In the throes of Los Angeles, where traffic jams crowd out hopes of a day when the world might move differently, it can be difficult to imagine things actually changing. Yet when one encounters stories of the shakers and movers right in our midst, it’s clear that even if it appears like we’re only slouching in limbo out here, things are actually moving around us each day. Arasele Torrez tells one such cuento.
Where are your parents from? Do you know how they met and/or when they were married? My parents are from San Luis Potosi, Mexico. They met when my dad was visiting their town of Rio Verde in 1989. My parents never got married. However, they have been separated for over eight years now.
When did you all arrive to the Virgil Village community? We arrived to the neighborhood in July 1999 when I was nine years old. So we’ve lived in the community here for almost 20 years now.
Were you the first in your family to go to college? And how many people from your graduating class do you know who went to college? I was the first in my family to go to college. I graduated from Marshall High School in 2008 and went on to UC Davis, where I graduated in 2012. I was also the first in my family to get my master’s degree (Cal State Northridge, 2015). I don’t know how many people from my graduating class also went on to college. However, I’m sure there are statistics available somewhere.
What made you decide to return to Virgil Village? And how did you start to become an advocate for people here? Ever since I was very young, I always loved being of service to my family and neighbors, and volunteering at school. I went to Davis with the idea of returning to East Hollywood and giving back to make a difference. Los Angeles is my city and I can’t picture myself leaving again. I learned so much in college. In particular, I loved my Chicano Studies social policy class, in which I was able to focus my research on East Hollywood, its economy, educational makeup, labor and health statistics. When I learned that our statistics showed a low-income and vulnerable community here, it increased my desire to get involved.
When did you first get involved with the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council? I had learned about the council when I researched the different groups making up East Hollywood, and decided to run for a seat on the board not long after college in September 2012 to become the Virgil Village North Representative. But my race was contested with two other candidates. Although I beat the gas station owner, I lost to the incumbent by about 16 votes. However, because I truly cared about my community, unlike other candidates who lose, I chose to stick around. I was then appointed as the Student Representative because I was taking courses at LACC for my paralegal program. Since then, I’ve been a part of the neighborhood council for over six years.
Where do you see yourself and this work going within the next three to five years? I’m not sure where I’ll be in three to five years. Hopefully, I’ll still be living in Virgil Village and making an impact if my landlord doesn’t sell us out like other owners have done to several families in the neighborhood. I hope to stay involved locally, and making a difference for the community, for the low-income and underrepresented, in whatever job I have.
Would you have any advice for other people looking to become more involved in their neighborhood? If so, what would you say is a good way to start? I would say, if you live within LA City Council districts, first look and see what neighborhood council you belong to. You can start by attending their monthly governing board meetings. Just by attending a meeting and voicing some of your concerns, it’s a start to becoming involved in your community.
Also, see if you’re interested in joining one of the committees of the Neighborhood Council as a community member, or stakeholder. At the same time, find out what local non-profits are in the area. And especially if you’re a first generation college student, get involved with the local public schools. Talk to students, our youth and the parents. If you’re in Virgil Village and need any other suggestions, or help getting started, you can also contact me via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Arasele Torrez, 28, has served as President of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council since February 2017 and is now running to represent stakeholders as the EHNC’s Virgil Village Representative. To see her Candidate’s Statement, please follow THIS LINK. On the search tab, select “East Hollywood NC.”