Perfect Match: The Chinatown Youth Council

For this installment of Departures, the team wanted to find a population of young people who live in Chinatown and have a close relationship to its historical area. The goal? Teach this target of young minds how to use multimedia tools for self-exploration.

Initially, we had a difficult time finding our Student Producers. The only school within Chinatown's contiguous borders is Castelar Elementary, but those students a bit too young for the program we planned. Central High School of Performing Arts is the closest high school, but students travel from all over the city to go to school there.

Luckily, we eventually found the Chinatown Service Center's Youth Council, a program that has been around for decades. We're very fortunate to be working with them because they are the main - and perhaps only hub - where youth from around the area hang out.

Danee Prasert, the Youth Council coordinator, explains that the kids show up largely to have a peer group. She is interviewed in Bonnie Tsui's American Chinatown and explains that, "'It's the same old problem that other inner-city youth face: boredom, not really having any choices out there... Just having a social group they're comfortable with here, that really helps. They feel comfortable with other Asian kids.'"

Our hope for the Chinatown Departures educational track is that it would provide a voice for the new generation of ethnic Chinese in the area, while also representing the great diversity of voices from the area's past, present, and future. Also, learning media production against the background of the neighborhood where you live is an opportunity for students to discover who they are very directly - an empowering experience that is not commonly had in educational settings. In that light, the Chinese Service Center is the perfect partner, given that it aims to empower youth through community engagement and building identity through shared experience. The Departures team is merely extending that mission.

When we arrived at the Chinatown Service Center this past week for our first class, we were greeted by a tremendously warm reception. The staff and youth at the center were very enthusiastic, and after we had introduced ourselves and the program everyone was eager to jump right into the nuts and bolts of how to make an interactive documentary and how to use this medium to explore the neighborhood.

We also took the first steps in getting to know our student producers. All 16 kids live in Chinatown, but the majority of them go to Chatsworth High School. The rest of the kids go to Central High School of Performing Arts down the street on Sunset and Grand. There seemed to be a wide range of skill sets within the group. A few students had already worked with video cameras and basic editing software, but the majority were new to multimedia production. This wide spectrum tends to be the norm among high school students, with the small percentage of students with production experience having taken an elective in school, gone to an after-school program, or picked it up at home.

One major challenge that we'll be facing as we move forward is the tight confines of the Chinatown Service Center. Currently, we are having our workshops in a tiny computer lab that seats seven and makes it difficult present, let alone allow all 16 students work on the computers at once. We may have to divide the groups in two and have half on the computers while the other half work with paper and then switch them up. The other possible option is holding the workshops at Central High School's computer lab. Hopefully, LAUSD will be gracious enough to allow that to happen. For now, we will work with what we have. No complaints, we are so excited to get this moving.

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