Is it possible to blend into LA?
It takes a lot of driving, so many natives don’t even enter the cornucopia of LA districts during their lifetime. And when you visit, how do you know you’re in a specifically ethnic area? How are they defined? By churches, food or museums?
Little Armenia in East LA defines what it means to be part of their group through their St. Garabad Church with its exquisite stained glass windows. They also have an Armenian school across the street, an Armenian food market, and a strange pillar that struts out of the roof on one building.
Overlapping the area is Thai Town, which is not only the first of its kind, but also boasts the largest number of Thais outside of Thailand. The population is about 80,000 and that includes Thai Chinese. Proud of their heritage, even the parking lot assistant wanted me to take pictures of a wooden house with vintage Thai dolls.
Getting back on the LA Freeway, near Echo Park you’ll find Historic Filipinotown that has the Iglesia Ni Kristo Church, the oldest established Filipino church in the city. There is also the Unidad Park where an impressive Gintong Panama mural displays Filipino-American history in pictures.
Across the street, a Korean establishment shouts out its unique alphabet. LA is also home to the largest number of ethnic Koreans outside of Korea. Their businesses, like Italians, seems to blend in everywhere, but they also have their own Koreatown. Within it, an erudite Korean Cultural Center explains Korean history. There’s also a small Korean American Museum and afterwards you can go have ‘Boba Coffee Hookhah’ down the street.
Or head to dinner at Little Osaka where in 1992 Japanese immigrants moved in and opened botanical nurseries. They have a restaurant called Seoul alongside Japaense noodle restaurants that serve kimchee. The Japanese Anime shop is the highlight. You might also be in the mood for Kosher Shushi & Grill.
Or else drive once again along the LA Freeway to find Little Ethiopia. Designated as such in the 1990’s, like many other areas, its ethnic composition has changed over time. This street was glutted by Jewish businesses several decades ago, but today Fairfax Avenue has a plethora of Ethiopian cuisine and a Merkato.
LA is also home to the third largest Jewish population in the United States and they are quiet a diverse bunch. The behemoth Sinai Temple has security guards who discourage picture-taking. Constructed in 1956, it has the oldest and largest conservative Jewish congregation in the city. In another area entirely, the Beth Chayim Chadashim congregation has a liberal and GLBT-friendly environment for Jews. In the ritzy Beverely Hills, the Nessah Synagogue serves a 300-strong Persian-Jewish community. Established in 1980, they practice Orthodox Sepharid Halacha. They also hold services in Hebrew, Farsi and English.
That brings us to Little Persia near the UCLA campus. After 1979, a large number of Iranians fled their country and came to LA. It’s estimated that about 700,000-800,000 Iranian-Americans live in the Beverely Hills area today. Little Persia caters to this linguistic group with several bookstores, such as Ketabsara, Persian music stores, and The Flame Persian Cusine.
Fortunately, no Greco-Persian war rages in these parts. Instead, Greeks have teamed up with Central Americans in the Byzantine-Latino Quarter. A program called LANI (Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative) refurbished this neighborhood rather recently. Once a stronghold of Greek immigrants, the area slowly had Central Americans move in. The Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral kept its congregation and recently established the large Huffington Center, named after US Congressman Michael Huffington. The central market area in this quarter has blended Greek-Latino shops, including Papa Cristos Greek Cafe. The highlight here is a mural with two flying angels. It reads: “We are each of us angles with one wing. We can only fly embracing each other.”
Next, I’ll explain why this LA cultural diversity is impressive — and yet, it might also just be a bunch of Kumbay-aa.
What do you think? Is it Kumbay-aa?