With Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM) coming to an end, Long Beach Local News would like to highlight local Filipina-American photographer Valerie J. Bower. Originally from Wilmington, CA, Valerie has been taking photos since 2001 and self-publishing zines since 2015. She has nearly thirty zines under her belt and shows no sign of slowing down. As an artist, Valerie strives to create projects and present them in ways she has never seen before. Whether she is photographing happenings in Los Angeles, the Harbor Area, or on her road trips; Valerie has a distinct and dreamy way of enriching local history and advocating for cultural awareness through her work.
LBLN asked Valerie how living in Long Beach inspires her work, to which she said “Living in Long Beach is always inspiring to me in different ways. There are so many distinct neighborhoods here and different communities living side by side. I love walking to the beach with my boyfriend on Sunday’s, it is always good energy. I also feel connected here because of my family history in Long Beach. I have so many photos of my dad’s side in old Long Beach, dating back to the 1950’s and 1960’s. My grandfather and dad both worked at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard for many years. I just recently found my dad’s name in a memorial to the Shipyard that they created after it shut down in 1997, which is down by the aquarium. That really made me feel like my family is part of Long Beach history.”
During the pandemic, Valerie released a zine titled We Are Essential, Mahalaga Tayo, which focuses on Filipino essential workers within the food and agriculture industry, “Food is so big in our culture. It is how we share, survive, and thrive. One of the first things I did was drive out to Delano, California to photograph the historic Filipino Community Center and some grape fields in the area. I wanted to first pay homage to the farmworkers and the “Manongs” in Central California of the 1920’s-1970’s.” She also photographed restaurants and cultural signage of Historic Filipinotown near downtown LA, Filipino markets in Long Beach and Carson, a major Filipino food product distributor, and followed volunteers who were preparing and delivering food to Filipino elders.
As a Filipina-American woman, We Are Essential, Mahalaga Tayo hit close to home for the photographer, “I wanted to photograph and include images where people, and especially other Filipinos, can connect to on a personal level. Putting it together, doing the research, learning more about Filipino American history, and tying it to my own family and my experiences growing up was very emotional and personal.” Currently, Valerie is considering extending the project as there is so much to document, especially now. Recently, she has been shooting Stop AAPI Hate rallies in Oakland and San Diego, “What I’ve taken away from this hate and violence happening right now is that I need to create more meaningful work about Asian American communities. We can no longer be invisible.”
Lastly, we asked Valerie what APAHM meant to her as a Filipina-American woman, “It’s important that we have APAHM, but we need to recognize the AAPI community always, all year.”
To see more of Valerie’s work, visit her website https://valeriejbower.bigcartel.com/.