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Creating Transnational Spaces in Thai Town

Forces of globalization have given way to the increased mobility of people, technology, and culture across the world. These include ethnic identities that have become transnational through cultural assets, practices, and symbols that create new forms of interconnectedness beyond nation-state borders.

Situated in the East Hollywood area of Los Angeles, Thai Town is an example of a transnational space as the geographic place that serves as home to Thai immigrants, restaurants, and community organizations. One such community organization, the Thai Community Development Center, has led much of the work to not only support multi-ethnic residents (Latino, Armenian, Filipino, and Thai) and small businesses in the area, but also to actively build up the community assets of the area through the erection of cultural amenities that further create a sense of place in Thai Town.

Examples include the Thai angels that greet visitors on the eastern and western gateways of Thai Town on Hollywood Boulevard. The angels are molded in the image of the Aponsis -- the half-woman half-lion creatures from Thai mythology that stand guard in front of many buildings in Thailand. As an extension of mythological Thai creatures, this year's Songkran (Thai New Year) Festival on April 7 on Hollywood Boulevard will include the 1:30pm unveiling of the half-man, half-bird Kinarra monument on the corner of Hollywood and Hobart Boulevards.

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In the shadow of the more publicized Hollywood Walk of Fame, Thai streetscape plans just East of the tourist walkway, and activities such as the erection of the Kinarra, add to the contemporary picture that reflects the multicultural neighborhoods of Hollywood.

One of the Kinarra monuments being taken out of its air freight after travelling to South Gate, CA from Bangkok, Thailand | Photo by Curtis McElhinney

Streetscape architect Korajack Srivongse who was educated at Thammasat University in Thailand marks part of the sidewalk on Hollywood Blvd. and Hobart Blvd. where the Kinarra will be installed | Photo by Curtis McElhinney

Thai CDC community planner Tyler Forester sees such cultural amenities as a way to promote positive economic development in the area. "For a Thai immigrant, when they see the statues, they can feel a part of home when they see it. And for other L.A. residents, they feel the diversity of the city."

The erection of the Kinarra is not only symbolically transnational, but very much a testament to the social collaboration and economic activities that took place across the globe to bring the statues to its home in Thai Town. Made in Bangkok by the company Siam Taksin, the flight of the Kinarra to the United States was gifted by the Royal Thai Embassy Office of the Naval Accache, headed by Lieutenant Commander Thaweesin Kongprasert. The local facilitation spearheaded by Thai CDC was assisted by the Royal Thai Consulate General of Los Angeles, headed by Consul General Jesda Katavetin.

This transnational work clearly indicates how Los Angeles and Bangkok operate as interconnected spaces, and further links the moniker that both cities hold in the global imaginary -- that of the "City of Angels." Before the unveiling of the Kinarra at the Songkran festival, the festival will also have the "City of Angels" photo exhibition, opening April 6 at Hollywood Boulevard and Western Avenue, that explores the ties between the two cities. Through these explorations and engagements of two urban spaces, Los Angeles can further delve into its transnational existence.

Street pole fabricators Noy Lee and Jeremy Ochoa with Thai CDC staff Curtis McElhinney, Tyler Forester, and daughter Zoë Forester--George Villanueva

Top: The pair of Kinarra monuments that will be erected on Hollywood Boulevard and Hobart Boulevard in Thai Town. Photo by Curtis McElhinney.

About the Author

George Villanueva, Ph.D. is a native Angeleno born and raised in the intersecting spaces of East Hollywood, Koreatown, and the Temple-Beverly corridor (now Historic Filipinotown).
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