Hasta que el pueblo se levanta y dice ya basta.
A walk through any neighborhood is the most effective way to take in a culture. This afternoon through my own, at the intersection of Madison and Willow Brook avenue, I took a moment to photograph the complex above, which is now in the process of redevelopment. Around the abandoned buildings, power lines idle next to nestles of leaves from tall trees branching out through air. East of the complex, a crosswalk away, is Lockwood Elementary school, where my old friends and I went to school, and where now even some of the children of those old friends go to school.
Today Lockwood Elementary is no longer just one school, but ‘two in one,’ as the site is now split between the traditional Los Angeles Unified School District program (LAUSD), and a charter school overseen by Citizens of the World – Silver Lake Charter (CWC), which serves ‘qualified’ students whose enrollment is based on a ‘lottery.’ But Lockwood Elementary is actually not located in the famed Silver Lake area; instead, it’s in what’s known officially, according to the LA City Clerk, as ‘East Hollywood.’
In any case, when my peers and I finished fifth grade at Lockwood, our next stop was Thomas Starr King Middle School (King MS). King MS was located East of Virgil avenue on Fountain avenue, and at just under a mile away from Lockwood, if one made the trek to King MS on foot from say, Madison and Willow Brook Avenues, they might reason that the school was actually better situated to serve students located in the wealthier Los Feliz area.
An urban planner might say this distance would be an easy fix, however; all the parents at Madison and Willow Brook Avenues had to do was drive their kids to King MS. Of course, that just meant the parents had to be able to afford a car, which wasn’t always the case for many of the single Latina mothers who oversaw many of my peers and I. In 2008, according to the L.A. Times, the median household income for families in East Hollywood was $29,927, while only 13.4% of adults in the neighborhood had a college degree.
Even so, at just under a mile of walking distance to the school, the daily trek couldn’t be that bad of a slog, right? Some mamas did it. Indeed, some had to. There wasn’t a whole lot of support for them otherwise.
When my peers and I finished at King MS, what followed was John Marshall High School (JMHS) for ninth through twelfth grade. At just about two miles walking distance from the old apartment complex at Madison and Willow Brook avenues, Marshall High School was unquestionably farther east of Virgil avenue. Unlike King MS, which an urban planner could argue was located between ‘East Hollywood’ and Los Feliz to serve both areas, Marshall High School was definitely located in the Los Feliz and Silver Lake areas.
As such, Marshall High School was definitely designed to serve the students of parents there. According to the L.A. Times, in Silver Lake, the median household income in 2008 was almost twice that of East Hollywood’s, at $54,339, with nearly three times the rate of adults in Silver Lake with a college degree at 36.2%. In neighboring Los Feliz, the median household income was $50,793. Los Feliz also had more than three times the rate of adults in East Hollywood with a college degree, at 42.7%.
Despite lacking much in terms of income versus these neighboring areas, and hailing straight out of our homes as “first generation” students, many of my peers and I made it in through the gates at Marshall, either by carpooling with one parent or another, or by taking the Metro 175 bus for those of us who could catch it early enough in the mornings.
Only 48% of the class that my peers and I entered into Marshall with in 2004 would walk out of the school with their diploma in 2008.
Was that paltry graduation rate planned? With ten years of hindsight from the day of graduation, it’s clear it certainly wasn’t planned against. From the time my peers and I were at Lockwood, all the way through our time at Marshall, there wasn’t exactly a cultural plan from the urban policy planners around us and the elected leadership at the time–Mayor Garcetti was the local Council Member for East Hollywood from 2001 – 2012–to get young people from our neighborhood successfully to college and back.
Should that have been the work of urban planners for the area in the first place? One may argue that it was not; yet it’s precisely that same lack of accountability which leads me to believe that in a significant way, the neighborhood surrounding the old complex at Madison and Willow Brook avenues, like many neighborhoods all across Los Angeles, was either supposed to get with the program, or just get lost. Parents in our vecindad were supposed to run with the market, or be Left Behind.
Similarly, today’s redevelopment of the old complex at Madison and Willow Brook avenues is a matter of getting with the program. Except that the program of the new complex at the intersection will be one of sleek buildings, the flaunt of which will be accentuated by bold fonts, and the grounds of which will be guarded by steep fences shrouding the complex in seclusion and high visibility at once, thereby earning its owners the right to ask for the unenviable rent prices it’s destined for; rent prices that virtually none of the trabajadores now reconstructing the complex day by day, nor any of their vecinos in the pueblo surrounding the complex, will be able afford for themselves and their children.
Asi es. Y asi sera, me dirian tantos compadres en los trabajos por ahi. Pero asi es hasta que nosotros decimos no mas, Los Angeles.
Despite the odds, there is reason to be only more optimistic about challenging this lack of accountability for L.A.’s neighborhoods, or this lack of protection for so many of the working families who make them. Everywhere in Los Angeles a resistance is growing to the “old” order of power, which has stifled pueblos like those of my peers and I, and our movements throughout The City, for decades.
I’ve got a feeling, then, that even at the intersection of Madison and Willow Brook avenues, a resistance to pricing out the pueblo and its children can grow in the area too. It may not do so overnight, nor even over the course of tomorrow. But it will rise and make its voice heard, one day at a time.
Asi es. Y asi sera, Los Angeles.