A Long Beach Story: Cambodians, Placefinding, and The Last One by Marin Yann

There is a lot of literature about and from LA.  Rarely do I hear any from Long Beach.

Till now.

I edited the Last One by Marin Yann.

Marin has spent a lot of his adult life in Long Beach.

Read it.  Buy it.  Learn about life.  If you do learn, get the ebook version, as the author, Marin gets more royalties.

I've wrote about the experience of working with Marin.  I came out learning about the defining episodes of Mr. Marin Yann's life back in Khmer Rouge era Cambodia from 1975-1979.

Not mentioned in the book at all has been his life after making it to the United States.

After bouncing around from Utah to Massachusetts, its Long Beach where he's stayed the longest.

In case you didn't know, Long Beach is home to the largest number of Cambodians outside of Southeast Asia.  The last US Dicennial Census (2010) reveals that there are just under 20,000 living in the City of Long Beach, and 37,450 in LA County.  Based on a small network of students from CSULB before the Khmer Rouge and their aid efforts during the Khmer Rouge, Long Beach quickly became a city where Cambodian refugees would re-unite.  This is roughly the same area of Long Beach that 1990s radio icons Warren G, Snoop Dogg, and even Sublime have referenced.  It is mostly black, Latino, and Cambodian.

With an influx of Cambodians in Long Beach, there grew tension between a few of them and a few from the populations that had been there for generations.  A fight for space and place.

What exacerbated relations were residents of the area seeing this influx of Cambodian businesses and livelihoods in the public space in areas that had been defined as for blacks and Latino.  Some felt that Cambodians were unfairly given these handouts to start businesses while the "indigenous" Latinos and blacks continued to struggle.  One highly symbolic and polarizing point of contention was when a Mexican community center had been replaced by a Cambodian community center.

The race and space tensions trickled into schools.  Cambodian kids would be picked on.  However, they would find little ways of retaliating against Latino kids.  Back and forth.  Back and forth.  The Cambodians, the Latinos.  Till one day, someone was killed.

In the video below at 5:50 if you don't know Spanish, you only need to look up the word "matar" to understand the sentiments and the tensions that some carried.

Marin smiles, he jokingly calls me "the President" because apparently I can't be reached by phone.  He talks softly and is sometimes unsure of himself, but his build and he will tell you himself, "don't fuck with me."  It's the type of "don't fuck with me" from a life defined by surviving.

The public spaces of Long Beach during the early 1990s became war zones for gangs.  There were shootings near elementary schools, in front of schools, church parking lots, basketball games, hamburger stands. 

Kids and parents were afraid to walk down certain streets.  While waiting at bus stops, some kids would even be attacked which prompted the nonprofit organization, the United Cambodian Community to initiate a bus program which would pick students up. 

There were lots of marches, and calls by community members for a stop to the killing.

From 1989-1994, the Press-Telegram reported that 36 people were killed in the gang war between Latinos and Asians.  It was so bad, that the LA Riots, actually put a stop to the killings, the Press-Telegram repored.  As late as 2003-2004,  The Press-Telegram took a stance documenting the killing and calling for a stop to it in a series called "Enough Is Enough."

Marin has experienced the violence-ridden life, not just in Khmer Rouge Cambodia or in refugee camps, but also on the streets of Long Beach.  Marin did not have any family, only friends when he came to Long Beach.  He had graduated high school in Massachusetts and by the early 1990s was in Long Beach pursuing higher education.  He had to spend time on the streets.

Marin talked about how he thought the first time he saw a 9 millimeter, he thought it was a toy gun.  It even sounded like one.  He's talked about dealing with gang members and race wars.  No one fucked with him, he'd say.  He talked about how in self-defense, he punched an assailant so hard, that they flew.

But that life on the streets was years ago.  

Marin has since worked as a teacher's aide, a job counselor for people in the Cambodian community, and now works as a substance abuse counselor.  He's worked with many Cambodian organizations.  You know this because every time he takes me to a Cambodian restaurant, he waves to at least one person he knows.   Cyclo Noodles.  La Lune.  He has friends everywhere.  When the print version of his book came to his house a week ago, we celebrated at his friend's restaurant.

I don't hear about violence in Long Beach as much nowadays.  Maybe it has to do with the internet dividing my attention.  Maybe I'm not as plugged in.  Maybe things really have changed.  All I know is that I can bike and walk through MacArthur Park without fearing for my life.  I can sit at a bus stop at night in peace and quiet.  I can park my car on the street and walk to Marin's apartment at night without much worry about my stuff getting stolen.

A lot of that initial tension between Cambodians and Latinos has died down considerably.  At the United Cambodian Community, a man named Raymond looks Cambodian is actually Latino.  MacArthur Park is a daily bustle of activities.  A lot of people of different races and ethnicities been able to settle down and even hang with each other.  

A lot of the metaphors we use to describe our lives is described in terms of "place."

When you've found your role in society, you say you've "found your place."  What people mean when they say that is t've found what you've found "your calling."  Or in secular terms, you've found what you feel your "fit" within the fabric of society.

Marin's seen and lived those days when it wasn't that easy, when he was fighting for his place in Khmer Rouge Cambodia, his place in refugee camp, his place in American society, his place in Long Beach, memories of which have made resonant stories, a collection of which are available in the book above.  His place now is as a storyteller, educator, and all-around cool dude.  Get his book ahorita.

Micro-Intimidation from a Roadie

In full force is Metro's "Every Lane Is a Bike Lane Campaign."

This bit of "news", or "fact" apparently missed an old roadie in Long Beach yesterday as I was biking on the 3-through-laned, virtual speedway that is Bellflower Boulevard to return to the school that I'm supposed to be enrolled in.

He rolled up from behind, to my left, and was quickly in front of me.

"Hey bro, you need to move to the side.  You can't take up the whole road!"

Holding steadfast to all my bike advocacy knowledge without trying to make a big deal of it, I tried to brush him off subtly, saying "It's safer if I take the whole lane."

"But they can't see you though!", he biked off his merry way.  I was getting ready to make my left turn onto the left turn lane to enter the school.

The interaction was not bothersome to me personally;  I know the laws, I know the road.  Maybe if I didn't know the law it would have bothered me more greatly and perhaps I'd feel like I didn't have the right to ride a bike.

What does bug me though is that he doesn't know these laws as a roadie bicyclist and could spread his ignorance.  He seemed to make this a statement of at best adapting to the status quo on the street with preference given to cars, yielding to drivers on the road, and riding on the street so long as he stays out of the way.  I can only hope he doesn't go next to some cruiser bike riding people and tell them the same.

The Primaries in LA: Greuel vs. Garcetti

It's been a toss-up as to who I was going to choose for Mayor, but I've decided:  Garcetti.

I haven't done enough due diligence, haven't watched the debates. All I know is the track record of each of the candidates.  If everything goes as expected, we'll see a Greuel-Garcetti mudslingfest till May where there will likely be a run-off election.

Anyone other than Greuel-Garcetti I kinda don't like (Perry, James) nor do they seem to viable solutions to handle all the work (Pleitez and the rest).

I've never looked at Jan Perry the same after watching a movie about her role and unresponsiveness in the South Central Farm's destruction. 

Kevin James is a Republican who's campaign is "I didn't cause of any of this mess."

Emmanuel Pleitez is inexperienced, though probably I would align with his views the most.  Looking forward to his political future.

The first time I encountered Councilpresident Eric Garcetti, I figured he would be Mayor of LA some day.  As late as yesterday afternoon, I was teetering on him and Greuel.

Smart, sensitive to the diversity of his district, seemingly approachable and available.  There was a Barack Obama-ey feeling to him.

I spent a bit of my high school and college days in my parents' apartment across from one of his field offices in Silver Lake. 

Without really being too engaged in local meetings, I felt and saw what appeared to be policy at work:  bike lanes, farmer's markets, a re-vived Silver Lake Reservoir, lots of new little businesses were popping up in front of me.  In retrospect, it's like he was the urban planner's type of mayor.  Not to mention the fact that he was one of the first councilmen to get behind the Filipino American veterans --- even my apparently Republican-leaning dad likes him.

I think he will make a fine choice for mayor, if not this term, the next one.  I know he is very inclusive and will represent my interests, and the change he was able to preside over was very remarkable.

Wendy Greuel, on the other hand, I think is a sleeper.  A darkhorse.  My gut somehow was telling me to select her.

She seems to mirror Garcetti's record, and I do like that she comes from the Controller position, the city accountant.  Essentially, it feels like we'd get a better city accountant, a budget manager with her on board.

However, it is curious that she didn't find much waste at the LA Department of Water and Power as her opponents are quick to point out.  If there is a runoff, we'll be learning more about her.

As for the other races, the only one that I'm really for is, in my ballot for the LA Community College District, I'm voting for former councilman, mayor, assemblyman, mayoral candidate Mike Eng in the 2nd District.