Since i smoked away all of my creativity between the ages of 11 and 25, i get a lot of my good ideas from other folks’ initial ideas. A while back Browne noted how the SGV (san gabriel valley, sur gangster valle, shotgun vallee) is more multicultural than San francisco, this comment and me and my esposa’s fascination with cross ethnic intermingling in socially polarized LA gave me the idea to note places around the SGV where this occurs. I consider the SGV to be THE forefront of racial mixing, it just seems natural given it was next to the inner city barrios that all us mud people were restricted to before the Califas supreme court banned it in 1955 and minority war vets began chipping away at racial covenants. Its aesthetically nicer in a “1950s way” compared to Boyle Heights or the Central Ave. corridor, yet close enough to still be connected to one’s original ethnic enclave and community; plus “if those pinche gabachos can do it why the heck can’t I?”.
I am posting this topic in the LA eastside blog to also point out that , in my opinion, the eastside is more of a state of mind than an actual geographic location (which it is also). As a firm enforcer of “you dont live in fucken eastlos” for much of my life, as a bonafied resident; I also must note that to true eastsiders transcend political borders and hillside boundaries. Vatos from pomona, southside montebello, pico rivera, bell gardens, la puente, baldwin parque, sereno, south sangra or any other “outside of ELA proper” barrio all share the common culture of swapmeet goods, police harassment, ghetto birds, teen angel and elaborate windshield sticker art, plus those three dots tatted on half of LA’s wrist or inside finger. So it’s all good, I say this to help mend the divide cholos from outside of eastlos feel and get all self conscious about, plus we all blend together when we hit the pinta, so we need to lighten up on trying to attain the martyrdom-specialness of it all. Anyways…
So I am focusing around the areas of the SGV I am most familiar with, the western portion of it. I remember after a brief stint at Eastlake that my mom used my abuela’s address on the eastern edge of East LA proper to enroll me in one of the better schools whose district skirts the eastside, Schurr high in montebello. Coming from Roosevelt, I was worried and annoyed by my cousins and friends chiding me about going to the “chino” school, years later I would find out the school was over 70% Latino, but in my narrow minded relativist world the school was alien territory (or actually it wasnt, I had plenty of asian friends, but I was a stupid teen). Anyways, as time wore on and Latinos and Asians learned to accept each others’ presence, and oftentimes enjoy or profit from it, the cross cultural osmosis and humorous anecdotes ensued. My wife is half vietnamese (but raised totally poor FOB asian) and grew up in Pico Union and then El Monte, and we both enjoy the funny social nuances and whatnot that have formed organically in chinolandia. I will try to update the list and appreciate any additions, so here goes:
Pepe’s and Sam Woo BBQ on Valley Blvd in Alhambra. I dont know if some rogue cook or daring hungry chinese mainlander first trecked the 70 foot divide across the street between the two spots, but you can find asians eating taquitos and mexicans eating chinese broccoli any day, and it is great!
NBC Cafe (worlds best dim sum) on Atlantic near Garvey in Monterey Park. I think the whole damn city is one big asian-mexican orgy, with the rich up in the hills and the rest of us along the Garvey or the southwest “mexican area” near ELAC. It is great to see paisano families ordering har gow at this ginormous eatery with a million rooms as the restaraunt enveloped the bulk of the mini mall (where i saw karate kid 2 with my father before he went to prison). Beyond Latino-Asian mixing, the place gets a good mix of non Asians of all ethnicities, adding to the ambience of mispronounced words.
Pho 79 in Alhambra. This vietnamese noodle house is a favorite of both Latinos (again, some rogue back kitchen cook started the trend from my guestimation) and other non Asians. At the old spot that used to be on New Avenue, there were several Latino workers who spoke Vietnamese well. The especially pleasing part of these multilingual folks was that they were of the very indio looking mexican spectrum, adding to the confusion as they looked pretty Asian (on a similar note, my almost full blood apache abuela gets mistaken for being part of my wife’s Asian family at birthday parties, very funny). The Pho 79 is on Garfield near Main, and has some damn good Pho (pronounce “fuh”), second only to menudo for hangovers.
Petrillos/ Angelos/ Di Pillas, all along Valley in Alhambra and Rosemead This triumverate of Italian eateries is always filled with Latinos and Asians. Chicanos love nothing more than eating semi white food tpo feel accepted by Americana(sic), and americanized Asians (and their parents) do as well, it lets everyone know “hey I’m sorta American”. When whites were fleeing the area, Latinos filled the gap at Italian eateries, and they brought their asian friends along, and they begged their parents to take them for pizza once in a while.
Ranch 99 on Valley/ Hong Kong Supermarket/ etc.. Both Asians and Latinos share a love of markets with questionable cleanliness, super fresh produce sitting next to rotting bok choi, and being able to buy live animals by the pound. Nuff said
Noodle Planet on Valley/ 7th in Alhambra. This used to be the Bob’s Big Boy, and the gracious newcomers mounted the big boy statue on the wall of the restaraunt which is a nice touch and appeases racist Alhambrans who bitched about everything being a “threat”. It is also the next block over from the Pepe’s/ Sam Woo duet, this area is ground zero for good food and multicultural bad driving.
The ELAC (East LA College) swapmeet The asians come from the apartment jungle just north of ELAC and the Mexicans come from the maravilla projectos, actually they dont, it was a joke. You can find mechanics of all walks of life getting tools here, my son also begs for $1 yu-gi-oh cards until papi gives in. As a whole ELAC is pretty asian-mexican, which is great for the boba industry.
King Taco in El Monte and Cal State LA. Sometimes it will be 30% asian in the spot, no shite. I love hearing the pronunciation of “con todo” and “salsa verde”. El Monte as a whole is being gentrified (it is not always a bad word) by poorer Southeast and mainland Chinese Asians since Alhambra, Monterey Park, San Gabriel and now even once sorta crappy Rosemead get ever so expensive. This Asian influx was the key to Monterey Park and Alhambra keeping crime and gang problems low in the areas of town with a lot of apartment complexes as Mexicans got pushed out for the most part during the 80s/90s, and yeah I just totally stereotyped and overgeneralized like a mofo, but fuck you I’m an insider so I can be a bit rough.
Gonzalez NorthGate Market in El Monte. Every once in a while my little Viet suegra would make me go get her salsa in there, then I took her and did the Spanish ordering, now she has the fridge stocked all the time. And from the looks of things when I go into the store it has become a trend amongst Asians who are too tired/lazy to drive far to a Ranch 99 or enjoy Latino cuisine enough to overcome the embarassment and shit treatment from the trashy segment of the Latino population.
Atlantic Square in Monterey Park. A long time back the redevelopment of this commerical center created a big rift among Latinos and Asians as whites courted the browns to do their racist dirty work. It failed miserably (except for a few ignorant unhappy hold outs) and this spot is now a zone of convergence for the two cultures, starbucks is ground zero.
Norm’s in San Gabriel. It used to be that the place was filled with blue haired white biddies and their disgruntled husbands as well as obese Latinos, and the Asian folks stayed at the Hawaii Market on the other side of Valley. Now Mexicans order fishball soup at hole in the wall asian eateries and Chinese families make going to Norm’s their sunday traditions. That my friend is puro SGV beauty right there in the high blood pressured flesh!
I can go on but I’m tired and have work tommorow. Maybe one day Ill add some pics or drop my list of secret Asian spots that are the shiznit, like Van’s bakery beef jerky, but for now I’d invite you Latinos and other non-Asians to explore the cornicopia of smells and stickiness that is Asian Cuisine and stores. When you get grossed out by the eel head soup you accidentally ordered, just think that this is our cultural version of a white guy getting flustered by a jalapeno and smile. Another big jump for Latinos is to view the bean in a sweet context and not as a savory diet staple, which took me several years and a lot of coersion from my wife (but boy was it worth it!). Finally, get used to being pushed by Asians in markets and restaraunts, its a cultural nuance created by 20 billion people living in an area the size of baja California. Hope you enjoy!