Four years ago when I first got back to Los Angeles from Davis, there was nothing which spoke to me more about the future than walking through the city, when it became clear that it was in the midst of a great change, and that somehow JIMBO TIMES would also be a part of that change. I look back at that time now and marvel at just how many other L.A. Stories were also orbiting close by, making their own way through a transformation with the city before claiming a role in the process of it. Diana Mabel Cruz tells one such Cuento.
Diana Cruz is a 25 year old organizer from Los Angeles who is currently fighting an eviction notice in her native vecindad of Koreatown.
Alongside her mother, she’s taking a stand against being forced to leave a community where their family holds decades’ worth of investment and memories by organizing a Legal Defense Fund for their stay. In walking with Diana through her neighborhood to learn more, she shared fragments with me of the countless stories that make her vecindad more than just a familiar place, but one worth defending; she showed me where her family first moved in to the neighborhood in the early 60s, where they went to church as the years passed by, the school she went to for elementary, and how many changes she’s noted in the community since. It became clear to me then how Diana perceives her neighborhood in a way that any city planner should find invaluable: she not only treasures the place she comes from, but also understands her ability to play an active part in its shaping over the course of time. She explains it best herself, however:
1. When did your family first arrive to Los Angeles? My grandparents moved to Koreatown in 1966 when my dad was only 5 years old, staying with family friends around Saint Kevin church until they could afford their own apartment. In 1968, they moved into their own home just nearby on Edgemont Street. I still have black and white photos from the family’s arrival here during the sixties. My mother arrived to Los Angeles in 1991. She moved out to the Koreatown neighborhood from the Pico-Union district in 1996.
2.What was your school experience like, being from the neighborhood? I went to nearby Cahuenga Elementary for 5 years, but my mother also placed me on a waiting list for a Magnet program at Brentwood elementary. I was accepted into Brentwood’s magnet program when I was in the fourth grade. I remember that my bus stop for Brentwood was then at Alexandria Elementary. From the sixth through eight grades, my bus stop for Paul Revere Middle school was at Virgil Middle School, and my bus stop for Pacific Palisades Charter High was at the corner of 3rd/Normandie. Throughout my time at schools on the west side, at any point that the school administrators considered me to be misbehaving, the ultimate form of punishment was the threat of being sent back to my home schools.
3. What did you study at UC Davis, and what drove you to return to L.A. once you graduated with a renewed vision of your place in The City? (YES, UCD!) I studied Sustainable Environmental Design at UCD and focused on Participatory Urbanism. Too often community members are not invited to the table when a city makes a planning decision that will directly impact them. Or if they are, meetings are hosted at times when they are unavailable and without language justice being offered. But the question persists for me: Who better to direct urban planning decisions than the people that live in their own neighborhoods? I’m now using the privilege I’ve had of being able to access higher education to amplify the voices of the people in my community. This is our neighborhood and we have just as much agency as the landlords that own the buildings we live in. One day, when I pay off my current student loans my goal is to go on to graduate school for these same reasons.
4. What inspires you to keep fighting for this particular struggle at Mariposa Villas in K-town? My family has a lot of history in this neighborhood. My dad went to Virgil Middle School and Belmont High. My aunt went to Marshall. The local church, panaderias, Central-American markets and restaurants here hold several memories for us as well. We have roots in this neighborhood that date 52 years ago–this is our home; these are the sidewalks I played in, the buildings I grew up in, and the streets that raised me. If we don’t fight for our right to stay, who will?
In addition to organizing for her Tenants Association in Koreatown, Diana is also supporting the Prop 10 campaign this upcoming election.
This November 6th, voters in California will decide on Proposition 10, or an historic piece of housing legislation that would allow localities to place new rent control ordinances in their cities in an effort to curb the state’s deepening housing crisis.
At the heart of the matter, what we’ll be deciding on is just how much of a support network we can create for the mass of renters who live and work for California by expanding protections for them to keep their homes. These renters may not be very visible on election day, and many of them will not (be enabled to) show up to the polls for various reasons, but they will be there for their pueblos at every other moment; they are people like Diana and her mother, and people like me and my mama, numbering in the millions throughout Los Angeles and across the Golden state as we keep these places clean, friendly, and most of all, beaming with warmth like the sunshine above us no matter the winds.
To support Diana’s current stand against the eviction in her building, please visit her Legal Defense Fund’s page. And stay tuned: November 6th is just around the corner.