SGV Interracial Hotspots

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!

16 thoughts on “SGV Interracial Hotspots

  1. The easiest place to see the interracial mixing is the Edward’s theatre at Garfield & Main on a Friday night. Having grown up in the area, I didn’t even notice it anymore until a white friend came out to the movies with me once and tripped out.

  2. Art,

    Nice post. Glad to see this list just when me and my chino-latino family are moving to Alhambra!
    WE saw several chino-latino families clebrating Mother’s Day at NYC rest, also near Atlantic & Garvey.

  3. Thank you!!! This was a great post.

    My first foray into Thai food was in K-Town at this place that had lines of Raza. We do love our Asian food. Recently I’ve seen a lot of Asians at Carnitas Michoacan in LH, due to the Church nearby, but they are there on days and nights other than Sunday. My homie tells me they are all up at Taurino on Olympic too.

    This is the future of Los-aztlan Latasians & Asiatinos. I tell my students to learn an Asian language. Many newly arrived Asians come here knowing they need to know Spanish. It is exciting. Im so glad it starts with the food.

  4. Dude, I love your post! I’ve always known we blend with Asians well. Don’t forget about The Costco in Montebello or the nearby WalMart on Walnut where you can see Chinos y Latinos side by side scoping the bargains. Yeah, the Fandango movie theater complex on Main & Garfield is where you can see how EMO music has brought multi-ethnic youth culture together as one! I love it! I remember back when Alhambra was like a version of Andy Griffith’s town: Mayberry.

  5. Great post. I grew up in a cross between Temple City and El Monte most of my life and I have so many memories from the places you listed. Oh, the nostalgia! Not enough is written about the SGV, so to start with food and multiculturalism is greatly appreciated!

  6. Oh wow! I’m going to have to bookmark this post! I just moved to the SGV a year and a half ago (I’m not from the LA area). Not knowing a thing about where to start looking for an apartment, mi manito and I found me a place in Alhambra, which was recommended to me because of the Asian/Mexican communities. I am Chinese Am and Chicana, but folks tend to racialize me as only Mexican (based on how I look). It’s great that there is a lot of intermingling. But I must say, there are a lot of Chinese places/restaurants I frequent where there are not a lot of Mexicans and I get a lot of questioning looks from other patrons, Chinese wait-staff and the Mexican workers in the back–like what the heck are you doing here?? That’s just one example. The same is true of my apartment complex–only Mexicans are friendly with me, even though I’ve struck up conversations with all kinds of people. So, even though there may be a lot of both groups in one space, my experience has been that the racial boundaries can still be pretty stark sometimes. And those are boundaries I cross everyday, but only because I’m both. I haven’t been to all the places you mentioned yet, so this Mexichina is going to have to try them all!

  7. Rebelde, LA is a very racially and class polarized town, it is a remnant of our colonial cowboy history (division is how folks were kept in line). There are like 10 million Asian noodle houses and Mexican taquerias in the SGV, and the fact that I can list the mixed hotspots so quickly says a lot about how divided the area still is. And beyond that is the fact that folks divide along even smaller differences within their respective ethnic communities. Have you experienced the chicano/ paisano rift, or the chinese/Viet/Korean divide? When I went to school at Schurr there were a few raced based riots, including 2 that I personally helped stop (I kicked it with Asian gangsters and the homeboys from VNE). The mini mall where NBC dim sum is used to have a video game arcade called pirates cove (back inthe street fighter 2 era), and the Wah Ching gangsters would jump the brown kids if they beat them in games, and I cant count how many times Ive been kicked out of Asian stores for no other reason than being a mexican kid (literally, the term “damn mehikahns” in a heavy chinese accent still stains my memories).Our media tends to ignore the mixing and love, so I hope to counteract it with posts like this and the one I did about watts at Even American Chinese get shit from folks at authentic chinese spots, my Vietnamese mom also gets crap at these spots too (same with Latinos). And I get tons of stares eating out with my in laws all the time, even moreso when we go to Westminster.

    My grandparents, who basically raised me, lived on the edge of ELA and Monterey Park and were one of the few Latinos who supported Asians in the community. BTW, this post is dedicated to Tak and his lawn mower shop that is now a mini mall on Garfield and Riggin.

    Other spots I missed were Almansor Park, Barnes and just about every park between Atlantic Blvd and the 605 freeway. Every WIC office and social service provider between the same borders in the last sentence. Pasadena City college, Rio hondo, Cal Poly Pomona and CSULA. Thanks for the other mentions AlDesmadre and HBC. The Montebello Town center (which used to be mainly Latino but is now full of Asians) is another one.

    Im glad you guys liked the post:)

  8. Great post Art!

    Especially the part noting the changes in El Monte. I haven’t read a thing about that gentrification there. There’s some white and black people moving in, which is a new thing.

    You should add that new spot Bollini’s down on Garfield as well as Shaka’s over in Tak’s mini mall. Taco Nazo on Garvey is popular with Asians.

    There’s actually a lot of mixed places. What’s kind of interesting is that there’s mixed immigrant places, like markets, and mixed American born places, like Norm’s or iBrowse, and some are both, like Sam Woo’s. There are not just racial barriers but generational ones too, that need to be crossed. (If the generational one isn’t crossed, the immigrant businesses will close after the immigrants age.)

    (For me, it’s always “NO” to Wal-Mart on Walnut Grove. I fought that thing and am never going in there.)

  9. After my parents left Boyle Heights, we moved to South San Gabriel (the “boonies” as it was known back then), where I spent a good chunk of my life. I’ve always lived in mixed Asian/Mexican neighborhoods, it feels very natural to me. It’s the same thing here in Lincoln Heights. To be honest, I get along better with my Chinese neighbors than my Mexican ones. My Chinese neighbors seem more appreciative of my food growing skills.
    One of my best friends when I was growing up was Vietnamese. She and I were almost the same color and had lots of fun passing as each other’s ethnicities. She’d take me to Santa Ana clubs where I learned how to dance the cha cha cha. Sometimes she would say I was lai (sp?), the offspring of a Mex-Amer soldier father and Vietnamese mother. Other times she would pass as Mexican, especially when we went to get our nails done (they would talk shit, not realizing she was Vietnamese). I was unofficially adopted into her family but despite being observant and immersed in her social world, I would inevitably make some kinda faux-pas that would remind them I was from a different culture. Sometimes her family would tell her “stop acting Mexican!”
    The only time I heard Mexicans talking shit about Asians in my neighborhood was around dinner time when the smell of fish and garlic wafted through the streets. I didn’t like it when I was a kid, now I love it!
    Thanks Art for the great post!

  10. Hey great blog! I live in East L.A and can appreciate many of the places you’ve mentioned. I do see some friction in my East L.A. neighborhood (Whittier and Indiana) with some of the Korean mom and pop store owners who diss the homies. Pisses me off. Heard one young Korean mocoso tell an old homie to go back to Mexico. . . with a thick ass accent to boot! “Dude!! Do you have any frickin idea what neighborhood you are price-gouging in?” Wanted to picket his ass, but didn’t have the heart to deepen the rift. On the other hand, I have many chino-chicanese friends and family, and japonés familia that grew up in ELA. . . somebody tell the Korean dude to lighten up or go sell overpriced Cheerios and beer someplace else!

  11. I want to joint he cheer squad for this post. I live in ELA near the Commerce / Monterey Park / Montebello borders, and although my block is 99.9% Latino (I’m white, so I think I personally constitute the 0.1% non-Latino), I agree with Art both that even the SGV remains prety segregated, but also that mixing happens here (if in a limited fashion). My GF went to Schurr and I’ve met several of her Asian-American friends from HS . . . on the other hand, we took 2 of her younger Chicano cousins to Happy Family in MP a month or so ago (another place that attracts a pretty mixed crowd — lots of Chinese, plus some Indians, Latinos and Whites) and their eyes practically bugged out of their heads. They were tripping out over the Chinese characters everywhere and acted like we were in another planet, even though we went only about 3 mi up Atlantic Blvd!

    Another spot I’ve noticed some mixing is at Chico — Montebello’s premier (er, only) gay bar. It’s one of the few gay bars in SGV and attracts predominantly Latinos, but also increasing numbers of Asian-Americans and Blacks, even occasional white folks (well, me, anyway). For me, though white-Latino families are not uncommon in L.A., or even in ELA, and while I acknowledge of course that the issues among white-Latino pairings are completely different than those of other mixed families, seeing other mixed couples and families out and about in SGV nonetheless warms my heart!

  12. Thanks for the post. This is not a new phenomena, as a lot of native Angeleno Japanese Americans over 45 call Boyle Heights home. The Militant has also noticed that many Filipinos, who are geographically Asian, but like Latinos came from a Spanish-colonized culture, can navigate both Asian and Latino cultures rather easily.

  13. yeah, I have some old flics from my abuela that have Japonese kids in them before the internment. She said the estrada courts Pjs were japanese farms and gardens, as well as much of vernon.

  14. hi art,
    great post! my friend la rebelde directed me here. this kind of stuff is exactly what i’m trying to figure out/ write about in my dissertation on asians and latina/os in the west sgv (the question of how much mixing is or isn’t the norm, and the kinds of amazing cross-cultural interethnic/interracial experiences people have here in the west sgv) i’m a grad student at usc in the american studies & ethnicity department. any chance you’d be willing to meet up for an interview? it sounds like you have a lot to say… anyone else reading this who grew up in the west sgv and wants to tell me about it is more than welcome to contact me as well. thanks!

  15. Great post Art. I grew up in Aliso Village (Primera Flats) starting in 1947 to 1958 when my Mom moved to St Louis St and later Chicago St near Hollenbeck Park. Me and my brothers never got into the gang thing, although we were approached, but they let us slide. Looked out for us since we were in their territory. It was mixed races when we move in, Mexicans, Blacks, Jews, Anglos, 1 American Indian family in my complex. We all got along well, with some occasional disputes, mostly the Moms about the clotheslines. I occasionally go by there if I’m on jury duty downtown, just to check out the area, the new homes were a good thing, but as you mentioned not enough low cost housing, and just moved the gang problem around the rest of the city.

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