La Gentrificación del Pueblo Continuará

 

 

Hasta que el pueblo se levanta y dice ya basta.

A walk through any pueblo is the most powerful way to take in its totality. This afternoon through my own, at the intersection of Madison avenue 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 neighbor nestles of leaves from bevies of trees branching out through the air. Facing east of the complex, less than a minute of walking distance, 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, however, 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’. The irony here is that Lockwood is actually not located in the famed Silver Lake area, but instead in what’s known to the English speakers of the neighborhood as ‘East Hollywood’. This is the kind of contradiction that took years in the making. I can show how.

When my friends and I finished fifth grade at Lockwood, our next stop was Thomas Starr King Middle School (King MS) for the sixth through eight grades. King was located East of Virgil boulevard on Fountain avenue, and at just under a mile away from Lockwood, if one made the trek to King MS on foot from say, the old complex at Madison and Willow Brook Avenues, they might reason that the school was actually better situated to serve students located in the Los Feliz area. An urban policy planner might reply to this contention that it’d be an easy fix, however, since all that the parents of the complex at Madison and Willow Brook Avenues had to do was drive their kids to King. Of course, that just meant that the parents had to be able to afford a car, which wasn’t always the case for many of the single mothers who oversaw so many of my peers and I. Even so, at just under a mile of walking distance to the school, the daily trek doing so couldn’t be the end of the world, right? Some parents 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 for us was John Marshall High School (JMHS) for the ninth through twelfth grades. At just about two miles walking distance from the old apartment complex at Madison and Willow Brook avenues, Marshall was significantly farther east of Virgil boulevard on Tracy Street, and unlike King, which another urban policy planner may argue was located at a ‘border’ point between ‘East Hollywood’ and Los Feliz, an which thus could serve both areas, Marshall HS was definitely located in the Los Feliz area. As such, it was definitely designed to serve the students of parents within that area.

Even so, somehow my friends and I still made it in through the gates at Marshall, either by carpooling with one parent or another, or by the Metro 181 bus for those of us who could catch it early enough in the mornings. But only 48% of the class that my peers and I entered into Marshall with would walk out of the school with their diploma.

Was it planned? With ten years of hindsight from the day of graduation, what I can say is that it certainly wasn’t planned against. That is, 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 rest of the leadership associated with them to get my peers and I through the neighborhood successfully onto college and back. Was it their job in the first place? One may well argue that it was not, but 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 pueblos all across Los Angeles, was either supposed to get with the program, or just get lost. That is, parents in our vecindad were supposed to run with the market, or get 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 into seclusion and high visibility all at once, thereby earning its 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 them and their children, or even their children’s 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.

There is reason to nevertheless be hopeful. Everywhere in Los Angeles there is growing A Resistance to precisely this kind of old order of power, as well as to the poor planning or altogether lack of planning that’s 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, even if asi es, y asi sera, a resistance to pricing out the pueblo and its children will grow there too. It may not do so overnight, nor even over the course of tomorrow. But it will rise and make its voice known, one day at a time.

Indeed, it has to, Los Angeles.

Asi es. Y asi sera.

J.T.

Tap Cards Out: How L.A. Metro Normalizes Policing, Jailing, Penalizing People of Color

It was the week before Finals at Pasadena City College, Spring 2011, and my class in the morning was having a potluck that day to celebrate the end of the semester. I was on the Metro Gold Line heading Northeast to Memorial Park, where I planned to get off to find the sweets for the occasion somewhere on Colorado boulevard.

It was supposed to be a time to celebrate the end of sixteen weeks of class that Spring, but on the train that morning, I was actually under a lot of stress. The following week exams were coming up, and the result of one test in particular, for my statistics class, would determine whether I’d get to transfer out of PCC or have to stay another semester to retake the course. I had applied to universities earlier in the school-­year, and had actually just gotten an acceptance letter from SF State for the Fall semester of 2011.

Unfortunately, I doubted that I’d be going to SF State that fall, as I’d only accumulated lackluster grades in my Statistics class up to that second to last week of class, and as it was extremely unlikely that I’d be able to turn the whole thing around during Finals. In fact, I hardly even liked my chances to so much as pass the final exam, but had decided to keep my head up anyway, at least until I actually saw the results.

On the morning of the incident, however, I just couldn’t help but feel anxious about what was in store for me following the end of the potluck with Finals and the semester. I regretted not making more time to study the coursework, and dreaded the thought of how to tell mom, my greatest advocate, that I’d actually have to stay another full year at PCC. I originally envisioned myself at PCC for just two years, but was then en route to four; I couldn’t help but feel like I let myself down.

In other words, it was just one of those long, dreadful mornings that spring up in a person’s life every once in a while as the train approached the Memorial Park station when a sheriff deputy stepped onto the car, asking everyone to take their passes or tap cards out. The officer was a Latina woman, and I remember that she asked for everyone’s tap cards in a calm and polite manner, but that I still felt uncomfortable, since ­going as far back as I can remember I’d always been made uneasy when asked for proof of my payment while riding the subway, feeling it was an unnecessarily aggressive form of surveillance.

On the train that morning with my head spinning about Finals, I felt no less uneasy, but when the officer walked over to my seat, even if grudgingly, ­ I took out my tap card and showed it to her. She took the card, scanned it, and then walked away, and while the whole encounter lasted for just a few seconds, it filled me with distaste; I felt like I’d just been harassed, and like there was nothing more I could use in that moment than the walk I’d embark on for the pastries to get for the potluck.

When the train arrived at Memorial Park, then, I was grateful to leave it behind and go on about my way. That is, until after stepping out of the car, when I noticed that two more sheriffs were standing on the exit out of the subway station asking to see tap cards. Their presence at the edge of the platform impeded people from getting through, forming a small cluster of traffic in front of the exit.

I knew by then that I was going to be late to my class that morning to pick up the pastries, but on seeing the two other sheriffs there, I felt that the commute was quickly becoming much more difficult than it needed to be. I was already bothered, after all, not just on a personal level, but also from the encounter with the officer from the car, and therefore felt it simply wasn’t right that I had to take out my tap card for yet another sheriff to scan again. Of course, the officers at the exit couldn’t possibly know that one of their colleagues had just checked tap cards, but it didn’t matter to me: by then I had concluded that it was in fact just harassment.

It’s in that moment that I made a hotheaded, arrogant decision, resolving to just walk past the crowd of commuters clustered in front of the officers to just dash through the exit, thereby subverting the officers’s request to scan my pass.

As I walked up to the exit, I can still remember my body tensing before I decided to swerve through the crowd. I told myself that it was only right to make my way out of the station the way I always did,­ in a hurry. I also thought to myself that even if the sheriff deputies were “only” checking for proof of payment, it was still unfair, since regardless of whether passengers paid for the subway or not, if they didn’t pose a threat to anyone, I couldn’t see why they should be stopped. The only danger, in my mind, was the one posed by the sheriffs and their arms, not the other way around.

These thoughts only justified the idea in my mind that I was right about subverting the sheriffs at the exit. But they also made me frantic. I didn’t know it then, but I was losing control.

A moment later, when I got just to the side of the pedestrians in front of the officers and exit, I swerved past them, at which point I heard a foreign voice calling out to me in the distance. Not stopping at the sound of the voice but stumbling as I continued onto the curb facing the street, I responded almost to thin air in a hurry that I had already shown my pass to another officer just a few minutes prior.

Suddenly, then, I felt an unfamiliar hand placing itself on my upper shoulder. And almost instinctively, was enraged; in the same breadth, not only did I register that my right against an unlawful search and seizure was being violated, but I felt also that my personal space –not just public– was also being violated.

Ultimately, my rage got the best of me, and I quickly shoved the hand away and turned around to stand defiantly before what my body recognized as an attack. I then looked at the officers and yelled out that I didn’t have to show them anything.

The next thing thing I knew, I found my face being flattened on the ground, with my arms behind my back being gripped into submission. I was arrested, not for lacking proof of payment for the subway fare, but for ‘disturbing the peace’, according to the arresting officers.

A few minutes later after seating me inside of the police car, one of the officers came over to the side of the window and informed me that I was also being arrested for “poking” him in the chest after I shoved his hand away. This, he told me, would be counted as a battery charge.

At that point, seated helplessly in the police car with my whole face burning from shock at what had just happened, I didn’t know whether the officer was being serious or just giving me a hard time, so I didn’t even contest his claim. Plus, in all my frustration, I couldn’t even remember whether or not I’d made any contact with the officer after brushing his hand off my shoulder.

A few hours later, I was booked into the Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles.

Needless to say, I missed the potluck for class in the morning and didn’t make it to school at all as I spent the rest of the day being processed into the jail. I felt absolutely disgraced to find myself behind bars for losing my control so badly. I was was stripped of all my clothes and belongings at Men’s Central Jail, forced to take a mugshot, and forced to fall in line with a barrage of other men in blue jumpsuits en route to the cells. The whole experience was a complete betrayal of who I was and what I went to school for, and it made me feel rotten and ashamed.

At some point later in the afternoon when my name was fully processed and it was time to go inside, I was led with a group of other inmates into what was essentially a cinder­-block shaped cell, which made me feel like I was walking into a giant tombstone, as if I had died.

When the steel door was shut behind us and we were all left to ourselves, I followed the lead of the other inmates and found a bunk bed to sit on. The inmates, nearly all Black men, were polite and respectful of my space, which allowed me to bring the day into perspective. I had no idea where I could end up next considering what had happened, and I had no clue just how I’d tell my mother, let alone my classmates and friends, about how much had gone wrong that morning. But one thing was clear: the only way out of the situation was to let go of the anger which led me there and find calm however I could.

Inside of the cell, amid all the chatter between the other inmates, I found peace in the passing of my breath and the passing of the day. I told myself that even despite the officers, I was the one who’d gotten myself behind bars for losing my temper, and that similarly, I’d have to be the one to get myself out of them.

Before the second night overtook the day at the Men’s Central Jail, I was released from the facility, and was subsequently ordered to show up to court a few months later when the paperwork was filed.

One year later in 2012, with the help of a public defender I ‘took a deal’ at Pasadena Central Courthouse which dismissed the battery count, and pleaded no contest to two other charges. I also accepted 15 days of community labor, as well as 26 classes of Anger Management for the case, all of which I completed and paid for out of my own pocket.

I never again saw the officer who made the charge against me, but the emotional and financial burden that resulted from the encounter with him and his partner is one that hurls in my memory, and which is still difficult for me to recount.

Additionally, the impact that the encounter has had on my professional life has been humbling at best, and devastating at worst. Even though the battery charge was dismissed, I’ve lost numerous job opportunities because of so much of its appearance on my background checks, including two job opportunities with L.A.U.S.D. which I was more than qualified for and that hurt to let go of considering my proven track record for youth and educational work.

Still, even after accounting for everything I’ve undergone because of the case, I harbor no ill-­will towards the officer and his partner, nor towards any law enforcement official for that matter. I couldn’t quite say the same immediately after the arrest, nor during the court case or when I had to take the deal, but I’ve since accepted that the police officers were simply doing their job when they asked me to show them my pass that morning, and that I was simply naive to try and subvert them in such an open manner.

I also told myself that regardless of whether I ever actually “poked” the officer, which I remember overhearing other public defenders scoffing at in between discussing their other cases, I was still the one who let the stress and anxiety of the time get to me, and therefore the one who lost sight of better judgment towards the situation.

Today, looking back at that night in jail, and all of the hours of community labor and weeks of classes I accepted for the case, I’ve learned not only how to reflect more objectively on what happened, but also how to avoid similar situations going forward with my life and career.

This isn’t to say that I no longer deal with stressful circumstances or anxiety, or that I’m no longer made uncomfortable when I’m asked for my tap card while riding the subway, however. I’m an immigrant, or essentially, viewed as one by the system of surveillance enforced by so many sheriffs or police officers throughout L.A.’s public transportation services, which makes me a target, albeit not at the rate which Black men and women are targeted.

In hindsight, it’s been nearly seven years since that dreadful morning off the subway, but I’m aware that the same system of surveillance is still testing and trying my community into the present day. Every day, from morning into the evening, somewhere on the Metro cases like mine and even more exacerbated forms of criminalization are being executed, justified, and taken for granted against the predominantly Black, Immigrant, and “other” minority communities that make up the ridership. It is as unacceptable today as it was seven years ago, and one way or another, the ridership must learn to resist.

In Spring 2012, the same year that I ‘took the deal’ with the Pasadena Central Courthouse, I finally passed the statistics course which held me back the year prior and subsequently transferred to UC Davis to major in English literature.

In Spring 2014, I graduated from UC Davis as the first in my family to earn a college degree, and the rest is Los Angeles, that is, work for youth and education in Los Angeles. In other words, I’ve moved on from what happened at the Memorial Park station that day, but not without a greater understanding of the environment that led to episode to begin with, and just how important it is for our communities to be patient when mired in such a stressful environment. I know it’s not easy, and that sometimes we will not be able to tolerate further agitation. Ultimately though, I also believe that it’s the moments like these from which we learn and grow the most.

Let us grow Los Angeles.

…With this in mind, I’m grateful for the opportunity to state my case for an appeal on the bar facing my application for employment with L.A.U.S.D., as well as for the opportunity to present three letters of recommendation from my colleagues regarding my qualifications. If the reviewers of this appeal have any further questions or concerns, I am only a moment away…

Thank you once again for your time,

J.T.

Next Stop: Los Angeles

I can see myself getting closer and closer to my love, but it is not quite all a road of roses. There are moments in each day that I find myself taking more distance from many of the people who I once thought could understand this love, but now I understand that we just see it on different terms. Such a difference is nevertheless a matter of arriving. I am nearing my destination, which naturally means the distance is closing from the object of my journey at the same time that it’s growing from where and with whom I began.

This is a tragic love affair; the affinity I feel for the movement of Los Angeles is endless; I can only try to explain.

I love the bus in Los Angeles, but it’s part of a triangle, because there are days when I love the rail lines even more. They are far from world class services, and they will probably always be doomed to mediocrity, but it doesn’t matter to me. They are the first buses and rail lines I ever rode and for that I am a lifetime subscriber.

On the bus when seating is available I dash at the opportunity to sit at the best seat; that is, the one where I can see the city from the most points of view. If such seating isn’t available, however, then I just don’t sit. And there are moments when even if I’ve got the best seat, if there’s a Señorita or their toddler who could use the seat better, I take pride in handing it off to them.

I couldn’t lose even if I wanted to; it happens that I also love standing on the bus as if it were a giant board surfing through L.A.’s crumbling concrete, which also makes for a great view.

On the rail lines the seats are more critical. To some degree it depends on which line I’m on and how far I’m going that determines whether or not the seat is especially important, but even then I love standing on the rail lines, too; my feet synchronize with the swaying of the car and the line altogether. We do not fear the trafficked roads of the city. We are the bullets daring enough to make our own riveting course through the city.

And we see more of the city than the other way around.

But then, the sidewalks are the best. I’m entranced with walking through L.A.’s neglected sidewalks. I bask in standing at their corners, where I can confront the city’s movement more blithely, and I take pride in being the first to set foot on the crosswalks when the lights finally permit.

And while I am not a religious Angeleno, when I walk towards or walk past the paletero man or the little ladies with the tamales on the sidewalks I privately worship them. We don’t have to say anything to each other, I just know immediately that they came from far away places to bless me with their food and their snacks and the sweetness with which they prepare and provide these things not just to myself but also the rest of the pueblo. I am selfish, however. I’ve got to let them know I appreciate them the most and that I won’t ever stop doing so and that if there was more I could do then of course, por supuesto.

I could never care for Jacob or Matthew or James, but I could care far too quickly for Don Jose and Doña Maria and their mija la Vanessa y el hermanito el Carlitos. They are the reasons Los Angeles is not a concrete jungle; in the jungle the birds have to hunt their prey and be hunted. In Los Angeles the pajaritos simply stand with dignity before their carts and practically give the food away.

What did I do to deserve this?

God bless America for Los Angeles, y que la Santa María bendiga a México y España anterior por El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora La Reina de los Ángeles de Porciúncula. And may every God worshiped by every indigenous people in Los Angeles before any state claimed it bless those people still.

In each period, those who came before me just kept Los Angeles warm for me. I know this in my heart. I do not always like knowing it, and there are days when I choose to reject it. But the truth is there is no magic nor reel nor any image like the one that floats through my eyes when I take my time through Los Angeles.

It reverberates in my veins, and in each new step I take through it there is somehow more life than in the last. I don’t know quite how this is supposed to work, or just where it ends. In any case it’s too late to look back now.

We are getting closer Los Angeles.

J.T.