Sadly, There Are Homeless People In L.A. Year-Round

In L.A. where there are no seasons, you have to rely on the holidays and even the entertainment industry to mark certain times of the year, e.g. awards season, Fall pilot season, etc. But between MLK, Jr. holiday and Memorial Day, there’s not really much else going on. Between Christmas and summer, we are pretty much all doing our own thing, which probably involves trying to lose weight and getting ready for the summer. Spring and summer are pretty much all about Us. But my friends Rebecca and Matt are different. They are legit good people who are always doing good stuff: they volunteer for various causes and not just during the holiday season. Rebecca and Matt recently invited me serve breakfast at the St. Francis Center with them and the Order of Malta. St. Francis Center feeds and serves homeless people. The Order of Malta prepares and serves breakfast at St. Francis twice a month. They were short on volunteers and Rebecca recruited me. Since I was free, I agreed.

I went to a play at the Mark Taper Forum the night before and then an after-party. I had a late night and was a bit out of it and ended up taking a detour/got lost on the way to the St. Francis Center. St. Francis Center is located on Hope Street, between Washington Boulevard and the 10 Freeway Grand off-ramp. The entrance to the street is near L.A. Trade Tech. The street dead ends at the I-10 Freeway off-ramp’s wall. The only other business on Hope Street was a tow company. My detour forced me to drive around the down-trodden neighborhood, but it still didn’t prepare me for the day. I had to be at St. Francis at 7:00 a.m. Not a lot of people are up at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday morning. But as soon as I turned on Hope Street where St. Francis was located, I saw no less than 100 people getting up and slowly putting their tent away and/or preparing their shopping carts. The only parking option was at one of the metered spaces, which was located right in front of people’s tents.  I pulled up one of the spaces. I felt like I just parked my car on someone’s lawn. I got out of my car and people greeted me.  I walked towards the door to St. Francis, passing people who were already lined up for breakfast. The door was locked but one of the other volunteers let me in and led me to the preparation area.

Order of Malta members were in the middle of preparing breakfast, which they will later serve restaurant style: like a restaurant, they will seat the guests and serve them breakfast, as oppose to a buffet. Breakfast included buttered toasts, eggs, corn with vegetables, and bacon. Hosts sat the guests and waitstaff brought them the food as well as coffee or juice. I helped prepare the many gallons of coffee and then, with Rebecca and Matt, prepared the plates that the servers brought to the guests. Although they needed a lot of servers, I opted for the easier role: one that did not involve interacting with homeless people.  I chose the easier role of being in the back and preparing the plates instead of serving guests because I felt guilty. I felt guilty because I couldn’t do more. I wanted to make their situation better. But I couldn’t. I knew that providing food and nutrients was supposed to help, but that seemed so temporary. What about lunch? Dinner? And the days after that? I felt guilty that, the night before, I was at the theatre with an “r-e”, drinking wine and nibbling on charcuterie and petit fours.

In less than 8 hours, I was in two different worlds: both of them in Los Angeles, down the street from each other. The reminder and the guilt definitely contributed to my cowardice. But I know that I can’t continue to be a coward and that I need to do something. I know that I can’t solve the problem of homelessness.  But like my friends Rebecca and Matt, I hope to open peoples’ eyes that there are homeless people year-round.  Hopefully, we would go beyond just volunteering once in awhile. I hope that some of us could go one step further– maybe write an elected official and advocate for better conditions, choose a particular shelter and make it your “official” charity, or organize a group of friends to volunteer so they can see it for themselves, too. There are homeless people in L.A. throughout the year. We should not keep it to ourselves.

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I Am An Immigrant

This is not political.

This is just my story.

Back in the mid-70s, my Dad and his friend were out for a stroll during lunch and happened to pass the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines.  They had nothing better to do during that particular lunchtime so they decided to apply for a green card.  Seriously.

In the mid-70s, the U.S. was actually recruiting professionals from Asia; my Dad was an accountant at Prudential. Next thing he knew, he had a green card.  At this point, the story of why my Dad stayed varied– depending on whether you talked to him or my Mom and who was present during the conversation.  But 10 years later, my Dad received a letter from the U.S. Embassy basically stating use it or lose it.  He received the letter in the mid-1980s when a revolution was just starting– a popular senator was just assassinated which became the impetus to oust the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, known to many as Imelda Marcos’ husband (you know her as the woman with A LOT of shoes).  Although my Dad had a good job at Prudential, because of the turmoil in the country, he took a risk and packed for the U.S.

I was nine years old at the time.  My Mom, siblings, and I lived with my grandmother.  I did not fully absorb what was happening.  All I knew was that my Dad suddenly had to leave, there were protests going on in the streets, black outs, and the adults were nervous.  Whatever was going on, I knew enough that it was so things could get better.

Just a little over a year later, my Mom told me that we were going to move to Colorado.  I knew where California was (Disneyland, Hollywood) but did not know anything about Colorado.  All I cared about was that my family would all be together again. Things progressed very quickly in the next few months: we went to the U.S. Embassy and were interviewed, got our passports, and packed to move the family to a new country.  My Mom had to move us– herself plus 5 kids– to the U.S., to be with our Dad and to start a new life.  We left our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and 30+ cousins– our roots.  We left our friends and everything and everyone we knew.  As a kid, it was exciting; in retrospect, that was pretty crazy.

What I did not realize until I was older was how we were extremely lucky.

Although immigration was easier back then than it is now, it was still an arduous process that took at least a few years.  My parents knew this and were prepared for the long separation.  But a year after my Dad had been in the U.S., a friend of his at work– a regular guy and an immigrant himself– wrote a U.S. Senator about my family. U.S. Senator William Armstrong– a Republican– expedited the process.  On April 27, 1986, we were reunited with my Dad, two years to the exact date when he first arrived in the U.S.

One of my brothers reminded our family– via Facebook status update– that this year marks our 25th anniversary in the U.S.  Now as a grown-up and reflecting upon the process and the present, it’s pretty incredible.  I am amazed and thankful for the generosity of people who have surrounded my family– from my parents’ co-workers, to the people at church, my classmates, and even their parents.  They helped us adjust to our new lives that included a new environment and a huge cultural shift, without our extended family members.  People embraced us.  This is why I so much believe in people and the kindness of strangers.

In 1985, I was in the Philippines just watching “The Price Is Right” on television; on July 21, 1997, I kissed Bob Barker on stage and won a dining room.  My little brother who used to run around the streets in the fishing town where we grew up is now a councilman for the second-fastest growing city in Colorado.  My other brother is a police officer.  One sister is a financial analyst, another is a web developer (also a MENSA member), and the “baby” is a college student and a journalist (published in  national zine when she was in high school; contributor to a popular local paper).  We are still fairly young and just starting out.

When you see or hear me running around town, playing kickball, going to events, golfing, pub crawling, volunteering,  you probably don’t think of me as one. But I am an immigrant.

OUR FAMILY/IMMIGRANT CONTRIBUTION UPDATE: September 5, 2017

My Dad retired from the State of Colorado and now “works” at a church (in quotes because he really enjoys it- actually started as a volunteer– and happy that he gets to go to mass every day and hang out with religious people).  My Mom is about to retire from the State of Colorado’s Department of Public Health. I’m a city commissioner, my brother is councilman, my other brother is a lawyer for a state university, one sister is a social worker, and another is in programmer (yay STEM!). Sadly, my sister Paz passed away from breast cancer a couple of years ago. When she was alive, she was by far the most generous.  #immigrants #immigrantcontribution

Ma, Pa, and Kids
Me and my parents, with my 2011 NextGen Leadership Award from the Liberty Hill Foundation.