Martin Carpio is a rising high school junior at Larchmont Charter School and a participant in the Koreatown Storytelling Project, where he is the Design Editor He lives in and attends school in Koreatown. Martin is the Copy Editor at the LCS newspaper, Timberwolf Howl, and is also involved in the school’s musical theater program and caroling choir. Martin has the best of both worlds as a Filipino living in Koreatown: while being able to represent his culture in this multicultural neighborhood, Martin learns more about Korean culture and the community within it.
Where is your hometown?
I was born in Glendale, but I’ve lived in Koreatown my entire life. My mom came to Koreatown when she moved to the U.S. First she lived with her friend in Hollywood, and then she moved to Koreatown because it was closer to her work. She used to work on architectural plans at the Kennard Design Group. Now she works from home.
Do you live or work in K-Town?
I go to Larchmont Charter School, which is a high school down 6th Street. My first school was Hobart Elementary School; that was from Pre-K to First Grade. Then I went to Camino Nuevo Charter Academy from Second Grade to Fifth Grade. Then from Sixth Grade to Eighth Grade, I went to Rise Kohyang Middle School.
I definitely would go with Larchmont as my favorite school because it’s really diverse. My interactions with people have been a lot more positive at Larchmont compared to everywhere else I’ve been because at other places, I’ve largely felt like an outsider. Probably because I switched to a lot of schools throughout my life. I like being at Larchmont. I just feel like the community is really open and they have a lot of opportunities and extracurriculars. It really helps you feel like you fit in.
I am on the cross country team and I ran track and field last year. I am a Copy Editor for the Timberwolf Howl, which is our student newsletter. I also dance and I’m in the beginning chorus class and I did caroling choir this year, which was a lot of fun. I was also in musical theater. I was part of the production for Cabaret. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to perform that because of the Coronavirus and everything. It was still a lot of fun and I definitely really enjoyed being a part of all these different things.
I’m 100 percent Filipino. Logically, there would be a lot more Filipino people living in Historic Filipinotown as compared to Koreatown. I don’t walk around and see Filipino people; maybe it’s because I’m not paying attention. I don’t think that if I looked up for a second, the first person I’d see would be a Filipino person.
I have more of an appreciation for Korean culture from being exposed to it for more than 15 years. Going to Madang and all these other places. I went to a mostly Korean school, so I was exposed to a lot of the culture, food, and language. I actively tried to learn how to read Korean, too. I appreciate the culture and the food more because I’ve lived in Koreatown my entire life.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed you?
It has definitely changed me. Before, there were a lot of great things to do, like go out with Sally (my girlfriend) and spend time with friends. Now we’re all just stuck at home. I don’t know if it’s great that everybody’s super exposed to the media, but it’s great that everybody’s more aware of what’s going on right now, like the protests. Personally, I wasn’t always an activist. I’m aware of Black rights, trans rights, and gay rights and I guess now that everybody is together, I’m more aware of what’s going on. It makes me feel less afraid to speak out against what’s going wrong in this country.
But I’m surprisingly less anxious than I expected to be. It’s nice to be at home. School is so fast-paced, and being there and seeing all of those people, it’s kind of overwhelming. Everything’s simple, but I wouldn’t say I’m happy about it.
What is another way your life has changed because of the pandemic?
My eating habits. Normally I like being outside. I used to only have time to eat breakfast and lunch, but now, it’s just snacking all the time. I’ve definitely noticed that whenever I get bored, I’m like, “What is there to eat?” So I forage inside of the refrigerator.
What has been the most challenging part of this experience?
I’m a pretty extroverted person and I like being outside. I usually find a way to get out, like I leave and take the train downtown or something. It’s just really hard not to be able to go out. Obviously, I can go out with a mask but it’s very different.
What have you learned from this experience?
I’ve learned that it’s really important to have a routine. I wake up in the morning, have breakfast, shower and then I get ready for school. Without a routine, I was really jaded. Nothing made sense and I wasn’t paying very much attention. Time passed really slowly. But now I feel like it’s gotten a lot easier now that I have a little routine.
Who do you worry most about in your family or circle of friends?
I’m most worried about my parents because they’re both pretty old. My mom worries a lot. It’s really difficult for her. Before the entire quarantine, she put up papers with false information because she was just so scared. She wanted to make sure we were safe but she didn’t necessarily research what she was looking at before she put it up.
My dad is a pretty stubborn person. I’d ask him, “Whoa, can you please sneeze into your elbow or cough into your elbow?” and he would ask, “Why should I do that? I’m doing it into my shirt.” Let’s say we go back to work and he sneezes or coughs into a shirt, I feel like there’s gonna be a lot of people who look at him and think, “Oh, that’s strange.” It will be pretty difficult for my parents. That’s why I’m worried about them.
What memory of this time will stay with you?
On Mother’s Day, I went on a walk with my mom. She said, “Why don’t we go to Sally’s place and drop off some food?” So we bought stuff at H Mart, went back home and I took a shower. Sally texted me asking, “Oh, are you home?” I said, “Yeah, what’s up?” And she said, “We left a gift downstairs for your mom.”
Are you kidding me? Because we were planning to do that too. And she didn’t know and we went down and got flowers. And then afterward, in the evening, my mom drove me to her place and I dropped off some food. It was all really sweet.
If quarantine ended tomorrow, what’s the first thing you would do?
Oh my god, I’m going straight to Sally’s place. We wanted to go to Wetzel’s Pretzels because she really likes it. I feel like it really depends on when quarantine ends. They said it’ll be July, but then they also say there’s gonna be a second wave. It all sucks. But if it’s in the summer, we’re definitely going to the beach. But if it’s in the winter, we’ll probably go to a park and have a picnic or go to The Last Bookstore.
How do you feel about transitioning to being a junior in an online setting?
I like the classes being online. I feel like everything’s slower. In person, it’s easy to be like, “Oh, teacher, I don’t get this.” But now the teachers only have an hour to teach their subject. In my algebra class, the teacher waits 30 seconds and people take so long to respond and it’s just difficult to get through a class and finish on time. That’s gonna be a major setback. I’m planning to take Pre-Calc over the summer. I wasn’t expecting for it to be a video chat. I don’t even know if I’m ready for this. It’s really scary.
What are your thoughts on Koreatown?
I like it. Like I said, it’s familiar to me. I feel like I know the streets pretty well. I know the bus routes and I know the buildings. I think that’s really cool. Sometimes, I feel like there’s not much to do in Koreatown. Like, obviously I can go for a walk and take pictures or whatever, but I feel like it’s largely just a living space to me. There are office buildings right outside my window and there are parking lots everywhere. There are a lot of Korean barbecue places, a lot of places to eat, a couple of churches.
I guess there’s not really a lot of activities that I like to do. I feel like I have to go downtown to do something. There also aren’t a lot of parks here, which really sucks. Lafayette Park is near my school and I went there a lot and I played basketball. I don’t really do much there anymore. MacArthur Park is a hotspot for crime and Seoul International Park has a lot of homeless people, so there’s not much I can do there either.
Koreatown has gentrified, but the community is small and it feels cozy to be here. All the new housing is a little ridiculous. I mean it’s great that they’re building new housing, but I don’t think it’s for the people that need it. Some gentrification is good because it develops a town, but there’s always going to be some point where there’s too much.
I live near Madang. Nearby, there’s an elderly home and there used to be a giant parking lot next to it, but they ended up making it an apartment and now there’s a lot of people living there. Also, there was this place called Camino Nuevo where I used to go to school and my school rented it or something from a Jewish place. They moved to another location and they’re building a building right now at the Jewish place. I don’t know when it’ll get done but it’s really big.
I feel like they can add a bit more art installations in Koreatown. In other places like West Hollywood, there’s art all over the place and I just think it’s really cool to see. There’s one new art installation near Wilshire and Normandie—it’s like golden butterflies—and I think that’s really cool. I think that art is an indication of a community that’s really thriving. So seeing that for the first time was really cool.
I remember walking down Wilshire from Rise and seeing spray paint on the ground and it said “protect your heart” with the “art” in “heart” being in color. I thought that was cool. Next to the Line Hotel there’s just a section where it’s this woman’s eyes and I think that’s really cool. Going past that is always really cool.
All the festivals are always fun, like Jangtuh. I’m not really sure what it’s for. It’s just really cool to see all the little stands selling food, clothing, and all this other stuff. It’s just nice to see my friends there. It’s a good opportunity to connect with people as well.
What is a significant memory in Koreatown?
Being on public transportation is a big thing for me. I like taking the train and the bus. The first time I took public transportation was when I started going to Rise Kohyang and I just felt like that was an indication of becoming an adult because it felt like the biggest sign of independence. Being on a bus alone without my dad holding my hand was a big deal to me. I just feel like I can go anywhere now.
Where is your favorite place in Koreatown?
The entire street of Wilshire. It goes all the way to Madang. I think there’s like a lot of things going on there. You have like the [Wiltern] theater all the way at the end, and then you have Madang, and then you have like a bunch of different shops, and then there’s one bus route that goes all the way along it.
I like to eat in Koreatown. There are a lot of restaurants that have nice food. When I was younger, I remember going to Korean barbecues a lot. There’s one place near where I live called Bulgogi Hut, but before it was called Castle. It had all these different name changes and everything but it’s pretty good. I feel like I live in like the intersection of where there’s Korean people and Hispanic people. I get both cultures, and I get to see them and everything. I really just like to walk around Koreatown.
Is there anything you want to say given what we’re living through at the moment?
The biggest thing is not taking things for granted. You get comfortable when things like this aren’t happening, like being able to go out and spend time with your friends. I don’t know about it being a privilege, but it’s a great thing to have.