ACHP Chairman Milford Wayne Donaldson presents Preserve America Community designation materials to Historic Filipinotown representatives at special event in Los Angeles. [Image: MWDonaldson, ACHP / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)]

The Rise of the Talang Gabay Gate in Historic Filipinotown

ASEAN Asia Philippines

Its name is “Talang Gabay” or “Our Guiding Star” in Tagalog, and the 30 foot tall, 80 foot wide gate is adorned with key elements of Filipino culture including the gumamela flower, parol lantern, and the legendary Sarimanok,a mythical creature of the Maranao peoples. Standing over Beverly Boulevard, the gate designed by Eliseo Art Silva serves as a long- awaited historical landmark for the Historic Filipinotown community, one of six Asian Pacific Islander neighborhoods within Los Angeles, California.

California is home to the largest Filipino American population in the United States. Over 1.6 million Filipino Americans were recorded in California in the 2020 American Community Survey by the US Census Bureau, with a majority of the population concentrated in both Los Angeles and San Diego County. Various neighborhoods, such as Glendale and Eagle Rock, are home to significant Filipino populations, with malls hosting Jollibee, Seafood City, or Chowking, prominent Filipino restaurants and markets.

The gate has been a nearly two decades long project, bringing in community organizations such as the Pilipino Workers Center, Filipino American Service Group inc., and the Historic Filipinotown Neighborhood Council. The gate has been a planning project by Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell alongside the Department of Public Work Commissioner Jessica Caloza, whose offices have been collecting community input to ensure the Gateway “authentically showcases the beauty and storied history of the Filipino community", as O'Farrell stated during the project announcement in June 2020. Finally, in February 2022, the date for the installation and launch of the gate was officially set. The boundaries of Historic Filipinotown were designated on July 31, 2002, in partnership with former Mayor Eric Garcetti, whose success in office can be traced to the Filipinos for Garcetti campaign, a campaign the Filipino American community organized under to help his bid as 42nd Mayor of Los Angeles.

In 2012, the neighborhood was recognized as a Preserve America community by former First Lady and Honorary Chair of the Preserve America Initiative, Michelle Obama, building on a dedication from the community to preserve the heritage , cultural celebrations, and the home of organizations such as the Search to Involve Pilipino Americans. The story of Historic Filipinotown is shaped by many community organizers and activists, and continues today with newer generations. One such individual, James Santa Maria of The Santa Maria Group spoke of his experience in the community. The Santa Maria Group serves as a government relations firm, and has represented the Search to Involve Pilipino Americans in engaging with the City of Los Angeles since 2015. James Santa Maria’s work involves various corners of the Filipino community in Los Angeles, such as a micro-business pop-up called the Manila District. The Filipinotown community represents a personal story of success for him, and a reason why he pushes for community growth. When asked about his experience with Historic Filipinotown by East-West Center Young Professional Ryan Roden, James Santa Maria said “ I grew up for a few years in Historic Filipinotown. I never felt like I was deprived of the [Filipino] culture, where one would have to fight tooth and nail, not only to find it, but to want to preserve it so it could be part of us. It was always in front of us, present, and without having to be apologetic to it. It was just part of who we were.”

The official ribbon cutting celebration took place May 7, 2022, according to LA City Council District 13, with food, music, and dance performances celebrating this new icon for the neighborhood’s history, identity, and continued progress.

Ryan Ahn Roden is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. He is currently a first-year graduate student at American University's School of International Service.