At Noodle World on Valley Boulevard, Daniela Gerson slid into a booth, ordered cold Vietnamese noodles and talked to the California section's Frank Shyong about her role as editor of the Alhambra Source, a trilingual online news publication the USC Annenberg School created five years ago. We later emailed her questions and crunched the conversation into this:
It sometimes seems that the San Gabriel Valley is shrouded in a cloak of invisibility. If you stopped 1,000 Angelenos at the Grove, how many of them would be able to point to Alhambra on a map?
I never go to the Grove, so I am going to dodge that question. But considering nearly 2 million people live in the San Gabriel Valley, and probably just as many go there to eat, I have often wondered why the area does not have a higher profile. It can be a confusing place to decipher, and on the surface it looks like sleepy, commuter suburbs. But that's part of what makes it fascinating — this contrast between the 1950s Americana suburbia and its new global demographics. Noodle World is a former Bob's Big Boy that became a pan-Asian mini-chain.
A USC project called Metamorphosis created the Alhambra Source to see if storytelling could bring together a segregated community. Has peace, love and understanding prevailed?
Is everyone slurping noodles and humming kumbaya? No. If you spend some time at Noodle World, you will still see a mixed Asian and Latino clientele with limited interaction across ethnic backgrounds. People are living side by side; they are not building a community together. Has Alhambra Source made an impact? Definitely. We're working on creating conversations across the booths — and then getting people to share them online as well.
White people have been bailing out of the western San Gabriel Valley, while Asians are moving in and Latinos are kind of just hanging in there. Why?
Monterey Park, which has been the trendsetter in shifts that travel east along the 10 Freeway, was famously marketed as the "Taiwanese Beverly Hills" in the 1970s. The Mexican American influx from East Los Angeles came first, and is more settled. Why did most of the white residents leave? When I ask them, they tell me that they selected suburbs further afield where they felt more comfortable or could get more for their money.
What do Alhambra's Asian and Latino Buddhists and Christians et cetera think about a white Jewish journalist writing about them?
Standing out can provide special status. I was once invited to participate in a contest eating difficult things with chopsticks — like slippery grapes. I think I was the diversity candidate.
Why go to Alhambra for something other than Costco, Chinese food or the Hat's pastrami?
For starters, Lebanese food, Indonesian gado gado salad, the Burmese Dollar store, tortas, and bountiful pho and banh mi. Beyond food, where else can you find fierce badminton competitions playing out in huge halls? Mechanics displaying spray-painted car hood art on Main Street? An entire store dedicated to everything you need for the afterlife, from soleless shoes to money to burn? And a young Asian hipster bar on the roof above a hotel for Chinese tourists headed to Vegas?
Why are people so gutless about discussing race and what euphemisms do Alhambrans use to avoid head-on discussion of the topic?
Racially coded speech gives people a way to express their anxieties about community change without appearing overtly racist. So that may be why you hear someone talking about how their neighbors are so loud, how "those women" don't know how to drive, and their McMansions have no taste — rather than just stating that they are uncomfortable with the community's ethnic transition.