Hi – my name is Elson. I’m the Filipino kid who grew up listening to black music in an Armenian neighborhood where people spoke Spanish and ate Thai food.
Once upon a time, I wanted to be a newspaper reporter, to be exact. That interest led me to being the Editor-In-Chief of my high school newspaper and graduate with a Print Journalism degree from USC. Part of that dream came true with a summer-long paid internship at the Los Angeles Times. But even in the booming ’90s, newspapers were displaying their first signs of economic distress, as the first wave of full-time staff was cut from the paper. Long story short, I eventually fell out of the media loop.
In between stints in web design and the I.T. field, I somehow picked up community organizing along the way, years before our president’s former profession became a buzzword of sorts. Inspired by a community cleanup day in the Echo Park area, I wanted to duplicate this in my neighborhood, whatever it was called. So I put put announcements in the community paper, knocked on doors, talked to people. Without too much thought, I decided to give my community a name – “East Hollywood,” a nearly century-old moniker for this area, eroded by history. But it made the most logical sense – it was Hollywood but not “Hollywood.”
I started a community improvement association in 1996 and we soon had our first cleanup day. We planted trees, got a few people interested in neighborhood affairs and got the participation by our city council office, the LAPD, LA City College and other institutions.
In 2001, when the citywide system of neighborhood councils started in Los Angeles, I decided to organize one, parallel to our community improvement association. Eventually it became a more important priority and six years later, in 2007, the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council was finally certified by the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners.
After being formally elected by the community to its inaugural governing board, I became its first president, establishing the culture and basic workings of our neighborhood council. I helped to start up its committees, created our meeting format and got us to do things other neighborhood councils never did before – namely in embracing technology, outreach to our diverse ethnic groups and largely avoiding much of the same mistakes and misgivings that have given certain other NCs a bad name. In 2012, I even dipped my toe into the waters of local politics with a miscarried run for Los Angeles City Council.
I’ve also served my local community in various other ways, having served on the boards of the Thai Community Development Center (2003-2012) and the Los Angeles Dodgers Community Advisory Committee (2005-2012). I currently serve as an advisory board member for the Zimmer Children’s Museum and for Make Music Los Angeles.
I have also returned to writing in 2012 as a contributing writer to KCET.org‘s website, writing alternating weekly columns on Southern California’s Asian/Pacific Islander communities and on reconnecting and appreciating our natural environments.
But if there’s one absolute thing about me, it’s that I can’t exactly be pigeonholed. In addition to community organizing and writing, I’m a singer and musician, and music plays a huge part of my life. Once in a rare while, my music and community paths intertwine. I also enjoy travel, whether it’s around Calfiornia, the United States or the world. I’m also a huge advocate of public transit, bicycling and pedestrian activities. I also enjoy hiking in the local mountains for both exercise and discovery. I’m also an avid model railroader with a DCC-equipped, modern-era 4×8′ N scale layout, and I’m also into California native plant gardening, tending to a native garden at home and at my local public library.
As a native son of the City of Angels, my life plays out in the vibrancy of this city of 4 million others. Whether it’s work or play, some aspect of my life is affected by the goings-on in this town, and that’s what I’ll be writing about.