This article was originally published on October 20th, 2022 for our Making a Neighborhood Newsletter. Please consider becoming a paid subscriber today to get more stories like it, plus work from our colleagues Samanta Helou Hernandez and Ali Rachel Pearl.
Because it bears repeating: Los Angeles was founded 241 years ago by red, Black, and brown hands, among others, or by a cast of characters who some might call “short, dark people.” You can head over to 8th street and Irolo in Koreatown for a blast from this past as a new wave of fervent colors do their part to feed, lift, and maintain the concrete jungle’s lifespan for another day, and soon enough, for 242 years.
Perpendicular to 8th and Irolo, or at a right angle at Wilshire Blvd and Catalina St., “Ktown” also holds the former grounds of the Ambassador Hotel, where Senator Robert F. Kennedy–the Democratic candidate for president in 1968–was shot and killed, taking with him some thirteen years of a dream for the Civil Rights era. The RFK Community Schools now on those grounds enroll over 4,000 students; aged five to eighteen within a nine block radius, these students hail from homes where they speak not only English and Spanish–the principal languages of the current Los Angeles–but also Arabic, Bengali, Burmese, Tagalog, Indonesian, Korean, Urdu, and Zapotec, among others! In 2021, RFK high schools graduated at least 89% of this dynamic student body. RFK would be proud.
Once upon a time, yours truly attended school in Ktown, too, making friends with youth from Black, Korean and Central-American localities for how they exuded the resiliency of The City in every step of their stride; and little did I know then that I was actually part of this chunk of The City representing no less than the future of Los Angeles and even the nation; but my ffriends and I did have some intuition of how the area harbored a past not yet past as people there persevered through a blockade on their representation at City Hall in effect for decades (Until 2022, the Koreatown neighborhood was divided to fall into three different City Council member offices, making it especially difficult for communities there to receive sufficient and coordinated resources from City Hall).
But of course, I don’t have to tell you how Ktown isn’t an easy pie to slice given its geography as the “dead center” of Los Angeles, connecting places like East Hollywood to the Crenshaw Corridor, MacArthur Park and downtown, not to mention Mid-City, West Adams, and South Los Angeles. And in case you’ve never seen these connections via the Metro’s 204 and 754 bus lines starting at Vermont avenue and Santa Monica Blvd, you’re missing out big time.
Should you want to see about the very latest in Ktown times, though, I suggest you follow Mellyyt_, a Oaxacan-American’s “Wildest Dream” who documents family and young professional living for L.A.’s born and bred along the renowned Pico-Union area. Melly’s stories uplift her neighborhood’s artistry and street-smarts in no ambivalent terms; undoubtedly, she’s keenly aware that she and her community aren’t simply standing atop gold in real estate terms from Ktown to Pico-Union, but reflecting gold like the kaleidoscope of hands in motion at 8th street and Irolo.
The next time I pick up another cup of fresh tejate there, then, or some chicken mole at Pico Blvd and Van Ness, I’ll think of you, Nury; of how you flew too close to the sun for yourself but still cast a beam into our neighborhood for the whole world to see its radiance; of how your words, rather than dividing Los Angeles, a city most people first met through televised smoke and ashes for its halls of power, brought us closer together for another inflection point, one more firmly rooted than the last; of how thousands of young people in Ktown are ready in the wings to lead our city onto better days as soon as they get to fly, too, a showing like only L.A. can give. Tan bell@s.
This article is also dedicated to Daniel Morales Leon, otherwise known as Chapulín, or GeeHop213, a major poet and ambassador for the Oaxacan-American community in L.A.. Daniel passed away unexpectedly this summer, but something tells this writer he’s now surely waging a rhyme attack for the soul of City Hall from the other side. Thank you, Daniel.