The Militant was able to check out the Beverly Union Park grand opening in Historic Filipinotown after all, as his accident injuries have healed faster than expected. Even still, as an extra precaution, an unspecified number of militia decoy operatives were deployed to "cover" the event so as to confuse and/or distract anyone present who might deduce who the Militant is.
But when the Militant arrived, the formerly idle plot of land was alive with families from the community present, children running around, playing on swings and jungle gyms, volunteers doling out free pizza, water and cookies and the sound of cumbia music throbbing from a P.A. system, under a sunny and warm - but not uncomfortably hot - late summer Saturday in Los Angeles. Nestled between a view of the looming Downtown Los Angeles skyline and a large Filipino history mural, Beverly Union Park suddenly became a crown jewel in the neighborhood, a place where not only kids can play but families can barbecue or have a picnic - places more well-to-do communities undoubtedly take for granted (especially in HOA-controlled communities, where the happiness of children is strictly prohibited for the sake of preserving property values).
The Militant chatted with a staff member from the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, a non-profit organization whose purpose is to build and run new city parks where the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks could not.She told the Militant that the park was planned and designed by members of the community who offered their input. Furthermore, the park is also operated and maintained by members of the community, who also are paid for their work, further stimulating economic development in the neighborhood. The Militant also chatted with a Belmont High School teacher and one of the parents in the community and found out about their individual perspectives of and activities in their community.
Echoes of Shared Cultures
After briefly consulting via phone with one of his operatives, the Militant was informed that there was a cultural festival in nearby Echo Park. Because the Militant supports both parks and cultural events, he proceeded due north on Glendale Blvd.
Of course upon arrival the Militant surveyed the lotus bed and noticed that though there was new growth since July, it still was hardly 1/3 of its full capacity.
The festival was a Filipino regional fiesta held in honor of a patron saint, the American version of one held every September in the eastern Philippines. According to one of the people in the festival, the Echo Park version, celebrated by immigrants from that particular region of the country, has been an annual tradition for 36 years. Unlike the FPAC festival which the Militant went to last weekend, this one is largely attended and organized by older-generation immigrant Filipinos and their families to coincide with a feast day. But also unlike last weekend's festival, the food here was free! The Militant took out his wallet when a woman in a booth offered him a piece of cake and a can of iced tea. But the Militant learned that in such fiestas in the Philippines, total strangers are welcomed into people's homes and offered that sort of hospitality. Unfortunately, the Militant had learned from a festivalgoer that most of the food had already run out earlier in the day.
The Militant did discover a group of four Latinos roaming the festival site with much curiosity, no doubt already discovering the similarities of Filipinos to that of their culture. The Militant soon sat in on a conversation between two 50-something-aged men, one of them from the Philippines, the other from El Salvador. The latter was in the neighborhood as he and his wife visit her elderly parents, who live nearby, each weekend and the festival piqued their interest. The former has been attending the festival for the past 20-plus years with his wife and children, who were elsewhere in the park at the moment.
The two men had a conversation about their cultural similarities -- everything from their patron saint fiestas to their Catholic faith to the after-effects of Spanish colonialism to family traditions and the roles of the elderly, political corruption and the weakening economy in their respective countries. The Militant found this fascinating -- where the evil East Coast mainstream media emphasizes on cultural differences and tension between ethnic groups, the Militant, right before him sees two people engaging in an enlightening chat on their cultural similarities.
The Militant found this so refreshing and fascinating, he joined in on the conversation. It was quite a sight to see, with three people of different ethnicities -- Filipino, El Salvadoran and Unspecified -- sharing the experiences of their own cultures and each learning from them. Can't everyone else be like this everyday?
The two gentlemen asked each other their names. The El Salvadoran said his name was "José." The Filipino said his name was "Joe."
"We have the same name!" Joe exclaimed.
Throughout their conversation he held a rolled-up goldenrod-colored t-shirt of the fiesta event that was given to him by the organizers. Joe told José that he was more than welcome to come back next year -- on the third Saturday of September -- to his festival. José said that it was close to El Salvador's independence day, which was today, September 15. Then before he left, Joe gave José his fiesta t-shirt.
"I want you to have this, so you'll remember," said Joe.
Because this festival was borne from religious tradition, there was a Catholic Mass held in the tent where there were karaoke and dance entertainment earlier in the day. Already acclimated to Filipino hospitality, José and his wife decided to join the 150 or so people and one duck (pictured left) for the service, conducted in English.
The Militant rode home on his bike along Sunset, and even rode past the same site where just three days prior he took his spill. This time, there was no insect, and even if there were, the Militant would simply pull over and flick it off.
There are lessons to be learned every day in this city, both simple ones and difficult ones, in its parks and on its streets, but the one constant is that learning never ends.