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Parks

Park ranger discusses urban recreational space in Downtown Los Angeles

The following post was written by intern Maggie Su as part of a series of profiles of API members of the community.

Kya Marina Le never realized that working as a park ranger was an option for her, let alone in the city of Los Angeles. Growing up, the only rangers she encountered were Caucasian males working at national parks. Now, though, she is an interpreter with two ranger hats, working for the National Park Service and supervised by the California State Parks. Le is currently based at LA State Historic Park.

As an interpreter, she serves as the face of the park — a resource available to visitors who have questions. She enjoys the creative aspect of the work.

“What’s nice about [interpretation] is that it gives me the freedom and creativity to explore concepts that align with the National Park Service or with California State Parks, but also present it in a direction or voice that suits me the best,” Le said.

LA State Historic, 32 acres of recreational space bordering downtown that opened in April, was built with lots of community input. There were 65 community meetings held prior to the park’s opening, according to Le, during which residents could voice suggestions and concerns about the park’s facilities and programming.

While the park was still in its planning stages, it — then just a dirt lot — was made available to the public in the interim, from 2006 to 2013. Community members embraced the space, using it as a place to work out, teach their children how to ride a bike and go for runs. When it was closed, all they wanted to know was when it would be open again. Their enthusiasm for the space only increased when the park reopened earlier this year.

“Then, this was literally a dirt lot with porta potty bathrooms, and the community took it,” Le said. “It took three years for us to reopen this park, but all I’ve heard is, ‘it was worth the wait.’”

Although LA State Historic is a beautiful, green space in the heart of the city, Le said it can be difficult for California State Parks to find people willing to work there. In addition to the relative unaffordability of life in LA, the park simply can’t compare to the natural beauty of more remote locations in California.

“It’s like, if you’re a nature person, why would you go to this previous brownfield and work at a place where you’re congested with traffic?” Le said.

But Le is happy to work in Downtown LA; she understands that urban locations are where such parks are most needed. Indeed, LA State Historic’s greatest asset is its accessibility, especially to residents of neighboring communities such as Chinatown and Lincoln Heights. Although other parks may also be accessible by Metro, none are as welcoming as LA State Historic.

“This is where you can picnic with your family,” Le said. “This is a place where you can take your biker friends and hang out under the bridge after school before you get tacos and go home.”

Le, who lives in Little Saigon, Orange County, commutes an hour and a half to work each day by train. She takes the Metrolink regional train to Union Station then transfers to the Metro Gold Line, which takes her to the Chinatown station directly adjacent to the park. Although she hopes to eventually move to LA to avoid the three hour round-trip commute, for now, she is content — she can sleep on the train.

“I think public transit has always played a really big role in my life because I hate driving. The stress and mental load of driving is such a waste of time,” Le said. “Yeah, public transit takes a little longer, but at least you can spend that time being distracted.”

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CSUN graduate student discusses El Monte history, development

The following post was written by intern Maggie Su as part of a series of profiles of API members of the community.

Dat Tran, a graduate student at California State University, Northridge, is particularly knowledgeable when it comes to the Asian American immigrant experience. The El Monte native, who participated in APIFM’s Bike to China program in 2013, has conducted extensive research on the history of Asian Americans in his hometown.

In June 2016, the city of El Monte partnered with Metro and other organizations to host Viva SGV Open Streets, and event during which streets in El Monte and South El Monte were closed off from cars for five hours. The purpose was to allow residents to reclaim the space, enjoying recreational activities in their city without having to worry about traffic.

APIFM (APIOPA at the time) was involved with Viva SGV, leading a bike tour of the city that featured Asian American history. Tran, who did the research for the tour, spent several months on the project, uncovering numerous tidbits in the process. For example, he discovered that there used to be a Japanese-owned vegetable stand on Valley Boulevard, right next to where El Monte’s city hall currently stands.

“I had to consult our local museums, I had to dig in into the weirdest parts of the internet that is not well known just to try to find snippets of Asian American existence,” Tran said.

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Local student discusses park access in Alhambra, Monterey Park

The following post was written by intern Maggie Su as part of a series of profiles of API members of the community.

Carmen Chen, Mark Keppel High School Class of 2017, has spent her entire life in Monterey Park — a city that is over 50% Asian. Her parents immigrated from Guangzhou, China, before she was born in search of a better life. Chen, who is fluent in both Cantonese and English, will attend the University of California, Irvine in the fall.

In high school, Chen was part of a club known as Promoting Youth Advocacy (PYA) — a group of students that partnered with APIFM (then APIOPA). PYA educated its participants on social issues such as environmental justice and planned park cleanups. At one cleanup, the group collected trash at Almansor Park with gloves, trash bags and other supplies provided by APIFM.

Chen considers Almansor Park, a 22-acre park in Alhambra, the nicest, most spacious park in her area. Only five to 10 minutes from where she lives, the park has a pond, a golf course and ample space for people to run. Yet despite the generous size of Almansor Park, Alhambra only has a total of 78 acres of park space — 0.9 acres per 1,000 residents. This is in contrast to the county average of 3.3 acres per 1,000.

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El Monte environmental justice advocate discusses parks, bikes and access to the San Gabriel Mountains

The following post was written by intern Maggie Su as part of a series of profiles of API members of the community.

Amy J. Wong fell in love with nature in her family’s backyard, where her grandmother had planted fruit trees of all sorts: jujube, kumquat, guava. It was among those trees and more that she grew up hearing stories of her grandmother’s past in Cambodia and Vietnam. But it wasn’t until her college days at the University of California, Berkeley, that she discovered the world of environmentalism and environmental justice.

In addition to the sustainability initiatives that the Berkeley community embraced, Wong was introduced to case studies of cities such as Oakland and Richmond in environmental health classes. She learned about such cities as places in need of environmental justice, not realizing until she returned home from college that her native El Monte was the perfect example of an environmental justice community.

El Monte, located in the San Gabriel Valley, is a particularly park-poor neighborhood. In addition to its lack of green space, the city is surrounded by freeways and has some of the worst air quality in the nation, according to Wong.

“We’re surrounded by the 10, the 605 and the 60,” Wong said. “[The freeways] become like the clogged arteries of the neighborhood.”

The parks that El Monte does have are often flanked by one of these surrounding freeways. Fletcher Park, for instance, is directly adjacent to both the 10 freeway and the El Monte Bus Station — what Wong described as the largest bus station west of the Mississippi.

The San Gabriel Valley Greenway Network is an initiative intended to restore balance to the area, hoping to transform storm channels, washes and creeks into a network of multi-use paths. The paths, in addition to providing space for residents to walk and bike, would connect neighboring communities — and the parks in those communities — lessening the need for cars.

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Dog lover discusses parks and bikes in Los Angeles versus Tokyo

The following post was written by intern Maggie Su as part of a series of profiles of API members of the community.

Ranko Fukuda has a foot in two different worlds. Having grown up in both Tokyo and Los Angeles, she has a multicultural background that gives her a unique take on her surroundings.

Fukuda’s background is in banking; she worked with Capital One straight out of college, where she stayed for over a decade. Now, she works in the nonprofit world, running an adult education program that trains underserved adults to begin a career in banking. She made the switch after moving to LA from the East Coast, following her 2011 stint in Japan to aid tsunami recovery efforts.

Thoughtful and reflective, Fukuda notices differences in even the mundane aspects of life in each city. Tokyo citizens, for example, are generally diligent about not leaving trash behind, despite the reduced number of trash cans in the city. This is in sharp contrast to the hot Cheetos bags that litter the sidewalks near her residence, presumably left there by students from one of the three schools in the area.

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Bike to China alum discusses Chinatown park access

The following post was written by intern Maggie Su as part of a series of profiles of API members of the community.

Kevin Liao may one day be your orthodontist. But today, he’s a biology student at California State University, Los Angeles. His ultimate goal is to open multiple dentistry practices, some of which would serve as community centers providing orthodontic services at low costs, if not for free, depending on the client’s need.

“The government says braces are not a necessity, more of a privilege,” Liao said. “But I know how some individuals, if they don’t have a perfect smile, it kind of impacts them. They may not want to smile.”

The community dentistry centers Liao hopes to one day open are his way of giving back to the community — a continuation of the work he already does with Para Los Niños, a nonprofit that provides social services and education opportunities to Los Angeles youth. Liao, who is based in Lincoln Heights, has worked with the organization for the past four years. He is involved with programs such as the Men of Action Initiative and the Escalera Program, both of which are in partnership with the National Council of La Raza (NCLR).

Liao has also been instrumental in much of APIFM’s work. He recently collaborated with Program Director Scott Chan to form Chinatown Fit Club — a weekly gathering of runners and walkers at LA State Historic Park. Their goal in forming the club, Liao said, was to encourage people to utilize the recently reopened recreational space while bringing residents of neighboring communities together.

LA State Historic Park is a 32-acre space — by far the largest park in the area. Despite this, there are only 1.6 acres of park land per 1,000 residents in LA Central City North compared to the county average of 3.3 acres per 1,000. This relative lack of park space makes it critical that residents fully utilize LA State Historic Park. Alpine Recreation Center, the second largest park space in the area, is 1.94 acres, but is often overused due to Chinatown’s high population density.

Although the turnout for Chinatown Fit Club has improved since its first meeting at the end of April, attracting the elderly population of Chinatown continues to be a challenge. Many of the elderly Chinese residents choose instead to frequent the Alpine Recreation Center, where they have been doing 6:45 a.m. tai chi for years.

“It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks,” Liao said. “They’re just so accustomed to their way of life, their habit.”

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Local leaders discuss Cambodian heritage, police profiling and park access in Long Beach

The following post was written by intern Maggie Su as the first in a series of profiles of API members of the community.

Ladine Chan and Patrick Duong are not your typical father-son duo. In fact, they aren’t related at all. But, judging from their good-natured banter, one might assume otherwise. Chan, Program Coordinator for Educated Men with Meaningful Messages (EM3) — a youth program under Families in Good Health at Dignity Health St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach — works with primarily Cambodian youth, aged 14 to 19. He himself was once a youth in the program over a decade ago. Duong, who just completed his first year at Long Beach City College, is a recent graduate of the program. He credits EM3 with helping him finish high school.

As residents of Long Beach, Chan and Duong have limited access to safe parks. Most are poorly maintained and rife with gang activity. Furthermore, Long Beach residents must also contend with a lack of access to healthy foods. In a neighborhood where the most readily available groceries are from corner stores or liquor stories, many families have to travel at least three or four miles in order to purchase nutritious goods.

Despite the area’s lack of resources, programs such as EM3 exist to help residents combat the odds they face. The EM3 youth attend workshops every Friday on subjects ranging from life skills to violence in the community to healthy relationships. The program also teaches youth about their own cultural heritage, given that the majority of their parents are refugees of the Cambodian genocide under the Khmer Rouge regime.

“It gets very emotional to talk about what happened during the genocide, very traumatizing,” Chan said. “That’s why some of the youth get lost in it.”

Many members of the Cambodian community in Long Beach, which Chan estimates comprises 30 to 40 percent of the total population in the area — the largest Cambodian population anywhere outside of Phnom Penh — suffer from untreated PTSD. This makes it difficult for parents, unwilling to bring up the past, to discuss their background with their children. The result is that Cambodian youth know little about what the previous generation experienced.

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