Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Getting Lost: "Old School" L.A.

TODAY I got lost, again and again and again. I really don't know how the roads in LA connect the city - so far, I've only learned about half of the freeways. I was trying to avoid the places I know and have been to before - Westwood, Culver City, Venice, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Downtown, West Hollywood and onwards - to find some place new.

I took roads I've taken before, but I took them in a new direction. I was surprised when I found myself in Koreatown when I didn't think I was headed in that direction. Living on the Westside, it's all too easy to forget that some parts of the city can take you far away from Los Angeles, where every storefront has Korean lettering and Asian imports. It's fascinating, how so few miles separate us but yet it feels like a world away.

I admired this wonder-world from inside my car, but kept on driving. It was not until I turned down an unknown street and wound up in Chinatown that I parked and hopped out to take a look around. I'd found myself on Yale Street at Castelar Elementary School. 

I hadn't heard of it before, and it was seemingly insignificant - just another school. But through my walking I saw a "historic sign" that gives background information about the place you're at - and soon realized that Castelar was one of the first schools created in the LA school district. Suddenly, with contextual knowledge, the place I had found became more than what I had first thought.
Through my trip I was reminded of the beauty of culture; how although these streets and signs look dim in overcast, cloudy light, in my mind, today they seemed more vibrant than ever. It's always fascinating for me to see the ways humans have shaped their surroundings, and how their surroundings have shaped them. In this location, it was easy for me to find art or beauty at every turn, although the setting seemed particularly ordinary to those who inhabited it.
This unfamiliar place was unknown to me in more than one way; while I had never visited Castelar school before, I am also not of Asian descent, which set me as an outsider here. It was a pleasure to explore a culture other than my own within the city of Los Angeles, the name that unites and embodies all of us. 
Did you know LA had trolleys?? I didn't!
 One of the school's murals, viewable from the road, is called "The Party at Lan-Ting." It is LA's first mural dedicated to Asian history. It is large at 17x40 feet tall, and depicts a party scene hosted by Wan Xi-Zhi, a calligrapher from China 1,700 years ago. You can read more about it here. The mural is two-dimensional and colorful, and even decorated with costume jewels and sequins in certain parts.
The two pillars at the left of the mural with written explanations
I didn't know until moments later, when I got back in my car and drove a few blocks down, that I was actually very close to an area I was somewhat familiar with - Chinatown. I stopped by Homegirl Cafe for a salad and a funky green smoothie drink, and then soon headed back on my way to Loyola Marymount.  

Photo Credit: Jennifer Pellerito

1 comment:

  1. Hello Jennifer, My name is Luis. I attended Castelar in the 1950's as a small boy. I had many experiences there that shaped my life. I weave those experiences in a story I share with minority students to motivate them to continue with higher education. You can find me at I would love to use the picture you have of Castelar as part of my slide presentation as well as in a short three minute video. I would greatly appreciate permission to do so. Best Regards, Luis Cordoba, EdD, Kansas City, MO