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LOS ANGELES – On February 20, the Filipino-American community in LA saw the unveiling of the latest infrastructure improvements to Historic Filipinotown (HiFi), which included elements that improve pedestrian safety, promote a clean and healthy environment and strengthen the neighborhood’s sense of identity.
LA City Council member Mitch O’Farrell (CD 13), and US Congressman Xavier Becerra (CA, 34th District) joined Kevin James of the Department of Public Works, and Nazario Sauceda of the Bureau of Street Services in the unveiling of the improvements at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday, February 20 at the Western gateway of Historic Filipinotown at the intersection of Silver Lake and Beverly Boulevards.
The scope of the improvements includes the installation of a sidewalk for safer pedestrian access from Silver Lake Blvd. to Temple Street, the installation of 14 solar trash compactors along Temple Street, a new marker for the gateway to Historic Filipinotown, and landscaping work.
The entire project is worth around half a million dollars, with Rep. Becerra securing $400,000 from federal government coffers and the city government matching it with $100,000.
According to O’Farrell, while much of the funding for the project came from the federal government, the city organized the agreements with community stakeholders to maintain the monument sign and the street’s landscape.
It was announced during the unveiling ceremony that local organizations and schools have agreed to take part in the upkeep of the new facilities.
Project from the community
Becerra said that the project is “not one that came from the government above, but one that started on the ground in the community.” He lauded local groups for pushing and advocating for the completion of the project with local and federal government.
“Nothing happens without everyone putting a little bit of muscle into it,” Becerra told the jubilant crowd that gathered at the foot of the Silver Lake – Temple interchange. The community marker sat by the top of the road that led into Temple Street.
“And now we have something that will remind everyone that drives through here that [working together] worked. And I think, more than anything else, we owe a great deal of gratitude to the people who thought about this [project] years ago,” the congressman added.
Philippine Consul General Hellen Barber-De La Vega herself noted that she has personally come full circle with this project, which was already being lobbied for during her previous assignment in Los Angeles as a Consul.
De La Vega returned to LA in 2012 as a Consul General, succeeding then-Consul General Mary Jo Aragon. The Consul General expressed her grateful appreciation to the city, especially to Becerra, O’Farrell, and former CD 13 councilman and now City Mayor Eric Garcetti for taking the lead in the project and ensuring its completion.
O’Farrell (who was a staff member for Garcetti during the latter’s stint as CD 13 council member) said that the transition of the project from his predecessor to himself was seamless.
“This project was well on its way by the time I took office. We simply just brought it across the finish line, and stayed with it to make sure that no momentum was lost,” O’Farrell said.
Becerra also lauded the Board of Public Works and Bureau of Street Services for using city resources the “right way,” because while there are so many different projects that are worthwhile, there is only a limited amount of funds to go around.
Search to Involve Pilipino Americans (SIPA) Executive Director Joel Jacinto said that the gateway marker is the latest one in the line of neighborhood structures that define Historic Filipinotown, which includes the street banners, orchid trees, and the Remedios Geaga Square.
While Jacinto acknowledged that the project is a great addition to the line of identifying characteristics of HiFi, he also noted that the community should also see it as a call for the residents to start doing more for their neighborhood.
“We have to do more projects, we have to build more things that are visibly Filipino, and that attract more people, and that serve our people better,” Jacinto said.
Jacinto claimed that because Historic Filipinotown still has the largest concentration of Filipinos in Los Angeles City, it still remains as “the heart, the puso,” of the Filipino community in LA County.
“It’s our responsibility to build things to service ourselves, to serve our community, to serve our children, to serve our parents and families, and then to be able to share that to the rest of Los Angeles,” Jacinto said.
“ I hope that the community will take even more active steps to heighten awareness about Historic Filipinotown now that we have this new marker,” Consul De La Vega said.
“The community should also help beautify its surroundings to show the colorful heritage of the Filipinos.”
More than a marker
Officials said that the community gateway marker is more than just a physical designation of the geographical location of Historic Filipinotown. It signifies that Filipino-Americans do indeed have their own home — their own place — in Los Angeles.
“We all want a sense of belonging. We want to feel like we have a place in life, a place in our community, in our neighborhoods. We all want to believe that we matter,” Becerra said.
And this marker is exactly that — a symbol of belongingness.
“[The marker] means a lot more. We’re telling people in the Filipino-American community here in Los Angeles that you have a place. You belong,” he added.
O’Farrell echoed Becerra’s sentiment on the relevance of the gateway marker.
“It’s extremely important. It signifies a sense of place. It is part of our well-being. It is an identifying marker for the culture right here in Historic Filipinotown, that so much has been done over the decades to establish roots in this community,” O’Farrell said.
“This is a wonderful gesture that pays respect to that heritage and culture, especially in the 13th district where we have the greatest diversity [among] any district. It’s important that we honor this tradition,” the council member added.
(LA Weekend February 22-25, 2014 Sec A pg.1)