Remapping LA

by Alison M. De La Cruz

On April 17, 2019, ArtChangeUS: Arts in a Changing America convened nearly 400 arts and cultural workers for ReMap LA, a Cultural Equity Summit at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center. As the demographics of the US shift from a white majority to more and more communities of color, how can leadership and funding in the arts reflect and support that shift? The summit shared lessons, strategies, and experiences from Los Angeles. Artist Alison M. De La Cruz (DeLa) opened the summit with a rousing performance speech outlining the many ways her community, Little Tokyo, might offer a revisionist geography of equitable development, one that highlights cultural practices, traditional knowledge, and creativity. This is a transcript of her speech.
Alison M. De La Cruz wearing a black jacket, blue button-up, and jeans, posing for a photo with their hands on their legs. They have medium brown skin and short, curly, dark hair.
Alison M. De La Cruz

If I were to remap LA, I would show you the elders I am descended from in our Asian American, Pacific Islander, Native Hawaiian, South Asian, and Southeast Asian American communities amongst the Black, Latinx and Indigenous communities here In the So Cal Basin.

If I were to remap LA, I would show you all of the Nikkei (Japanese/Japanese Americans) who have trained and inspired little old me. From East side JAs in Monterey Park & Alhambra or the East Los JAs who graduated from Roosevelt, Garfield, or Lincoln High School. The JAs in South Central West LA who went to Dorsey High School or Senshin Buddhist temple. From the Ktown JAs to the West Side JAs to the Aloha kine Nikkei from the South Bay by way of Hawai’i.

I would show you the Orange County JA farmers and so much more.

If I were to remap LA, I would show you Little Tokyo at its largest: spreading all the way North to the 101 Freeway. All the way South to Olympic Boulevard. All the way West on Los Angeles Street or Main Street, depending on whom you ask. And all the way the East at the LA River. We are surviving our 5th wave of development, we are actively practicing placekeeping in Little Tokyo.

JACCC Plaza, three buildings lit up in the evening
JACCC (Japanese American Cultural & Community Center) Plaza

See, if I were to remap LA, I would show you where all of the Nikkei cultural masters live in Southern California. From Archery to Calligraphy to Ikebana and Tea. From Kabuki, Koto, Taiko, Shamisen, Fue to Shakuhachi, Gagaku, Butoh and Odori.

Then I would show you the REMAP of LA through the lens of Asian American, Pacific Islander, Native Hawaiian, South Asian, and Southeast Asian American communities amongst our neighbors in the African American, Latinx and Indigenous peoples–our cultural enclaves.

And show you a map of where our master artists, cultural bearers, contemporary or genre-non-conforming artists live and teach and practice our respective forms.

Map of LT artwork by David Monkawa, featuring an Asian person being forced out of a building by two anglo men in uniform. It reads, "Unite & Fight fir Furst St North"
Map of LT artwork by David Monkawa from the FSN Poster Contest.

What are the historical sites of intersections where Asian American, Pacific Islander, Native Hawaiian, South Asian, and Southeast Asian American and brown, black, and indigenous communities worked, lived, collaborated and came up together in both past and present tense? What is our present and what was our past? What are the concentric circles of economic impacts within those maps?

How do we quantify the intersections on the Venn diagram of our work between the sacred and the commercial? And the ways in which our spaces are not always visible on the LA’s Art Star Maps?

And those of us who are intent on learning from our cultural worker ancestors, how do we seek and uncover our histories and our legacy that may not be in buildings that are still standing or on streets that are still visible or acres of land that are bulldozed over?

And certainly these special places materialize when folks build a circle or a space together. But I also value a place, a hub, with roots and a center so that we don’t have to tear it down and put it back up and tear it back down and put it back up.

A black and white image of people from many ethnic backgrounds splashing in the Los Angeles canal.
Fresh Tracks 2000 promotion from JACCC

Can we show you the map of those of us who have been doing this over the last several decades? Can we show you a map of the value of investing in the arts and cultural practices of our communities?

Not just to achieve some fleeting moment of perfection or fame, but because we know arts and cultural practices are the amino acids of our lives that help us break down and digest and process what is going on. Cuz let’s be real, arts and cultural organizations of color love you whether you are famous or not. And often we are asked to quantify our value by people who have originated from us who are now famous.

But these anchor spaces allow us to explore and learn, rage and heal, to name and claim our voices and to listen, and to be heard, and to witness and be seen. To fail and get up again to imagine all over.

Do you know the names of our spaces and places on a map of LA? Do you know our artists? Our organizers? Do you value our cultural worker ancestors and elders and the skills that they have taught? Do we value the contributions and wisdom of our youth and our non-matriculated?

Could we honor and map the emotional labor of elders of color in all of our fields—who have been having these diversity, equity or inclusion conversations for 10, 20 or even 30+ years?

Imagine if someone paid them to teach historically white institutions new ways to listen, hold space, re-center how we engage communities and create or exhibit work?

Or imagine if we flipped the diversity funding paradigm and paid arts organizations and institutions of color the large grant and gave historically white institutions honorariums or stipends to diversify your audiences, artists, staff and boards?

How would we remap LA if individual artists, organizations, and institutions of color were given funding and support to explore the messaging and marketing practices and strategies for creating and holding space in the intersections of the sacred and the commercial; the community and the conservatory; the studio and the streets.  What if it’s not “and” but “is”? The sacred is the commercial; the community is the conservatory; the studio is in the streets.

What could we learn about equity if we mapped and compared wages and salaries amongst individuals who are doing the work within communities of color and their organizations and those who work at historically white institutions? Oooh – do you get retirement?

And yes, I believe the whole field needs to be paid better. But what are the unique challenges that arts and cultural organizations and institutions of color face when we do not have the same historical investment in our overhead, our leases, and our success?

Seed Bomb Workshop featuring four youth and an elder. All people have medium brown skin and dark hair.
Seed Bomb Workshop from FandangObon Encuentro 2018, photo by Scott Oshima

How does this impact our long-term ability to retain competent staff in both the dialects of non-profit arts management and the expertise in our multiple cultural competencies?

How could we REMAP LA if organizations and institutions were given access to multi-year funding and income streams to continue to replicate successful, existing programs?

What if we were to REMAP LA and create a Pacific Standard Time moment for arts & cultural orgs of color to be infused with marketing dollars, concerted support and cross sector partnerships to be able say all of our art worlds “Hey! See this ecosystem has been producing amazing work and continues to make an impact!”?

And how do we REMAP arts and culture in LA after 5, 10, 15 years of investment in any of these categories?

See these are not my REMAPs of LA – this is my version of a Google App for the maps that I use in my work already, every day.

Alison M. De La Cruz (DeLa) is an Executive Arts Leader, Producer, Facilitator, Educator, Multi-Disciplinary Theatre Artist, Contemporary Ritualist & Cultural Space Instigator. De La Cruz is the Vice President of Programs at the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, CA.

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