My hometown of National City, CA claims a modest but eclectic list of notables. The Return of the Killer Tomatoes, starring George Clooney, was filmed in National City. The serial killer Andrew Cunanan was born in National City. Olympic sprinter Gail Devers graduated from my high school, Sweetwater Union High, and Rosie Hamlin, lead singer of Rosie and the Originals who wrote and sang the 60s hit “Angel Baby,” lived in National City when she was a girl.
I visit National City often because my sisters live there or nearby. This month, I was there to do an event at the National City Library, a place that is close to my heart, a place meaningful to me for its steady friendship during my childhood and early adolescence, a place that should join the list of notables above.
The current library is located at the southwest corner of Kimball Park, a city park named after one of the Kimball brothers who founded the city in 1868. Anyone who has read my novel or short story collection will recognize the name Kimball Park, the fictional city where my characters reside. The current library is a beautiful thing – a two-story, airy building with lots of natural light. Regarding its users, this Yelp reviewer noted, Cute Filipino and Mexican girls study here.
Here’s another helpful Yelp reviewer: The National City Police Dept is across the street so if your car gets stolen, you’re just moments away from filing a report.
And another one: Minus the noise and ghetto vibe… this library is very clean… Ghetto vibe? The reviewer is definitely not a resident of National City.
But you get the picture. The National City Library is rad. It was built in 2005 to replace the original located at the northwest corner of Kimball Park. That one was a small, low-slung, flat-topped, single-story brick building, built in the fifties or sixties. It became a habit for me and my sisters when we were growing up. Each Saturday after catechism class at St. Mary’s, we’d walk across the street to the library to browse and check out an armful of books, then go home and read until our eyes ached. I read a lot of books from that library. I miss it, even though the new one is beautiful and beloved by its users.
It was a great honor to be invited to speak there by librarian Mervin Jensen as part of the library’s series called The Face Behind the Art: Celebrating National City Artists. I was thrilled 1) to be called a National City artist, and 2) to be talking about the books I’ve written that actually sit on the shelves (when they’re not checked out) of the National City Library.
The best thing about doing an event in the city where much of your extended family still lives is that you’re guaranteed an audience.
Siblings, cousins, and nieces came.
My eighty-eight-year-old aunt and some of the friends she lunches with at the Senior Center came (including Hope who adorably introduced herself as my aunt’s best friend).
A former high school classmate, now a National City Councilmember, came.
Fellow series artists, painter Edward Juarez and photographer Memo Cavada came.
The editor of the local Filipino Press came.
Even people I didn’t know came because they were library patrons interested in books, including mine.
I had fun. That library felt like home. If you’re ever in the area, go see it, one of National City’s notables.