Tony Bao Tang: Song Unsilenced

Let loving words unsaid remain

In place of lost goodbyes withheld

For unsung verses bittersweet

In songs of memory shall obtain

A timely voice without conceit

Untuned yet echoing harmony

Lyrics unheard yet ever felt

Our song unsilenced bidding farewell


A few words from the author: I’ve realized recently that the more living, learning, and loving you do, the more you have left to do. It’s a perpetual cycle, so it seems, but I kind of like it. Writing has become one of my vehicles to express and reflect upon this cycle. Come along for the journey, if you so wish, HERE.

We Will Not be Erased: How Open Mics in Our Community Uplift Our Cultural History

Our second annual Open Mic was a second-annual success, featuring 10 different poets, speakers and other members of the community who spoke in front of up to 25 guests throughout the evening. Our guest list was diverse, with attendants as young as 11 years old and as mature as 60.

In my own experience, after more than 25 years of living in this parcel of Los Angeles, I never knew of an open “forum” in the community like those created by the three different Open Mics held in the area over the last calendar year; first at Cahuenga Public Library last April, then at El Gran Burrito in August 2018, and now, for the second year in a row, once again at Cahuenga Public Library.

I view each of these events, both individually and collectively, as achievements for a demographic in East Hollywood increasingly facing displacement from L.A.’s collective memory vis-a-vis gentrification, or the process known for “cleaning up” [ethnic] spaces for whiter, wealthier living.

In her photographic exhibit at the Armory for the Arts, Los Angeles based artist Sandra de La Loza describes her experience living in a city that constantly denies people such as herself, her family–and their neighborhoods–of space for their history.

For the dispossessed whose stories are not memorialized or recorded, memory becomes a vital space in resisting erasure, silence and invisibility.

With this in mind, by “holding space” for others such as the youth, families, elders and others who’ve attended our Open Mic events this past year to share their memories with the local community, and by attempting to normalize such spaces and activities on a consistent basis, my peers and I are taking a stand for a collective cultural history; for a present and future in the same vein of resistance against the erasure described by de La Loza.

In a commentary on de la Loza’s artwork as a “Field Guide” for others, UCLA Digital Media Professor Chon A. Noriega recognizes de la Loza’s installation and photographing of thought-provoking, albeit temporary ‘invisible monuments’ in Los Angeles as the work of a “guerilla historian”:

…its method is concrete and practical: do the research, engage a site, document the action, and communicate to others.

In other words, holding space for the memories of ethnic communities is not just an act of preservation, but also ‘a model’ to show others how they can excavate local histories for and about themselves too. Here, I think of the Filipino woman from last year’s first-ever Open Mic at Cahuenga who had “lived here for over 35 years” before taking up the microphone to share her story. And I think of Alfredo, the 10 year old boy who arrived to the Back to School Party at El Gran Burrito in August initially rolling his eyes at the workshops being offered, only to find through the course of the event that he was exactly the kind of youth our team had been looking for. Alfredo needed a space that recognized and uplifted his giftedness, and once he could see that our Party was just that, he transformed into one of our foremost little helpers, announcing the raffle and handing out prizes to the community as one of our team.

Lastly, I think of William Taylor III, who made his way to last Thursday’s Open Mic with stories about his time along Downtown Los Angeles’s Skid Row area. Taylor III graced the microphone with an ode to the recently passed Nipsey Hussle, statements of resistance to Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy, and more letters of love for the community. These are just a few of the people who’ve been moved by our work, and there will be more.

In this respect, I’m excited to see what else my team and I will accomplish with more Open Mics, Back to School Parties, and other monuments for uplifting our communities. Because yes, of course there will be more soon. We’ve just gotten started!


MacArthur Park is Critical to Los Angeles


Situated at a central point of Los Angeles, MacArthur park is a mostly neglected landscape that many people in the city nevertheless rely on. To my knowledge, since as far back as the 1980s, its lengthy green pastures and the enclosed concrete within have set the stage for generations of Centro-Americanos to hang out and assess life in L.A.

Over ten years ago, it was also a major site for L.A.’s biggest mass mobilization ever, when the 2006 Marches in support of undocumented immigrants made their way through its green space. I took part in those demonstrations, and in doing so, discovered a piece of myself within el pueblo that I carry with me to this day.

Only the next year after L.A.’s largest mass demonstration for immigrants ever, in a subsequent march known as the 2007 May Day March, which stood for the same protections as the previous demonstrations, the park would be the epicenter of a brutal crackdown on protesters and activists at the hands of then police chief William Bratton’s LAPD. Police officers fired over 100 rounds of projectiles directly into the peaceful crowd, descended on journalists with their batons, and kicked mothers and children who didn’t scurry quickly enough at their call. Although the department eventually admitted its breakdown in the face of peaceful demonstration, no subsequent reports of chiefs at fault being disciplined or a policy overhaul were ever made known.

Today the park is home to many of L.A.’s ‘homeless’ population, whose encampments are situated in and across 35 acres of greenscape; while the greenery still glistens with life, the park’s restrooms–like much of the ground surrounding them–are in need of deep washing; and apart from sanitation, the park also needs more spaces devoted to the surrounding neighborhood such as recreation centers, spaces for the elderly, and playgrounds for youth.

Walking through MacArthur’s vast and fragmented terrains, one might almost forget that it’s smack-dab in the middle of a city yearning to be known for its innovation. It’s then that one realizes that it’s actually past time to apply some innovative solutions to rein in the park’s neglect. But make no mistake about it: the descendants of those Centro-Americano workers–including those activists and protesters from 2006–still have the park in sight and are not short on ideas about its future. Stay tuned.