Reclaiming Our Neighborhood – An Excavation of East Hollywood, The Epilogue

The following is the final essay for Making Our Neighborhood: Redlining, Gentrification and Housing in East Hollywood, featured in our brand new print magazine for readers, and is also an epilogue for “An Excavation of East Hollywood,” the three-part series.

When mama and papa first stepped foot in Los Angeles from Mexico and El Salvador in the 1980s, they didn’t know that the humble places they would call home were disinvested areas, borne from a city and state that could only see people like them as laborers and not as neighbors. Likewise, they could have no idea that this stretch of land our family would come to know as the neighborhood, east of Hollywood and west of Silver Lake, would become a predominantly immigrant community for decades, where nearly four-fifths of people, including our family, still rent rather than own the places they live in.

My brother and I, following in our parents’ footsteps, also couldn’t anticipate that poverty in the neighborhood, which seemed to keep kids like us trapped inside of it, would be the same thing facilitating the process of pushing kids like us out. But studies show that from 1980 to 2014, as Los Angeles saw its largest waves of families coming from Latin America and Asia, household incomes rose only by 13 percent, while rents in Los Angeles rose by 55 percent. At the same time, reports show that by 1997, when my brother and I were in our earliest years of school, nearly one out of every six renter households in Los Angeles County lived in overcrowded or severely overcrowded conditions. Like our parents, and generations of Indigenous and Black Americans before them, we inherited racist policies that would only become more pronounced over time.

Thirty years after our parents’ arrival to Los Angeles, investment in a whiter, more luxurious L.A., coupled with growing homelessness for Black and immigrant communities here, spreads like a malign enclosure upon more neighborhoods, surrounding the 600 square foot apartment our family shares with only more unaffordability, exclusivity, and racist dispossession of space.

ELLIS ACT

Ellis Act evictions take place when landlords decide to turn rental buildings, including rent-stabilized (RSO) buildings, into condominiums or vacant land, in the process kicking out any and all families who rely on paying stabilized or affordable rents at those buildings. Each time a household or family in East Hollywood is evicted because of the Ellis Act, it not only destabilizes local family health and support systems, but also reduces the number of affordable housing units for working-class families, especially Black and immigrant communities in Los Angeles.

There is little legal protection for renters faced with an Ellis Act eviction because the law is by and large a handout to landlords. But families can pressure landlords and the city for greater compensation when they’re forced to leave their only homes, especially if they can organize with fellow families paying rent at buildings set for conversion.

Since 2000, Ellis Act evictions have taken nearly 500 RSO housing units out of East Hollywood, and nearly 27,000 RSO housing units out of the city of Los Angeles, with each unit lost being another opening for more gentrification, or pricing out of long-time community members. Our city, state and planning officials are supposed to protect such housing, but have largely derelicted this duty. Thus, when organizations like the East Hollywood Tenants Union and the Eviction Defense Network take a stand against these and other evictions, they’re actually filling a leadership vacuum left by many of the city’s supposed officials and representatives.

In the near future, outlawing the Ellis Act at the next opportunity, which overwhelmingly impacts Black and immigrant families in Los Angeles, as well as educating renters on their rights before they face an Ellis Act eviction are key areas for our communities to focus on. Supporting tenants associations as volunteers, funders, or providing other services to these groups will also prove fruitful in the fight to prevent more racist dispossession of the places we call home.

UNHOUSED IN EAST HOLLYWOOD

Each time a new tent is laid across the sidewalk in East Hollywood, it not only places the person sheltering in it in a dangerous environment, but also impacts the elderly, children, and residents in wheelchairs who rely on public space to move across our communities. According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), in 2009, when Eric Garcetti was in his eighth year as the Council Member for the 13th district, where East Hollywood is based, there were an estimated 2,200 people in the district without a roof over their heads.

Since 2019, by Mitch O’Farrell’s sixth year as the Council Member for the 13th district, LAHSA reported just under 4,000 unhoused people in the district, or an increase of 81 percent, approximately 3,200 of whom had no shelter on any given night. LAHSA’s counts are also widely considered undercounts, since families who are “doubling up” in living rooms and other such arrangements are not counted in the annual tally by the organization.

The question for many residents in East Hollywood, then, and in nearly any formerly redlined neighborhood in Los Angeles, remains: Why does homelesness only increase every year?

When the feds redlined neighborhoods in the 1940s, they decided where housing would be funded by the federal budget, and where it would not be funded. Assessors for the government walked through our neighborhoods, and after seeing homes in our communities that included Black, Asian-American, and Latinx residents alongside those of white or European immigrants, decided funding for housing would not be assigned here. By contrast, when the feds saw strictly white communities, or vacant land that could be made strictly white by a “deed restriction,” they encouraged their colleagues at federal offices to write the checks and developers to bring on the building. This was a consequential form of what author and prison abolitionist, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, has called “organized abandonment,” or institutional racism, that continues affecting our neighborhoods.

As a result of redlining and related policies, working-class whites, many of whom would later become “NIMBYs,” or activists against integrated and more diverse neighborhoods in today’s Los Angeles, received a wide array of housing opportunities at the expense of Black and immigrant communities. This meant that many Black and immigrant people in places like East Hollywood had to crowd together inside of rental apartments originally built in the 1920s, when the city of L.A. housed less than 600,000 people. But by 1940, L.A.’s population had more than doubled, even as the city still reneged on the need to house non-white immigrant and Black workers. As World War II progressed, only more such workers migrated to L.A., and that’s when homelessness first came to be regarded as a serious threat to non-white communities here.

Los Angeles now contains nearly four million people. But Black and immigrant families here remain overcrowded in rental housing, and are increasingly crowded out onto the street. As of 2020, Black and immigrant families are nearly three-fourths of L.A. County’s estimated 70,000 unhoused people, according to LAHSA’s numbers.

And what kind of support exists for these residents? As of 2018, a patchwork system between L.A. City Council districts, the L.A. County Supervisors, and LAHSA offered less than 17,000 shelter beds for people with nowhere to live, or 24 percent of the need. However, in several cases, L.A.’s shelters have been found to be unsanitary, infested by bugs and vermin, inadequately staffed and maintained, and even containing abusers, all of which are why many unhoused people largely decline their “services.”

A pedestrian makes his way through the intersection of Melrose avenue and Gramercy place in East Hollywood.

It’s also important to note that the unhoused population’s demographics nearly replicate that of L.A. County’s incarcerated population. According to former director for LAHSA, Peter Lynn, “there is probably no more single significant factor than incarceration in terms of elevating somebody’s prospects of homelessness.”

Yet as recently as 2019, approximately 111,000 individuals were placed behind bars at the L.A. county jail system, according to the L.A. Almanac. 53 percent of these inmates were Latino, while 29 percent were Black, even while Black people account for less than 9 percent of the L.A. County population and Latino inmates are likely undercounted.

For each Black or Latino resident placed behind L.A. County bars– which costs taxpayers up to $50,000 per inmate, according to Justice L.A.–their chance of becoming homeless is substantially increased. After all, going to jail means missing work, educational, and family obligations, and a criminal record that affects both housing as well as employment opportunities. Gilmore has also pointed out that as recently as 2006, 40 percent of the state’s prisoners came from L.A. County alone, meaning that addressing homelessness in the region also necessitates apprehending California’s elaborate prison industrial complex, the largest in U.S. history.

These historic and ongoing racist legacies in Los Angeles, abetted by state legislators and their benefactors, are important to be familiar with to see why the city, state and federal governments have historical wrongs to account for on housing as much as they do on policing, particularly for Black, immigrant, and Indigenous communities; and to see why, instead of pinning the “blame” on unhoused people simply because they’re “in front of us,” frustrations are better channeled at public leaders tasked and paid by our tax dollars to oversee services for our communities.

L.A. CITY PLANNING

It is a historical fact that L.A. City officials have long been for sale to luxury, condominium, and other major real estate developers, and all the more so because of weak state and federal housing policies largely drafted by landlord and realtor groups themselves. Recent guilty pleas for bribery schemes by former L.A. City Council Member Mitchell Englander, and former L.A. City Planning Commissioner, Justin Kim, showed this most recently, while Jose Huizar, the former L.A. City Council Member for Boyle Heights, awaits trial for an elaborate luxury hotel-building scheme in none other than downtown L.A.. 

But discoveries of “sell-out” politicians in L.A. should not be considered aberrational. Rather, it’s part of an “old” legacy of business between wealthy groups and government offices in major cities across the U.S. As far back as 1955, in Forbidden Neighbors: A Study of Prejudice in Housing, housing policy expert, Charles Abrams, noted that one of the main obstacles in creating equitable housing were City Planning officials interested more in profit than fair policy:

“Their main interest, like that of private operators, is financial success. If in the process prejudice becomes part of public policy, it is only the price of profit.”

At the March 2021 Hollywood Community Update Plan’s public hearing, a meeting held by the L.A. City Planning Commission regarding “updates” to land rules in Hollywood, planning officials once again showed more concern for the financial rather than racial implications of their proposed “changes” to the rules. Commissioners were largely out of the loop when it came to their own staff’s dizzying and bureaucratic recommendations on the plan, and hesitant to call for any language in the “updates” in outright defense of Black unhoused people, Latinx domestic workers, and other low-income or no-income residents in Hollywood. 

Yet expecting planning commissioners chosen for their seats by the mayor’s office to stand up for working-class people’s homes might be as fanciful as expecting the L.A. County sheriff to call for permanently closing the $3.5 billion L.A. County Jail after hearing from wrongfully incarcerated people. In reality, not unlike the sheriffs, whose very uniforms depend on securing property rights and not those of working-class people, commissioners at the Hollywood Community Update plan largely lacked terminology, and much less experience with standing up to hotel and shopping district developers for elderly, Black, immigrant and other residents historically left out of the city’s “future.” And since commissioners for the Hollywood update didn’t know how language in the plan meant to preserve affordable housing or rent-stabilized units would be taken by development groups and their lawyers, they stayed away from any meaningful stand for these residents altogether, leaving it for the L.A. City Council to do.

These commissioners also failed to even mention concerns by callers about more than 4,500 acres in the Hollywood area being zoned or recommended for single-family homes, effectively blocking multi-family and affordable housing projects from entering areas like the Hollywood hills for another 20 years. 

Vendors along North Vermont avenue out for the Sunday Street Swap Meet in East Hollywood.

In the 1940s, areas like the Hollywood Hills were greenlined, or praised by real estate assessors for “deeds” in their neighborhoods based on exclusivity against non-white homeowners. But today, while zoning for the Hollywood Hills contains no explicit bans on housing for non-whites, “preserving neighborhood character” for largely white, single-family homeowners there accomplishes the same, ensuring that especially low-income renters stay out of the Hollywood Hills until at least 2040. Thus, Abrams’ words from 1955 were just as applicable to the commissioners’ effects at the Hollywood Update’s Public Hearing from March 2021:

”They have not only ignored the racial problem in their calculations but the problem of mixed social and economic groups generally. Their vision is too-often restricted to new neighborhoods developed as all-white, all-one-class, all-exclusive enclaves. Thus another great reform may go the way of others, to be perverted into another device for exclusion and oppression.”

In the immediate future, city planning commissions not only need to be electorally chosen, but also more representative of people who actually live in planning areas due for “updates” in their zoning or land rules. The commissioner’s hearings also need to be more culturally competent for the city’s non-white groups in both their structure and order; the “old” way of official business in Los Angeles, a system largely crafted by and for white men of means, is as much in poor taste in the 21st century as it is undemocratic. Individuals with a seat at commissions also need to be masters of the long list of racist planning policies against “minorities,” and well-read on how to require preservation along with expansion of space from developers for these communities in the name of equity.

GENTRIFICATION AS A NEW CIVIL RIGHTS ISSUE

While research has defined gentrification in several ways, here is a final scenario to consider the issue: Gentrification is when a public official sees a neighborhood where families are barely making monthly rent on crowded housing, yet still approves luxury and market rate housing entering into those families’ neighborhood. This is an inherently discriminatory call because such developments only increase the cost of living for those working-class families, recalling previous forms of racist, yet also legal, dispossession for communities of color such as redlining.

Just as when the feds labeled Black and immigrant groups “undesirable” for investment, when these groups were actually laborers for service and agricultural sectors crucial to California and the U.S. leading up to and during WWII, today it’s just as discriminatory to burden these communities with unaffordable living options and market rate housing that is not meant for low-income wage earners, or essential workers.

Pedestrians wait for their light at Vermont avenue and Santa Monica boulevard.

Here’s another note for future L.A. City Planning officials and constituents to keep in mind: If Black and immigrant communities had been invested in during the making of the modern Los Angeles, or “allowed” to own homes in “white” neighborhoods and supported by federal and municipal governments in doing so–the way they need to be supported in doing so now–there is no telling how many “tent cities” would have been prevented from cropping up in Los Angeles and California.

Fortunately, in response to the racist policies, Los Angeles is now witnessing the rise of a new generation of multi-ethnic groups organizing to advance human rights over unchecked profit agendas abetted by public policymakers, including Street Watch L.A., the L.A. Tenants Union, and more; these groups need to be partnered with and grown. While donating money is helpful, just as critical is “people power,” or “boots on the ground” to support their efforts in building a more humane Los Angeles. In community with these efforts, here are just a few more humane possibilities for housing in Los Angeles going forward.

RECLAIMING AND REBUILDING OUR COMMUNITIES

At the same time that calls increase on our public officials to support not luxury, but housing for low-income workers in Los Angeles, a growing number of people are also calling for more Community Land Trusts (CLTs). CLTs maintain community ownership–or shared stewardship–over land and housing to maintain permanently affordable housing options for community members.

CLTs require participation from homeowners and tenants, as well as other community members in their governing board meetings or governing structure. Renters in areas covered by CLTs can also work with local CLTs to acquire a property together, facilitating the process of acquisition for tenants and the non-profits as stewards.

In an effort to create more Community Land Trusts across Los Angeles for the County’s 10 million residents, five local CLTs have formed a coalition and are urging L.A. residents to learn about the Tenants Opportunity to Purchase Act.

The Tenants Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) is a proposed law that would give tenants in unincorporated areas of L.A. County the first opportunity to buy the building they live in if and when a building’s owner decides to sell the property. While the law would begin with unincorporated areas, the goal would be to spread its span across Los Angeles.

Locally, in East Hollywood, the Beverly & Vermont CLT can provide more information. According to Joe Linton, of Streetsblog L.A., “The BVCLT is focused on providing affordable housing within a walkable distance from the Beverly & Vermont Metro Red Line Station [between Koreatown and East Hollywood]. BVCLT currently owns three apartment buildings (50 housing units, all below market rate, with a dozen covenanted for specific low income categories) and manages a community garden site owned by the school district [LAUSD].”

In El Sereno, the El Sereno Community Land Trust has stated official interest in taking stewardship over dozens of empty homes in the area, some purchased by Caltrans as early as 1950, for a 710 freeway expansion project the agency officially abandoned in November 2018. at At the beginning of the pandemic, after families calling themselves “Reclaimers” moved into a dozen of these empty homes without official approval, Caltrans negotiated with the group to approve a select number of the homes as temporary shelter. But when a few more families attempted to do the same in November, California highway patrol officers quickly descended on them, manhandling women and children and charging them with trespassing. Yet the effort signaled both the growing crisis of homelessness for families in L.A. as well as the growing risks they’re willing to take for a roof over their heads.

This leads to another simple, yet practical ordinance that planning and public officials can immediately apply to save hundreds of thousands of housing units in Los Angeles over the next few years as cities “recover” from the global health crisis: no rent obligations for working-class families who experience sudden financial or personal loss.

When working-class people, particularly in redlined or disinvested communities, experience tragedy in their lives, like the sudden loss of a loved one, they should not be compelled to pay rent at the end of the month. Expenses for a roof over one’s head, among other accounting to do after a sudden death, is only an additional burden, especially when those lost supported the household rent. Deaths and accidents for families who have been historically discriminated against should not have to lead to homelessness, as has been the de facto norm for far too long in our city.

This would not be an entirely new innovation either. During World War II, rent control in the U.S. was officially enacted nationwide to ensure workers had a place to rest for the next day’s work assignment. In the “war” against pandemic, rent forgiveness will prove just as much as an investment. It was also just in 2008 that, at the height of the great recession, the federal government doled out over trillions of taxpayer dollars to U.S. banks. Today, after the year of the great pandemic, why shouldn’t the government allocate as much for working-class families?

Niñas, vecinas, and the future of the neighborhood in East Hollywood, Los Angeles.

BRING OUR HOUSING HOME

In Los Angeles County, as recently as 2019, an estimate of nearly 900,000 residents in Los Angeles, or enough to fill up seats at more than 15 additional Dodger stadiums, were qualified as poor by the Public Policy Institute of California. For these residents, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) lists 811 buildings in L.A. County officially recognized as affordable housing options. But even if all of these buildings were to contain up to 100 units of housing–which they certainly do not–that would still be merely 81,000 affordable housing units, or just 24% percent of what L.A. County’s most vulnerable residents need.

An additional problem is that the HUD website lists units that are affordable under the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, which is a government tax break for private real estate developers to keep a certain amount of their housing units below market rate prices, but only for a duration of about 15 to 20 years; in other words, even “affordable housing” by the federal government’s definition is just affordable on a timer, not permanently affordable for families in need.

Therefore, even if L.A.’s low-income families manage to find an affordable apartment tomorrow, they could pay rent for only a single year before the housing’s affordability “deed” expires. A recent report by the California Housing Partnership (CHP) shows that nearly 9,000 such homes are due to turn into market rate housing through 2021 alone, while 32,000 more are set to become market rate units by 2030. Coupled with Ellis Act evictions, these policies are set to wipe out at least 50,000 affordable homes in Los Angeles by the supposed start of the 2028 Olympics.

In 2018, the CHP also estimated that L.A. County needs more than 500,000 housing units to keep up with demand. Here’s what should be clear about these units: they need to be permanently affordable, or extremely low-income housing for low wage earners, and built not only by for-profit developers, but by non-profits and the federal government’s own entities across Los Angeles. These low-income homes also need to be built in Hollywood Hills, Pacific Palisades, Santa Clarita, and anywhere else land can be reasonably integrated, both racially and in terms of income.

While many claim that land in Los Angeles for such units is simply too expensive in today’s dollars, even if a single one of these half a million units costs up to $500,000, requiring a $250 billion investment, the expense would still constitute less than five percent of all money borrowed by the federal government for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. Put another way, if the U.S. had taken those war dollars and spent them domestically over twenty years, it could have funded 500,000 affordable housing units in Los Angeles and 47.5 million more units all over the country. Instead, as recently as 2018, just 1.1 million public housing apartments spread across the 50 states housed an estimated 2.1 million low-income residents.

Mom was in her first year as the owner of her newsstand on Santa Monica boulevard, while yours truly was just a first-year student at Thomas Starr King Middle School in 2001. As we watched the twin towers fall, little did we know that the event would spark twenty years of fighting phantom enemies abroad instead of fighting racism against communities historically called and treated as enemies here. In April 2021, Biden announced the withdrawal of all U.S. troops in Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, yet mom and I await another “homecoming” in Los Angeles; we watch patiently as for the first time in three decades, 187 units of extremely low-income housing are set to enter East Hollywood for renters like our family.

The Little Tokyo Service Center has worked hard to establish various bonds for these 187 units atop L.A. Metro’s Vermont and Santa Monica Red Line station. Yet non-profit housing developers like the LTSC, as well as the Beverly & Vermont CLT, and our families, should not have to go it alone for another two or three decades. Our government has to take on new housing responsibilities for communities as nothing less than a defining matter of public infrastructure.

Our municipal government must work in coordination towards the same; as recently as 2019, Los Angeles County produced more than $725 billion worth of goods and services, the largest amount of any county in the nation. In other words, today’s local, state and federal officials can find more ways than one to create expansive public housing, community land trusts, and comprehensive policies for workers and families spread across every neighborhood in Los Angeles, regardless of income or “property values.” Most importantly, as was the case during Mr. Albright’s Reconstruction, our communities today stand just as ready to raise these fruits across the land.

Because our calls and movements for housing are not just about places of residency or zip codes in which to reside for work and schools; in this city and across the nation, they are about the life-blood of our communities and how humane policies can finally “give back” to those who continually tend to our cities’ health and well-being despite even the greatest odds continually stacked against them.

J.T.

J.T. The L.A. Storyteller Supports Calls to Block Garcetti this Winter

As Los Angeles enters the 2021 winter season, a new initiative known as Garcettiville is calling for Mayor Garcetti to be blocked from a potential appointment to the incoming Biden administration’s cabinet following reports that his name may be on a short-list for secretary of transportation, or possibly even for secretary of housing. Yes, you read that correctly.

In addition to daily protests led by Black Lives Matter and GroundGame-LA calling for the mayor to ‘be kept in’ L.A., the Garcettiville website is accepting submissions from L.A. residents as to why the mayor should not be allowed anywhere near a public office, let alone a national one, for which the last two decades have shown would lead to nothing short of a complete dereliction of duties.

After nearly 20 years as an elected official, starting in 2001 as a council member for District 13 in Los Angeles, and then since 2013 as mayor, under Garcetti’s leadership the city of L.A. is on track to landing more than 50,000 bodies on its streets and sidewalks within the next year alone, even while there are tens of thousands of luxury housing units in L.A. that can be commandeered in lieu of expanded powers for mayors due to the emergency presented by the pandemic, but which have just sat there aimlessly, accumulating nothing but dust.

This is because while Garcetti has done everything in his power to open up the city for business, that is, for bcaig banks and transnational corporations, he’s done it by no less than trading in the rights of workers, immigrants, and Black Los Angeles to live in a more equitable city. Despite myriads of protest, civil rights advocates, and other leaders calling for him to do better, the mayor has proven unwilling to serve as an actual mayor for every resident who actually resides and pays the taxes which fund his salary each year.

As a result, whether Garcetti leaves office in 2021 or 2022, by almost every measure, since the start of his tenure in 2013, Los Angeles has become a poorer, more unhealthy, and ultimately more hostile city towards its working-class communities, which will take decades to undo.

This is also not just a viewpoint from the “radical” left. In 2017, professor Philip Alston, assigned by the United Nations as a Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said of his visit to Los Angeles:

“In June 2017, it was reported that the approximately 1,800 homeless individuals on Skid Row in Los Angeles had access to only nine public toilets. Los Angeles failed to meet even the minimum standards the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees sets for refugee camps in the Syrian Arab Republic and other emergency situations.”

The writing is on the wall, and people all over the world can see: Garcetti is not fit to serve in any public office in Los Angeles, let alone a national one in Washington D.C. Visit the new Garcettiville website and tell your side of the story regarding why this elected official is not fit to serve Los Angeles, let alone cities all over the United States over the next four years.

J.T.

Dug Ramon: Hot Wheels

As I played with my toy cars next to the giant living room window, the early morning summer sun shined a rectangle of heat all around me. My neck and arms burned, but I was frozen tense as I watched my mom from the corner of my eye pacing back and forth. She bit her nails while her other hand gripped the cordless phone to her chest. Suddenly, I heard keys at the door.

It opened and I saw my dad standing there wearing the same clothes from yesterday. I fell asleep the night before in his rocking chair waiting for him.

“Sabés qué?!” my mom screamed at him. “Si no vas a llegar a dormir a esta casa, por qué putas no te vas mejor?!”

My heart pounded and my hands stiffened on my Hot Wheels. It didn’t make sense why she’d scream at him to leave when he’d just gotten there. My stomach moaned and ached.

Mom gripped the phone, trembled and swallowed, and stared at him with teary eyes.

He said nothing. He glanced at her then looked down, took a shallow breath, and walked past us and into the kitchen. I heard a drawer open and a big noisy trash bag was taken out. Dad walked back in holding the bag and hurried into the bedroom without looking at us. Mom followed.

I pretended not to stare through the doorway at them as she kept screaming.

“No soy estúpida!! Encontré su número en tus pantalones!”

I wondered if she meant the lady dad made me talk to on the payphone the other night. I got worried he would think I told mom after I promised I wouldn’t.

She kept screaming: “Si querés andar jodiendo largate a la mierda mejor!”

Why would she scream at him to leave like that? My heart pounded faster and I felt worry on my face.

I heard the plastic bag being filled while mom kept screaming. Dad was quiet. With my head lowered I peaked at them again and saw him lifting the bag to cascade its contents toward the bottom. He pulled his pants, shirts, and underwear from our dirty laundry hamper and threw them into the black trash bag.

I looked back down at my cars simmering in the sun and my hands were shaking. Dad walked back into the living room with the bag and stood far from me, but I felt him staring. He stepped closer, to the edge of the sunlit rectangle, and knelt down as he dropped the trash bag of clothes onto the warm carpet in front of me.

“Mirame hijo,” he said, and I looked up at him. He looked away quickly.

“Me tengo que ir,” he said avoiding eye contact, “pero sabés que te quiero mucho.” With his hand on my shoulder, he forced a hug around me.

I didn’t move. I didn’t say anything back. I didn’t ask why he had to leave, or tell him to stay, even though I really wanted to. Everything was bright and blurry and I noticed I was squeezing my car.

He stood up, took a deep breath, and lifted the trash bag over his shoulder. He said nothing else.

In the quiet, my mom sniffled. Dad walked to the door, left the house, and mom and me stayed there quiet and shaky.

I turned quickly to look out the living room window, but the brightness burned my blurry eyes. I wiped them and as they adjusted I saw dad walk across the street with the black trash bag over his shoulder. He threw it into the bed of his beat up blue pick up truck, got inside, started the motor, put it into gear, and drove away without looking back.

“Quitate de allí,” mom said, but I didn’t move.

“Quitate de allí!!” she screamed and the cordless phone shattered against the living room wall.

DR

Dug Ramon was born, raised, and resides in East Hollywood, Los Angeles. An LAUSD, LACC and Cal State LA alumni with a background in psychology and mental health, Dug works as an office manager and writes daily for his own joy and sanity. Dug hopes to grow as a writer in the coming years and share his work with more readers. He’s currently working on a fiction project, from which “Hot Wheels” is an excerpt.

Food Justice in East Hollywood is Growing Fruits and Veggies at Madison Ave Community Garden

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 43)

We originally featured the new park in East Hollywood over three years ago. Now, a few months shy of a year since the grand opening of the first-ever community garden at 1115 North Madison Avenue, a local chef and gardener has overseen the growth of the first year’s sets of fruits and vegetables for the community.

Heleo Leyva has lived in East Hollywood for nearly eighteen years. Since June 2019, when the garden was originally introduced to the neighborhood by the LA Garden Council, he has served as the lead gardener for the project, planting and raising seeds through the new soil to produce an array of beets, tomatoes, chili, kale, hierba buena, jamaica, zanahorias, nopales, and more fresh produce.

Heleo first learned to plant from his father in Puebla, Mexico, who began teaching him the craft in his formative years. He is not commissioned by the LA Garden Council, but volunteers his time to grow the greens out of a love for farming.

“It’s hard to explain. But it’s a part of life, not something separate,” he says of planting.

In a community surrounded by fast food, where boxes of pizza, if not plastic or paper bags with grilled meats and buns, serve to dominate the expenses of many families here, the act of growing and consuming fruits and vegetables can seem like a remote, cumbersome, and even unsatisfying process. But there is more to the cuento.

East Hollywood’s median annual family income for a household of three is reported as being just under $40,000, or only 1.8 times over the federal poverty level for such household sizes. In Los Angeles, that $40,000 median income level is also well below the “average” of $69,138, for families of the same size in L.A. County.

Heleo’s time with the garden is also taking place during a chapter for the community when a growing number of healthy, but unaffordable foods are entering the area due to the ongoing gentrification of its storefronts and housing, which can have the effect of leading many of the area’s ethnic communities to view healthy eating as “a white thing.”

This is where Heleo’s roots play an important role in challenging that narrative. Hailing originally from Puebla, Mexico, where many pueblos are still tied to their native customs, including speaking Nahuatl, Heleo views farming as something intrinsic to living. This is a perspective largely out of range for much of Los Angeles, where the ability to consume food and entertainment far outweighs incentives to live more sustainably, thus making the act of growing one’s own food an act of resistance.

But even if Heleo wasn’t rooted as such, the simple fact that he can communicate himself in two languages in an area where the majority of youth speak one language at home while learning another at school, makes him well-equipped to invite an “old” community into a “new” way of interacting with their vicinity.

Over the course of time, then, in the post-coronavirus world that’s certain to arrive in due process, I believe that with the right support network, there should be no reason why he and other growers can’t teach youth and families of color in the community to grow too, as Heleo’s father once showed him. The garden will also surely need more volunteers to grow and fulfill such vision, which will be another key step towards creating food justice in East Hollywood.

To learn more about the fresh new stretch of green in the community, continue down the rabbit hole here.

J.T.

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A Note to Los Shoppers during this COVID-19 Season

Doña Ana is a single mother of two teenage boys who makes her living taking care of her neighbors’ children while the parents go to work for the day. She had a shift this past Saturday, meaning that she could only get to the store after her neighbors returned from their shifts to pick up their little ones come evening. When Doña Ana finally got to the store with her boys, however, the shelves were cleared of groceries and carried no toilet paper. She now figures that she and her family can use scratch paper or coupon magazines in the interim. This is who panic buyers take away from the most.

J.T.

Calling All Bloggers, Writers, Storytellers: Publish Your Voice on Jimbo Times: The L.A. Storyteller

It’s true.

“After five years of JIMBO TIMES: The L.A. Storyteller, it’s time to make space on the blog for more voices and stories from communities in Los Angeles and beyond. Enter the new Submissions feature. To maintain and expand the blog’s love for city life and attention to its working class communities, here are the types of pieces writers everywhere are encouraged to submit…”

I’m very proud of this latest milestone for the site, and thereby look forward to seeing what types of stories we’ll be getting out there! Visit the new SUBMISSIONS page soon to go and see for yourself!

J.T.

Meg Rakos: Supay & New York City: Two Adventures, One Destiny

Since as long as I can remember, the background on my computer screen was the NYC skyline. I was drawn to the city lights and told myself, “in another life” I would live there. I was born in Cusco, Peru, but was adopted weeks after birth and raised in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. At 25, I had just moved into a beautiful apartment and had an amazing job and strong support system from my friends and family in Brooklyn Park. But I was craving more. At the time everything felt like it was too easy, I knew I could be more and do more.

In 2017, I sold my car, packed two suitcases, and followed my heart, purchasing a one way ticket to New York City.

It was then that I reconnected with Sam, a friend of mine I’d met years earlier on a family visit to Lima, Peru. Sam had also been adopted from Peru and we met while we were both trying to reconnect with our birth families.

We didn’t know we’d both be in New York City 13 years later, but there we were. One night, while we were playing soccer down at the pier, Sam asked if I wanted to be his partner with SUPAY, a design company he had started in Summer 2015 showcasing his South American ties through modern street-wear. I was thrilled! Our illustration styles were similar, we had both gone to college for Graphic Design, and both shared an incredible culture to look back on together. I knew we’d make a solid team.

We started with the idea of self identity – who we are, where we come from, where we’re going. We both struggled with identity since we were each raised by Caucasian parents, missing out on the experience and knowledge of a Hispanic family. We wanted to reconnect with our roots and so we began to research South American civilizations, studying designs, textiles, architecture and artwork to make sense of the history.

Sam looked into Incan mythology and selected Supay for the brand’s name because Supay was the god of the Incan underworld. He was a misfit, but his unique character provided sustaining springs of subterranean waters to the upper world of life. We could both relate to Supay since each of us is constantly searching for the light among the darkness in NYC. It’s what we aim to show in each design for our t-shirts.

Sam also now goes by Uku Pacha for his DJ name, which references the Incan underworld.

It all happened very fast, but I feel like I’m right where I need to be.

When I step outside I feel a tremendous amount of energy that the city permeates. There’s always something more you can do to push yourself and that’s something I didn’t feel in MN. I’ve had so many people stop me at coffee-shops asking what I’m doing when I’m designing, wanting to see more illustrations and learn about the story behind SUPAY. Their positive energy advances me forward. It brings me only more happiness to know this is just the beginning and that I’m blessed to be following my dreams alongside my best friend.

My advice for anyone out there who feels out of place sometimes but who still has a dream just like I did, would be this: your dream doesn’t have to be just an idea resting in your mind. You can will it into existence and take that first step. If you truly give yourself a chance to push through all the uncertainty and do everything with love, you’ll be steered in the right direction, every time.

M.R.