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.
A park located about two minutes from Chen’s residence includes a basketball court and a badminton court. Although it is smaller, it is equally well-maintained. There are numerous parks in Monterey Park, Chen said, and all of them are clean and safe.
Parks in Monterey Park are indeed more accessible than in Alhambra, with 60 percent of the population living within half a mile of a park, compared to 49 percent in Alhambra. But, while Monterey Park has more park land than Alhambra with 2 acres per 1,000 residents, it remains below the county average.
At the park closest to her house, Chen has observed elderly Asian women sharing the basketball court with basketball teams — an unspoken agreement that is beneficial for both parties.
“It’s kind of really nice if you think about it, because there are teams there who play basketball in the morning, but they play half court, and the other half is for the elderly women to dance and just enjoy their time there,” Chen said.
Other residents come to the park to walk their dogs or let their children play. Some go on post-dinner strolls around the neighborhood. Most people who use the parks are children or the elderly, according to Chen; everyone else is too busy with school or work.
“I ask my mom, like hey, do you want to go to the park?” Chen said. “And she’s always like, I’m so tired after work, I’m not going to go to the park. I have other stuff to do.”
When she was younger, Chen — an only child — would frequent the park on summer evenings to play with other kids. Now, she spends less time at the park, going only when she has plans to run with her friends or when the city hosts festivals there — most recently, for the Fourth of July.
Although the parks in her area are not gated, Chen has seen officers late at night enforcing closing hours. She is not sure of the exact time the parks actually close because signs listing opening hours are often spray-painted over; she suspects it’s around 10 p.m. She usually leaves by 9 p.m. at the latest.
Last year, Chen visited Lennox — about 5 miles from the Los Angeles International Airport. She noted there that parks there are plagued by gang violence and are poorly maintained in comparison to parks in her neighborhood.
At home, in Monterey Park, Chen has the luxury of relaxing in the outdoors.
“It’s kind of like a safe spot,” Chen said. “The park gives a sense of calmness and just like a place to relax, to talk out problems with friends.”