Though still towards the start of the week, Tuesdays seem to be ripe for variety and artistic expression. The day isn't normally tied with any regular athletic, commercial or religious ritual, so anything goes on Tuesdays really. You can go to a Highland Park farmer's market on that day, and Sheryl Crow and friends found Tuesday nights lucrative enough to jam together at a Los Angeles recording studio in the early '90s and make a Grammy-winning album as a result of it.
Last night, the Militant recently stumbled on a Tuesday night activity in Little Tokyo - A bi-monthly event called Tuesday Nights at the Cafe, which takes place at the Aratani Courtyard in front of the Union Center of the Arts on Judge John Aiso Street (the northern reincarnation of San Pedro St on the other side of of 1st). This event, which attracts a predominantly twenty/thirtysomething-aged Asian American crowd, is a showcase that offers a mix of artistic expression, entertainment, multimedia and community activism, so naturally the Militant just had to check it out.
The locale is interesting in its own right; the Union Center is on the site of the former Japanese Union Church of Los Angeles, built in 1923 for its Japanese American Christian congregation. After World War II broke out, You-Know-What happened and the congregation vanished. Slated for demolition in the decades following the war, the community rallied to save the Classical Revival-style brick building, though the 1994 Northridge Earthquake did some foundation-shaking of its own. Renovated in 1998, it immediately got an adaptive reuse as a theater and home base to three arts-related non-profit agencies. The steps of the center form the stage, and the entire area sits in the shadows of LAPD's Parker Center and City Hall, no less (symbolically, of course, as there aren't really any shadows at night...).
The "Cafe" the event's name refers to is the Tokyo Cafe (though the organizers of the event
mentioned that it's changed hands and names over time since the event started 10 years ago), which lets out into the courtyard. Most of the customers, though, don't come for the coffee, but its offering of Japanese food and inexpensive beer ($5 for a large bottle of Sapporo? HAI!)
This past Tuesday night's event featured a singer-songwriter, a taiko drum ensemble (pictured left), spoken-word poetry, a classical guitarist and an avant-garde electronic duo on guitar, shakuhachi flute and laptop. Numerous references to Japanese American, Filipino American and Vietnamese American culture were represented in the performances.
The event was also tied into a community awareness angle, spotlighting the efforts of a group called J-Town Voice, which seeks to preserve Little Tokyo's Japanese American traditions in the face of current commercial and residential gentrification. The event's host even exclaimed at one point, "Let's stop these hipsters from taking over the world!" You know that brought a smile to the Militant's face (On the other hand, the Militant did take issue with their group's action of "Resistance," which emphasizes eternal victimization. Though the Militant agrees with their goals and vision, the Militant eschews tired, old, activist model of victimization in favor of all-out empowerment, which means asserting ownership of the community, and making, even forcing, others work with you on your terms, rather than the sociopolitical equivalent of crying "mommy." Insistence works better than resistance. Try it sometime. But the Militant digresses. Anyone can be radical, but few can truly be militant...).
Nevertheless, the event is a great way to spend a warm Summer Tuesday evening, and seeing true local artists perform and express themselves, from a cultural perspective almost never seen in the mainstream (or even the mainstream underground), in a public space Downtown. Tuesday Nights at the Cafe occurs on the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month from March to October. The next installment of Tuesday Nights At The Cafe is on September 2nd.