fashion, however there may be a lot extra to Monterey Park and the 626 than soup dumplings and dim sum. Right here, the working class lives subsequent door to new-money immigrants. A technology from a distant previous and residential buys groceries alongside a brand new, fashionable technology that might by no means totally comprehend the poverty and battle these elders noticed only a handful of a long time in the past.
This dichotomy is one thing I needed to study myself as a transplant who moved to the world 17 years in the past to discover the movie trade. Again in 2006, YouTube was model new and social media basically nonexistent, however my UCSD school pals and I had a small however rising web following for our little video firm, Wong Fu Productions, and we felt we needed to be in L.A. to have any shot. A good friend’s mother set us up in a small townhouse off Garfield in Alhambra, which we quickly realized was not anyplace near the place “the biz” was. However as Asian American filmmakers, we realized firsthand that being nearer in proximity wouldn’t have helped us anyway.
With so few mainstream alternatives within the 2000s and early 2010s, we weren’t actually lacking out, so not as soon as did we really feel like we must always transfer West to be nearer to studios and different manufacturing corporations. As an alternative, we doubled down and put down roots, arrange our first places of work close by and began making impartial movies with Asian companies and the vigorous streets of the 626 as our backdrop and inspiration. We even met different Asian creators and invited them over, and it felt like we had our personal little artistic hub out right here in “Far East L.A.,” separate from Hollywood’s marginalizing boundaries. Plus, I had grown up in a predominantly white Bay Space city, the place Chinese language meals and groceries had been all the time a 40-minute drive away. So, to now stay in a metropolis the place I might get a BBQ pork bun and contemporary soy milk simply down the road was a dream. Once I realized I might get beef chow enjoyable and fervour fruit iced tea at 2 a.m. from quite a lot of late-night Hong Kong-style cafes, I knew I used to be gonna be right here for some time. On the time, pals who grew up right here noticed it as a bubble, however I noticed it as a spine. Some say it’s “comfy” staying near these such as you, however I felt empowered.
You see, what I like most about this metropolis is that it’s unapologetically Asian, which matched my mindset, the tribe I wanted and the philosophy of my content material and companies. I by no means needed to really feel othered in my craft or my metropolis as a result of right here, I was the bulk. This confidence allowed me to be my most genuine self and creator, and so I discovered a neighborhood right here, made it house and even opened a restaurant. I’ve now spent almost 20 years exhibiting off the 626 and its denizens onscreen lengthy earlier than Hollywood ever thought to discover past Chinatown or Asian stereotypes. (Prior to now 12 months, with the rise of Asian American-created initiatives, the trade has made it to the opposite finish of the ten, taking pictures a minimum of components of Netflix’s upcoming Brothers Solar and Disney+’s American Born Chinese language on location within the SGV.) Monterey Park has given me a lot, and I can solely hope my work has made some constructive affect on the area people and youth right here in order that extra can develop up feeling empowered, particularly on this altering cultural and social panorama.
In recent times, the 626 has developed into extra of a “sanctuary” in my eyes. All through the pandemic and all of the information of anti-Asian hate, I felt protected right here. My neighbors and I clearly stood collectively towards API hate, nobody complained about masks — culturally, we had been comparatively all on the identical web page. However there’s one a part of American tradition that has infiltrated ours with devastating outcomes: weapons. Our Asian elders have been so susceptible because the begin of the pandemic, from bodily assaults within the streets to being remoted from household, and now, being vulnerable to gun propaganda and violence. Solely in America can our secluded, radicalized and distressed have such quick access to weapons designed to obliterate life at a excessive capability. Once I consider the victims of the dance studio taking pictures, I see immigrants who possible endured quite a lot of hardship coming to the U.S. I see elders who discovered happiness by means of dancing at this later stage of their lives. They’d come right here for a model of the American dream, solely to be ended by the American nightmare.
When the taking pictures occurred, I knew Monterey Park was about to develop into notorious, and it pained me to assume that this is the rationale why folks had been going to know us. With all mass shootings, the cities they happen in develop into synonymous with these incidents, and to outsiders, they’re frozen in a snapshot of grief and tragedy. I’ll admit that’s what I believe on the point out of Uvalde, Aurora, Parkland, Sandy Hook and too many others to call. However I’m writing to ensure folks know that Monterey Park is, was and shall be greater than “that metropolis the place that mass taking pictures occurred.” I urge you to hunt out constructive tales from this metropolis’s historical past, from those that have been right here even longer than me, in order that the subsequent time somebody mentions Monterey Park, you understand it’s a metropolis filled with power and goals. This metropolis is endlessly modified, however it can all the time be a lovely place of various cultures thriving with one another, a locale that has touched thousands and thousands of lives (and stomachs), and a house away from house for hopeful immigrants attempting to settle in a overseas land.
Philip Wang presently lives in “the 626” and is the co-founder of Wong Fu Productions and Bopomofo Cafe, from the place he hosts Netflix’s digital interview collection Spill the Boba Tea. He additionally co-authored the New York Instances bestseller Rise: A Pop Historical past of Asian America from the Nineties to Now.