Posted on September 20, 2016
Asian American Bike Tour 2.0 Recap
By Myca Tran
Named after it’s lush meadow landscape at the end of the pioneer trail, El Monte was not only the home of early settlers and Tongva natives but also a significant Asian American population. From the El Monte Berry Strike of 1933 to the building of the Hai Nam Association Temple in South El Monte in 2014, this area is a rich historical cove of Asian American labor, discrimination, solidarity, and resilience. Despite a few observable gems, much of our history still isn’t easily accessible or visibly documented. Without some of the efforts of the La Historia Society Museum and the South El Monte Arts Posse to publicly shed light on these less traveled roads, APIOPA would have little to reference about Asian Americans in the two cities.
We were fortunate enough to bring back Dat Tran–long term resident of El Monte, graduate of our Bike to China program, and recent graduate of Cal State Fullerton–to help us bring this information back to life. Asian American Bike Tour 2.0 is part of a continuing series to explore and vocalize our diverse stories; shed light on political, social, and environmental issues; bring together folks from across Los Angeles County to discover bike friendly routes; and engage with local community.
Starting with bicycle safety fundamentals led by our very own Kyle Tsukahira, the tour commenced at El Monte High School. Dat delved into the city’s founding in the 1850’s and arrivals of Chinese and Japanese pioneers. We passed B Nutritious, the healthy establishment owned by El Monte resident Brian Nguyen, who donated delicious cookies and special sauce for our opportunity drawing. At the Lady Liberty Statue, Dat painted a picture of white supremacy lying as a backdrop for protests and rallies that led to the eventual wave of Southeast Asian immigrants establishing residency after the Vietnam War.
After cruising through the many Korean-owned charming fashion boutiques of Valley Mall and learning about the severe anti-Asian sentiment in schools and public spaces during our Lexington Ave pit stop, we situated ourselves in the shaded areas of the Veterans Memorial where we uncovered poignant facts about the Hicks Camp, Chino Camp (an article in 1903 even called it “El Monte’s Chinese Colony”), and El Monte Berry Strike where Mexican, Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino farm workers advocated for fair pay.
Duyen Tran from The Wilderness Society educated us on the proposed urban National Recreation Area and the effort to bring more pocket parks, walking paths, signage, educational programs, and other community-driven projects to local residents. We hopped on the Rio Hondo River Bike Trail and took a small detour at the Metro Bus Station where we stood in awe at Phung Huynh’s beautifully intentional tribute to El Monte’s multiculturalism, “In the Meadow”, and dialogued around the new surrounding development’s impact on the community. Our last stop along the Rio Hondo River was Lashbrook Park where we briefly learned about the Emerald Necklace Forest to Ocean Expanded Vision Plan, Measure A (which came out of the Parks Needs Assessment and if passed would bring a 1.5 cent property tax to fund the maintenance and creation of new parks), and the Puente Hills Landfill Park Master Plan (LA county’s largest newest park).
We faced the afternoon sun at Viet Huong Restaurant where Dat and co-owner Augustine Tran shared their families’ stories. Augustine emphasized the positive influences of growing up in community with predominately Spanish-speaking folks and how his father paved the way for the acceptance of Asian cultural foods through his advocacy to the LA County Public Health Department.
Following the acknowledgement of the Thai garment slavery case that made international headlines in 1995, which forced the American public to reconsider the ethics of our retail industry, we gathered at the Hai Nam Association to break bread with elders over homemade traditional Hainan chicken. The local elders shared their personal stories, struggles, and triumphs over lunch. We concluded our stop with a temple tour describing the roles and significances of the various Buddhist gods. The temple holds annual Lunar New Years festivals and is currently recruiting lion dancers.
We wrapped up our tour with our opportunity drawing, reflections, and briefly discussed SB 75 Health4All Kids, an initiative to educate and create access to Medi-Cal for undocumented youth under 19 whose families have incomes at or below 266% of the federal poverty level.
We’d like to give a special thanks to The Wilderness Society, the East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center, B Nutritious, South El Monte Arts Posse, Viet Huong Restaurant, and the Hai Nam Association for supporting our goals of bringing more historical awareness, community engagement, and healthy active living to the San Gabriel Valley!
We look forward to continuing exploring Asian American history throughout the San Gabriel Valley through future bike tours. In the meantime, please be sure to look out for our video clips of the ride, check out Dat’s article “The Asian Americans of El Monte, CA” on the APIOPA Blog, #AsianAmericanBikeTour on Instagram, and photos on APIOPA’s Facebook page!