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Urban Futures Lab Fellow Emiritus, Chris Barahona, leading a tour of HiFi for Public Matters staff at Unidad Park. April 2019. Photo: Public Matters.

Practicing Intention: Exploring Historic Filipinotown and The Chicharrón Chronicles

The Chicharrón Chronicles was a two-year story-gathering and -sharing project exploring the commonalities among Latino and Filipino cultural traditions held by residents of Los Angeles’ Historic Filipinotown that received a Humanities for All Project Grant in winter 2018. Humanities for All Project Grants support a wide range of public-facing humanities projects that encourage greater public participation in humanities programming, particularly by new and/or underserved audiences, and promote understanding and empathy among all our state’s peoples.

The Chicharrón Chronicles resulted in three eponymous mobile audio walking tours of the neighborhood, available for free on the izi.TRAVEL app. From now through the end of March, we’re featuring one guest blog a month from them. Each post by a different Public Matters’ Urban Futures Lab Fellow will explore a different facet of the project. First up, we have an introduction to The Chicharrón Chronicles from the perspective of Sabrina Im. Im reflects on the evolution of her relationship to the neighborhood of Historic Filipinotown (known to locals as HiFi), transporting us to the neighborhood through her memories, Chicharrón activities, and featured content from the audio tour.

The first time I found myself in Historic Filipinotown, I was a nine-year-old kid riding in the backseat of my family’s 1989 Honda Accord. I didn’t know this at the time, but the year 2002 was significant. This was when the neighborhood was officially designated Historic Filipinotown. Perhaps that is why I distinctly remember catching sight of “Historic Filipinotown” at the stoplight intersection of Glendale Blvd and Temple Street.

Exterior shot of the Wat Khmer Buddhist Temple. Photo: Sabrina Im.

So why might a Khmer American kid find themselves in HiFi? During these visits, my family’s sole purpose was to participate in gatherings at the Wat Khmer Buddhist Temple on Beverly Blvd.

My family never went anywhere else in HiFi except for the temple, so I never got to explore extensively.

Interior shot of the Wat Khmer Buddhist Temple. Pictured are a nine-year-old Sabrina with her mother. Photo: Sabrina Im.
Interior shot of the Wat Khmer Buddhist Temple. Pictured are Sabrina with family members. Photo: Sabrina Im.

Coming from Perris (where we lived at the time), we would always exit the 101 Freeway by Echo Park Lake. I have many memories of passing by there, and I also remember other long-standing spaces that I’d never entered, and how these oft-frequented blocks have changed or continue to operate. For Beverly Blvd., it would be places like Belmont High School, Unidad Park… and then along Temple St it was Tribal Cafe.

What struck me most about Tribal Cafe as a young child was its very curious appearance. It wasn’t like any of the other commercial buildings. It had (has) a wooden and earthy character, adorned with plants and colorful signs. As we’d drive along Temple Street, we would always pass by on the way to our destination. Though the buildings around it have changed, the cafe itself stands to this day.

Tribal Cafe, during the early 2000s. Google Maps.
Tribal Cafe, as it appears today. Google Maps.

It wouldn’t be until very recently that I’d finally step foot in Tribal Cafe (by way of Public Matters and The Chicharrón Chronicles) and learn about its extensive history and connection to other community spaces in HiFi.

As a child, I observed my family staying within their own comfort zones. This conflicted with my personal desire to understand the places and people we’d come across. So that I can be a better ally, I’ve made it a point to explore the neighborhoods of LA, and I want to encourage folks to make connections with the people and environments they live too.

So, the Wat Khmer Buddhist Temple may have been my first entry point into Historic Filipinotown, but my journey of intentionally getting to know Historic Filipinotown really begins with Sunday Jump.

The longest running open mic in HiFi, I started attending Sunday Jump in late 2016, as a wide-eyed emerging poet, when it was held at Kapistahan Grill. (Fun fact: Sunday Jump’s roots began in 2012 at Tribal Cafe, and you can listen to the founders sharing their origin story on the East route of The Chicharrón Chronicles Walking Tours!)

Sabrina’s first time on the mic at Sunday Jump in 2017. Photo: Samantha Magat, Sunday Jump.

Because of Sunday Jump, I became more aware of what makes Historic Filipinotown so special. Since 2016, I’ve gone to many open mics, have followed them to their new home at the Pilipino Workers Center, and have borne witness to all of the stories shared. I’ve learned about longtime residents, community organizations, and artists with connections to the neighborhood. As an emerging poet and community organizer, I continue to learn and be inspired by all the folks that come through.

Sabrina appearing as a featured poet at Sunday Jump’s Liberdad + Decolonial Equinox Open Mic, July 2019. Photo: Samantha Magat, Sunday Jump.

If not for Sunday Jump, I may never have encountered Public Matters. In Summer 2018, Public Matters was in the midst of their Love and Loss in Hi Fi project and were featured at Sunday Jump as the community spotlight for the month of May. It was there that I learned about the story-gathering project that eventually inspired The Chicharrón Chronicles (TCC).

Public Matters Creative Director Reanne Estrada explaining Love and Loss in Hi Fi to the Sunday Jump audience. May 2018. Photo: Samantha Magat, Sunday Jump.
Urban Futures Lab Fellow Emiritus Chris Barahona leading a tour of HiFi for Public Matters staff at Unidad Park. April 2019. Photo: Public Matters.

TCC is a cross-cultural story-gathering project in Los Angeles’ Historic Filipinotown that explores the colonial legacy of Spain and commonalities among people of Filipinx and Latinx descent. Through my work as an Urban Futures Lab Fellow with Public Matters, I helped converge and center the stories of residents, business owners, artists, and organizers across generations.

Co-Emcees Linda Reyes and Sabrina Im at The Chicharrón Chronicles 02: MAGSALITA // SPEAK // HABLAR at Tribal Cafe. September 2019. Photo: Public Matters.
Sabrina reading audience responses to prompts at The Chicharrón Chronicles 02: MAGSALITA // SPEAK // HABLAR at Tribal Cafe. September 2019. Photo: Public Matters.

Los Angeles has a history of displacing marginalized folks and continues to experience waves of gentrification. But through this project, you will find that these stories don’t just exist with the people, but in the buildings, the streets, alleyways… everything is very much alive. 

Public Matters staff and tour participants pose with Larry Itliong on the launch day of The Chicharrón Chronicles Walking Tours at the Pilipino Workers Center. November 2019. Photo: Public Matters.

I am not Filipinx or Latinx, but in the spirit of isang bagsak, it is important to uplift each other—across race and generations—in order to help preserve diaspora stories and celebrate the legacies of resiliency in our collective communities.

So I will leave you with a performance of Steady and their piece, “Isang Bagsak” which is one of the featured videos in the Chicharrón Chronicles Walking Tours. May their words inspire you to keep on rising and cultivating social change.

The Chicharrón Chronicles Walking Tours is a free, mobile app-based tour featuring stories from The Chicharrón Chronicles. While the tours are accessible through a web browser, the content is best experienced by downloading the izi.travel app onto your Apple or Android phone.

The Chicharrón Chronicles is presented by Hidden Hi Fi, a collaboration between Public Matters and the Pilipino Workers Center. This project is supported by a Humanities for All Project Grant from California Humanities.

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