I never knew my mother, and I don’t know what she looks like, except she was “mestiza,” as my grandmother would say; a pretty, petite, light-skinned woman with dark hair who was half-German and half-Filipino.
The only picture I have to remember her by is of my mother’s freshly manicured hands holding me when I was about two days old. As a teenager it sometimes felt odd to go shopping with my dad, but the weekends in the Fashion District were our special times.
Over the years, downtown store owners with whom my father would haggle are now my own purveyors of trendy fashions, and they have always greeted me with a smile and a hug. During those two weeks when he was unconscious, I did not know if he would live or die, and I thought about going through the rest of my life with neither of my parents around, and no siblings.
Many of them have stories, like my family, of being immigrants, of struggling and hustling to get by. But all of this changed last October, when my father was driving to my apartment in the Valley one night to drop off chicken adobo and rice. With his health in such a precarious state, our father-daughter trips to the Fashion District abruptly ended.
Classmates who envied my fashionable finds never knew the tiny label inside my bag read “Made In China.” My father was introduced to the Fashion District by his gay cousin, Napoleon Garcia, who would drag him to get yards of fabric at wholesale stores downtown.
“Tito Nap,” as I used to call him, was a fabulous man who was as fun as his colorful fashions.
Today, trendy tops hang from the stores – midriffs, flowery boho prints, skin-tight clubbing dresses and shirts with “I’m not a shopaholic. The clothes, for the most part, sell for twenty dollars or less and resemble many of the brand-name labels women pay twice the price for at local malls.
Sweaty men stand on small stools above the crowd yelling, “Ladies, come here!
Sure, these well-to-do men, who often appeared in the Beverly Hills society pages, already had the real thing locked away in their safes.
I got ten-dollar bags,” while a petite woman holds up an ad: five pairs of colored contact lenses for twenty bucks.
The first time my dad took me to the Fashion District was twenty-eight years ago, and back then we gravitated toward Santee Alley, or “The Alley.” Considered one of the more popular retail shopping areas in The Fashion District, Santee Alley is a two-block area where I got my imitation Sanrio backpacks and Disney princess toys.
The recent bust, however, is far from the Fashion District I knew growing up as a kid.
During the early years, many vendors were still hawking their fake purses, wallets, scarves and accessories at their storefronts.