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Storied: San Francisco


May 21, 2024

In this episode, we meet the humans behind the artistic and cultural project that is the TNT Traysikel.
 
We start, in random order, with Mike Arceaga. Mike was born in the Philippines and moved to LA with his family when he was 10. He says that the transition from his homeland to LA was difficult. The family first landed in Highland Park, which Mike points out wasn't hip then. That's where he got started doing graffiti art.
 
In the mid-to-late-Eighties, they moved, first to the Eagle Rock neighborhood in LA, then Pomona, where, by the time he moved there, he'd become a full-fledged graffiti artist. He says it's what got him into art
 
In high school, Mike learned technical drawing. He went to junior college, had art school on his mind. He was in a hip-hop crew, tagged ramps, and was friends with skaters, but never skated himself. He also breakdanced, but says it never took.
 
After high school, he just wanted to get out of his parents house, and so he signed up to join the Army. But when Mike's dad found out about that, he cried and urged him to go to school instead.
 
And so he visited San Francisco to attend a summer program at the Academy of Art University. And he fell in love with The City almost immediately. He shares the moment of coming up the escalator at Powell BART and seeing the scene on the street as the moment SF got his heart.
 
He loved walking around the hills before art class, where he was starting to meet artists from all over. And slowly, he discovered the rest of The City by hopping on Academy shuttles. Soon after this summer program, Mike came back to visit the Art Institute. When he and a friend saw the view from the roof at SFAI, he decided to try to get into school there.
 
Next, we meet TNT Traysikel's Paolo Asuncion. Paolo came to the US from the Philippines when he was 14. Before that migration, he had found his first girlfriend as well as a friend group that wasn't bullying him. The move abroad disrupted that progress.
 
Paolo's family first came to Ontario, California, just outside of LA and not far from where Mike and his family were. His mom had met a family in church and she and her three kids lived with them. A family of four crammed into a single bedroom.
 
He went to high school all over LA, first in Echo Park (before it was hip), then in the Rampart District, and at Torrance High (think Fast Times at Ridgemont High). Then Paolo's mom put him in Marshall High in Las Feliz (think Grease).
 
Paolo's dad was a fairly famous actor back in the Philippines. But when he moved to the US to be with family, he ended up managing the apartment building where they lived and did door-to-door sales. His parents soon got divorced and his dad went back to his home country.
 
Paolo went to Diamond Bar High School his senior year (which he says was very Breakfast Club-ish). He started playing guitar, which he says got him in with the cool kids. He even formed a band, but after high school, he went back to the Philippines, where he got his girlfriend pregnant.
 
Then Paolo moved back to Glendale in Southern California. He was still on a tourist visa and tried to get jobs that would sponsor his work visa, which was difficult.
 
One day, his uncle in LA asked to help him move to SF and they left Glendale at 10 at night, drove up I-5 to 580, then crossed Bay Bridge at sunrise. Looking out the windshield at the scene in front of him, Paolo thought, WHAT IS THIS PLACE?
 
He spent a week here on that trip, during which time he had the same Powell escalator experience as Mike. Heloved it so much that he decided to move here. A friend of his uncle's got him a graphic design job and in 1996, he moved here.
 
Last but not least, we meet Rachel Lastimosa. Rachel was born and raised in San Diego, the kid of a Navy person, which is how her dad got his U.S. citizenship.
 
Members of Rachel's family have been in SF since the Forties, and when she was a kid, they visited here a lot from San Diego. Rachel's first memories of San Francisco involve mostly touristy things. From a young age, 12 or so, she knew she wanted to live here. Rachel says she loved the culture here and felt a friendliness from strangers unlike what she experienced back home in San Diego.
 
She grew up in a strict house and, because of that, was into extracurricular activities.
Her parents expected her to cook and do laundry, but she escaped into music—playing, writing, and performing. Rachel wrote her first song when she was in first grade. Today, she plays piano, keyboards, and bass, and does vocals. And she produces and writes music.
 
Rachel says she always wanted to build community. She helped put together the first culture night at her high school. But as soon as she could, after graduation, she came to San Francisco. In fact, SF State was the only school she applied to.
 
Once here, she joined a band and majored in electronic music. This was the early 2000s and she's been here ever since. She writes scores for theater and films and has been in a few bands. A collaboration she did with the Filipino Center made her realize how art can bring communities together.
 
Check back next week for Part 2 with Rachel, Paolo, and Mike. In it, they'll share the origin story for TNT Traysikel—the part motorcyle/sidecar, part karaoke machine, part mobile Filipino cultural pride project.
 
We recorded this podcast at TNT HQ in South San Francisco in March 2024.
 
Photography by Jeff Hunt