I've moved roughly ten times since arriving in Los Angeles.
Granted a number of those were for school. Perhaps dorms shouldn't count towards my tally, but they were beasts in themselves. You acquire many things in college and those things require packing, storage, and re-circulation. I am still getting rid of bad late 2000's fashion choices. I have boxes of books to sell.
With each move has come a compass recalibration. My first move to Gardena came with an assessment of the nearest late night Mexican food (Albertitas on Western, by the way, is great) and my subsequent move to KTown came with a mental mapping project of the arteries into and out of the neighborhood. Wilton is friendlier than Western. Eighth is easier than Wilshire.
This is my second apartment in KTown. The first one was great but my apartment-mate grew out of his small room and I needed to take care of a relative for a bit so we moved out and into the world. A year later I was back in KTown, this time closer to the center of the action with a more central and city-embedded apartment.
It's usually a quiet building. I woke up once to the sound of construction and fell asleep once to the sound of a Korean variety show but have otherwise never had anything to complain about. I can't speak for the rest of the residents -- the resident downstairs once called the cops on my apartment mate and I while was asleep and he was studying -- but despite the thin walls I've never felt anything but solid silence floating through the hallways.
The quiet of our apartment lends itself to a sense of security, meaning it is quite jarring when the illusion of desolation is shattered. There are rarely people waiting for the elevator in my apartment building, so I jump a little when there is someone on the other side of the opening doors. Similarly, no one expects a person to exit the elevator meaning that I've either caused them to jump back a few feet or I've rammed into them full speed upon leaving the carriage.
I've found myself in a few eerie situations where I've left my apartment to see a neighbor standing outside their door, only to feel their gaze hum in my ears as I walked the length of my hallway. I've ridden the elevator with another resident, only to have them bolt out the car as soon as the doors open. My neighbors seem almost transparent, disappearing and reappearing into the hastily-painted woodwork and off-navy carpeting.
Today I got off the elevator to the sound of rustling. Someone had been walking towards the elevator and, hearing it open, quickly changed course. As I rounded the corner I saw the door to our stairway swing shut in the wake of someone pushing through. Nothing seemed off. They just didn't want to meet anyone.
The building is managed by a Korean-language company and my limited interactions with my neighbors have come with a sizable language barrier. In thinking about this building, these neighbors, and this silence that permeates the walls I can't help by think about what kind of silence must have existed for my great grandparents who spent their lives in a country that literally didn't understand them.
They arrived in America and settled in Japanese communities. My great grandmother found herself in a Utah mining town where my great great grandfather almost died in a cave-in as many of the other miners didn't want to save a "Jap," even though the town had a huge Japanese population. I don't believe they ever learned English fluently. They lived in a Japanese enclave until their deaths, why learn English?
A generation later we were still living in these enclaves. My mom grew up in Gardena which continues to house the best Japanese food in LA and my dad grew up in a Japanese farming community in Central California. After that generation the lines started to blur as we felt either drawn into the stability and comfort of these established neighborhoods or suppressed by the tight, inescapable community and needing to leave. My mom left. My dad left. Three decades later, I returned.
We're in a different era. Though my great grandparents and even my grandparents worked hard to find familiar food, build opportunities to create art, and work to develop working communities, today there is Asian and Asian American food, art, and organizing across the city. Asian Americans can legally move where we like and marry who we want. There is a different level of accessibility that exists, though we clearly do not live in the post-race America many people would like to believe we do.
Though Asian culture and organizing seem to have seeped into the bloodstream of LA, the role of neighborhoods like KTown are nevertheless important as they provide gathering places for immigrants and a location to contemplate a complete, round, and truly inclusive city. In a country where we are taught to feel invisible, these neighborhoods provide a proof of existence we don't get anywhere else.
Being a fourth generation Japanese American living in this building, I often wonder whether I disrupt that energy. I know I'm part of the gentrification -- I've made my peace and learned to find ways to navigate. But I think back to my great grandparents who suffered trauma as laborers brought to America by White businessmen and then subsequently abused by White lawmakers and neighbors. There is safety, perhaps reluctant safety, in a homogeneous enclave like a Japanese American suburb or a Korean American apartment complex.
Living here, I am faced with the ever present reality that I may have inadvertently taken away a feeling of safety valued by the inhabitants of our third floor.
I play my music more quietly these days. I walk softly from the kitchen to the bathroom and try not to toss and turn when drifting to sleep. Sometimes I wish I could go full 'Murican and claim my stake as a renter making as much noise as I'd like and owning my right to be a nuisance.
But that isn't what I'm about.