Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 26

I’ve seen how little by little, people are now are embracing more the isolation that’s been popularized through this public health crisis. This is best demonstrated by the prevalence of the face mask, the new symbol of acceptance for a more precarious reality. I think of people in Beijing, China, who came to terms with precarious conditions years ago once realizing their city’s air was one of the most polluted in the world. 

But it’s now clear that China isn’t the only nation that can act swiftly and with authority towards a serious public health threat. For this reason, climate change, and curbing carbon emissions worldwide, should be a renewed issue that all the nations of the world should pay attention to with refreshed eyes.

After witnessing the quickness and consistency with which the entire globe has treated the threat of COVID-19, can the presidents of the world’s nations, particularly this one, continue insisting to people that climate change is another “hoax” we should pay no mind to, or which at the very least we shouldn’t take some precautions for? 

Throughout this crisis, an abundance of data, from reports of the Black community’s disproportionate death rate in relation to the disease, to reports of the shortage of access to testing in places like South Central Los Angeles and Palmdale, where Latinos make up the majority of the population, demonstrate how existing healthcare inequalities are only exacerbated by public health threats which, income brackets notwithstanding, pose a risk to every member of society. 

If given a true moment to pause, can the president of this nation–in the case he is reelected–genuinely walk away unmoved by what the crisis has revealed about our inertia towards radical changes in society? More importantly, can the president see how despite a response which was globally slower than it should have been, nations everywhere have managed to enact serious policies to curb the damage wrought by this pandemic? 

This leads to another question our elected officials and voters everywhere must ask: how committed are we to the differences that divide us, separating rich from poor?

I think of Mitch McConnell, who in my opinion has been the most dangerous member of Congress for over a decade now, placing the health and well-being of American workers in harm’s way at the mercy of corporate executives and hedge fund managers. Clearly McConnell has not been shaken by this moment in our nation’s history to move in support of transformative and overdue changes to our way of life here–universal healthcare access, a new federal minimum wage, gun safety legislation, student debt forgiveness being a few that come to mind–so we have to ask: what’s left?

Love it or hate it, it appears that all we have now is November. I wish there were a better answer, but for now we’ve got to make do with what’s in front of us. Something I’ve come to know well over the course of time.

Let’s get to it, Los Angeles.

J.T.

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Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 24

I’d like to dedicate today’s writing to any human being out there besides myself who’s had a difficult time of late due to the health crisis. Although I’ve frequently written about this moment in our nation’s history as something of a collective experience, it’s still true that there are many out there who don’t have the privilege to reflect on time in this way.

In the world before the shutdown, some of my favorite pastimes included boarding the Metro 704 bus across Santa Monica boulevard, or the Metro 754 bus south of Vermont avenue. There was also the Red Line, which I sometimes loathed and sometimes loved, but which was crucial for connecting to Koreatown and Union Station, transporting my footsteps to these and so many other different swaths of L.A. Now, the only time I’ve come together with any of these services has been through the photographs I’ve taken of them while walking along the intersections.

I can still walk, another privilege not everyone has, which makes it more accessible for me to keep up with a new routine despite the challenges. I stroll to places like Villalobos Market, as well as Jons for tortillas and jamón. When time permits, I like to scour the nearby Pacific French Bakery or Guatemalteca Bakery for the conchas I continue holding so dearly.

Nowadays, each of these places are transformed as grocery stores and bakeries all over the world might be, but they are still what they’ve always been: tiny places still storing a world of goods for a people to continue living, for a culture to continue surviving.

When a friend and I spoke for my podcast recently, she mentioned that on seeing the liquor stores and the neon lights illuminating the storefronts, she knew she was in my vicinity. Until she made that comment, I hadn’t stopped to realize just how much I actually reflect these humble establishments. I wonder for a moment exactly when each of these places first came to be, and just how many people’s lives they’ve touched over the years, how magnified that process is now. I see them with renewed eyes, and it’s a privilege to be able to recognize them as stalwart pillars in the community clothed in humble dress; as old and new pueblos in Los Angeles for the way people make them, and for the way they make people.

In Los Angeles, where people daily crush engines rushing past such pueblos in a scramble for their freeways, and where they rush past the silhouettes whose steps extend the life of these pueblos, like photosynthesis, pumping fresh air into the entirety of the land, I hope they can see it all just a little more clearly now; this is our home, our vecindario, overseen by flocks of angels in fluttering strides at every corner.

J.T.

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Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 12

Because more than one reader has asked, it’s a relief to note that Doña Ana was able to find some toilet paper for herself and her boys not too long after her cuento was shared on the blog. She has been home with her boys the last two weeks, taking the precautionary measures extra seriously. In addition to her duties looking after her sons, Doña Ana also manages her blood pressure for type 2 diabetes; needless to say, illnesses already take an extra toll on her immune system, so she is simply not taking any chances with coronavirus.

All across Los Angeles are mothers sheltering in place with their mijos, watching diligently for their needs by the minute, and rising to meet each call with grace that is also fierceness that is also deep compassion and communication.

Since our report yesterday, an additional five cases have been recorded in East Hollywood for a total of ten (10), while the adjacent Silver Lake area has reported an additional eight (8) for a total of eighteen (18) cases there. The numbers will keep growing through the next few weeks, but there’s reason to be hopeful.

L.A. continues to lie like a ghost-town, and while I know that our officials have to be cautiously optimistic, meaning that they should say little at this point over the effects of the stay at home orders, it’s clear that in Los Angeles–as everywhere else the restriction of movement has been taken seriously–the orders will have a positive effect in slowing the rate of the spread.

Even so, already the city is changing immeasurably. Already it is becoming something that will also take time to unravel from when the winds turn back in the other direction. Doña Ana is looking after her and her kids’ well being with vivacious fervor. She is adapting to meet the moment by taking on a set of new customs given an unsecured environment. These new customs will not simply vanish into thin air once the worst of the coronavirus passes.

All of society can be thought of as a child; once that child is taught a new behavior, the longer the new behavior is maintained, the more it stands to become a part of that child’s permanent character. Humans aren’t born to be afraid just as they aren’t born to discriminate against each other, but they learn these things over time.

I heard recently that a society is based–most of all–on trust, a trust in institutions. When a couple trusts that they can live within a certain area, they take their chances and move in there. When a set of parents trust the schools within their range, they take their chances and allow strangers at those schools to parent after their kids for a while.

With this health scare, however, trust is ebbing out with each day. Trust is changing. And it won’t simply crawl right back in haste. To the science which will show that diseases like the coronavirus are manageable with enough purposeful planning, many people will turn away. To the invitations to socialize with others for the benefit of time as a community, more people will choose to save the hassle and spend time at home instead. To love, people will ask themselves, do I want love, or life?

Our society will feel lonelier as a result of being changed by this collective experience. It will feel traumatized. But it’s perhaps exactly then that we can begin a process of collective recovery inclusive of all of our well being. What a time just to be a witness for all of it. What an extraordinary time. Here’s to JIMBO TIMES being here.

J.T.

40 Cuentos

Did you hear about the blogger from Los Angeles turned fashionista?

It’s Los Cuentos.

In these last days of winter, I’ve got on hand my first bulk order for Los Cuentos hoodies by Jimbo Times. 40 hoodies, that is.

I’ve now got to sell all 40 hoodies before the first day of March in order to keep the production going! Can you help me do it? Colors come in Black and Maroon, and are available in small, medium and large sizes. You can place your order HERE.

If the hoodie’s not for you, you can get one for your friends or family! It’s a comfy, cozy and resilient piece to get through winter with.

Each sale earns yours truly a humble profit to keep the site and podcast running, but it’s not about the profit. It’s about the challenge; it’s about the unending call to adventure and success in Los Angeles despite any odds to the contrary!

So, what do you say L.A?

Let’s get the world Cuentos!

J.T.

Deed Restrictions in Los Feliz and East Hollywood

T-RACES, or the Testbed for the Redlining Archives of California’s Exclusionary Spaces, is a powerful map and treasure cove of historical documents whose archives contain ‘area descriptions’ of L.A. neighborhoods as seen by former L.A. county and federal officials of the national Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC); basically, these officials distinguished which areas were “desirable” and which were “undesirable” for investment from private banks and government loans based on the areas’ racial makeup.

I’ve gathered a few of the area descriptions of the “Los Feliz” and “East Hollywood” neighborhoods, respectively, all of them dated from 1939. It’s fascinating to see the old vecindades distinguished by their racial and class makeup. For example, in the Los Feliz neighborhood, the absence of “foreign families” or “negros” based on the “deed restrictions” banning their presence, as well as single-family residential zoning, led to a “high green” or attractive rating for the HOLC:

“[In Los Feliz] …Deed restrictions cover both improvement costs and racial elements. Zoning is single-family residential. Conveniences are as available as is desirable in a multi-car garage neighborhood. This area was subdivided some 15 years ago, and was engineered and platted to contour resulting in well arranged and improved streets. Construction, maintenance and architectural designs are of the highest quality. Population is of a high character and many of the city’ s wealthiest citizens reside here. Values shown above are somewhat conjectural as size and location of homesite affects prices. This also applies to rentals as quality of tenant is a large consideration. With a convenient location, ideal building sites and high caliber deed restrictions, this area should continue indefinitely to attract a substantial type of resident. On the basis of present development and future prospects area is accorded a “high green ” grade.”

By contrast, in East Hollywood, to the Western Side of the area, because of the ‘concentration of Jewish families,’ along with 5 & 6 room dwellings, or apartment buildings with 5 to 6 units, a “medial yellow” or “only fairly” attractive grade was accorded.

“[In East Hollywood] …There are no deed restrictions and zoning, while mainly single-family, also permits all types of multi-family residential structures in different parts and is also “spot zoned” for business and provides for numerous institutional developments. Two of the largest hospitals in the city are located within the area. Conveniences are all readily available. This area was originally largely occupied by the old Sullivan Farm and was subdivided approximately 25 years ago. Divided by and surrounded with business thoroughfares this far-flung area contains a miscellaneous array of multi-family residential development; however, the pre-dominating type of residence is 5 & 6 room dwellings which are generally of standard construction and fairly well maintained. It is said to be one of the community’s best rental districts. Rumors of scattered Japanese and Negro residents were not confirmed as none were located except upon the business thoroughfares. There is a concentration of Jewish families between Melrose and Santa Monica Blvd. east of Western Avenue. The population in general is heterogeneous, as is also the aspects of the improvements. There is a fair percentage of owner occupancy and many homes are still occupied by original owners. There is a decided trend at present toward business and income properties; however, it is thought that the major part of the area will remain predominantly single-family for many years to come. The area is accorded a “medial yellow” grade.”

Such standards beg the question, just who was the HOLC describing these conditions to? That is, just who determined that ‘negros,’ ‘foreign’ and ‘Jewish’ people and their dwellings reduced the overall quality of life? In literature it’s called the white gaze, or the white imagination that dictates a certain narrative or reality as though it were a universal understanding, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth.

“Los Angeles and Vicinity – Residential Security Map”

With these frameworks in mind, I was excited to read about just how the vecindad my family and I would come to call home during the eighties when mom and pops arrived here fared ‘in the ratings.’

In the eyes of the HOLC, East Hollywood towards the East side was considered ‘blighted’ for 15% of its residency consisting of ‘foreign’ families, and for 10% of it consisting of ‘negros,’ as well as for the neighborhood’s multiple family dwellings and bungalows. This led to a “medial red” rating, meaning bank lenders were advised against issuing loans for homeowners or prospective homeowners here.

“[In East Hollywood] …The few deed restrictions which have not expired are irregular and largely non-effective. The major portion of area is zoned for single family dwellings, but multiple family dwellings are permitted in scattered sections. Conveniences are all readily available. This district was subdivided over 25 years ago as a popular price home district and has largely maintained the characteristics. Many of the improvements are of substandard construction and maintenance is spotted, being generally of a poor quality. Scattered throughout the area are a number of small “B” grade apartments, bungalow courts and other multi-family dwellings. The population is highly heterogeneous with more than a sprinkling of subversive racial elements, there being several concentrations of Japanese and Negroes within the district. There is also quite a Jewish population adjacent to the synagogue which is located in the northern part. While by no means a slum district, the area is definitely blighted and is accorded a “medial red” grade.”

On the one hand, it’s astounding to think that there used to be more Japanese and Black people in the neighborhood. But it’s also sobering to consider how World War II and the Japanese interment which followed violently displaced such communities from the area. When one considers these events and the subsequent or concurrent modernization that followed or accompanied the war, such as the building of L.A.’s first freeway in America in the Arroyo Seco Parkway in 1940, one can see how modern development has always been a matter of some violence on communities and restrictions of their space for the benefit of wealthier, more privileged groups.

It’s rarely ever easy to take another field trip through the historical foundations which led to our modern dilemmas with access to space in the inner city. But in order to know where we’re going, we have to know where we come from, Los Angeles.

J.T.

Redlining in Los Angeles

The Los Angeles we know in the 21st century is not just some place that arrived from out of the blue one summer day, but an environment built out through specifically racist laws, designations, and customs over decades of policy, especially during the 20th century. During the 1960s, subsequent waves of civil unrest against such policies struck in several U.S. cities, among them in Watts, Newark, and Detroit.

In 1965, a traffic stop by white police officers in the community of Watts led to the arrest of two Black men, Marquette and Ronald Frye, and even their mother, Rena Frye, which angered a nearby crowd of predominantly Black residents, who witnessed the police officers roughhousing the family. When more officers arrived, who used their batons to threaten the crowd back, they fanned the flames of what would turn into six days of a war-zone in Watts, leaving 34 people dead, including at least 26 civilians killed by the LAPD and the National Guard, overwhelmingly Black but also including Latino residents, all of whose deaths were deemed by police forces as justifiable homicides.

When the people of Watts took to attacking police cars and looting storefronts over six days of unrest, was it strictly a matter of Black people protesting police violence? It was not, because police violence had a certain way of being located in a handful of neighborhoods over others. Enter the redlining practice.

Redlining in Los Angeles

In L.A., as in “sister” cities, redlining was a discriminatory practice by the Home Owners Loan Corporation, which was a federal government entity supposed to oversee housing for all Americans, that dissuaded loan services or bank assistance to African-Americans and other minorities based on how “desirable” or white their areas appeared on a racial map, shown partly in the shaded areas below.

Redlining Los Angeles - UCLA Luskin

“The Home Owners Loan Corporation designated minority neighborhoods (those shaded in black and gray in the map in this section) as being unfit for home financing, which, with racially restrictive covenants, excluded people of color from the housing boom that afforded many white households their first house.”

SOUTH LOS ANGELES | SINCE THE SIXTIES BY PAUL M. ONG, ANDRE COMANDON, ALYCIA CHENG, SILVIA R. GONZÁLEZ

How were such racial maps created? As Mike Davis points out, the racial makeup of many neighborhoods in L.A. were formed by racial covenants, or Klansmen sympathizers and supporters in Los Angeles who exerted pressure on Blacks, Asians, Jews and others to keep out of what were then white neighborhoods in the city.

The absence of explicit Jim Crow segregation laws in a northern city like L.A. notwithstanding then, racial covenants were most active and effective during the early 1920s up until just before the 1950s. Thus, for African-American children born in Watts during the 1950s, the predominantly Black and under-served population of their community wasn’t spontaneously located there, but forced to live there due to racist policies, as well as racist judges looking the other way on those policies.

The Kerner Report

In 1967, less than two years after the war-zone in Watts, a police-raid at a Black-owned night club in Detroit led to the arrest of up to 85 African-Americans, which then quickly escalated into racial rioting throughout the city. After five days, at least 43 people were killed and thousands more were injured. In response, president Lyndon B. Johnson called for action, including the formation of the Kerner commission, whose task was to examine the root cause of the rioting, as well as ways to prevent more such violence going forward. Among the commission’s findings, when it came to the issue of housing inequality for nonwhites in the United States, it found that:

“[C]ondemned by segregation and poverty to live in the decaying slums of our central cities, the goal of a decent home and suitable environment is as far distant as ever.”

U.S. National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1967

In our major cities, that condemnation was due precisely to redlining. Redlining concentrated home loans in predominantly white neighborhoods while restricting them from those of ethnic minorities, leaving only poverty to concentrate in the latter. Enter the resentment. Then, the rebellion.

In 2018, any Angeleno taking a walk through neighborhoods like Watts can still feel the legacy of L.A.’s redlining, and the relative lack of accountability concerning the issue, as well as the anger and frustration towards such acts of sabotage and abandon against a people and their community.

Yet with reports such as UCLA Luskin’s South L.A. Since The Sixties, examining how much “progress” the city has made in Watts and South Los Angeles since the Kerner report and other studies, the spirit of Mike Davis’s City of Quartz lives on. From there, our work continues.

J.T.

South Los Angeles since The Sixties

UCLA Luskin - SLA.png

“More than a half century since the Kerner Commission, the history of
South Los Angeles continues to be laden with broken promises and only
modest improvements. Despite the huge efforts of residents, activists
and others, the burden of under-investment and neglect continue to
limit economic opportunity for too many Angelenos. This prescient
report serves as an important reminder of the profound challenges
that remain.”

We have to know this, Los Angeles.

J.T.