The Fight for Los Angeles continues: Meet Diana Mabel Cruz

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.

J.T.

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Education in Los Angeles: A Look at the Numbers

LAUSD chart graduates_

In 2008 the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) was reported to have graduated only 48% of its class for the 2007-2008 school year. In 2017, a study tracking the college enrollment rate of that same 2008 class found that within twelve months of their graduation, 58% of LAUSD’s high school graduates enrolled in a two-year community college or four-year university. The study goes on to show that by six years later, however, only 25% of those graduates would have their four-year college degree.

Public data also shows that in the 2007 – 2008 school year, the total number of students enrolled at LAUSD was estimated to be just over 694,288 students. Accounting for a graduation rate of 48% then, we can estimate that at the end of that school year, only 333,258 of those enrolled left the schools with their diplomas.

Applying the data from UCLA’s study showing the 25% college success rate for those students by six years later, we can also determine that of the 2008 high school class, of nearly 700,000 students, only 83,314.5, or 8.3% of them would successfully complete a college or a university education six years after their graduation from high school.

Today in Los Angeles, the graduation rate for this same public school district is cited as being at 77% as recently as the 2015 – 2016 school year. But the improved rate is not indicative of the district’s struggle to improve educational and college readiness at the schools.

For example, UCLA’s report also shows that in the 2013 – 2014 school year, less than a third of the class of 2014 graduated from the district with an A or B grade point average, implying that over two thirds of the class left the district with C or D grade point averages.

UCLA’s study goes on to show that while the difference between a C and a D grade point average might not seem like much, students with only a D grade point average are five times LESS LIKELY to enroll in a two or four-year college.

In Los Angeles today then, for a new generation of high school students, a district with an underwhelming track record in qualitative education and college preparation is only one of their challenges. Lest we forget: these students are attending L.A.’s public schools at the same time that a real estate boom in Los Angeles continues unabated, driving up the cost of living, evicting working class families en masse, and leading many either to seek shelter somewhere along L.A.’s Skid Row district, or straight out of town.

In March 2017, the Sacramento Bee reported that similarly to the way Latin American countries ‘export’ their human labor to the U.S., the Golden State is also a human transporter, that is, of its working class, to states like Texas and Oklahoma.

According to the report, “California exports more than commodities such as movies, new technologies and produce. It also exports truck drivers, cooks and cashiers. Every year from 2000 through 2015, more people left California than moved in from other states.”

In Los Angeles, with a school district where less than 9% of students obtained a college degree six years after their high school education, the work options are limited. And with the cost of living rising, Los Angeles and California as places for such people to live are also limited.

In the same report, the Bee notes that out of the state’s 58 counties, it’s been in the wealthiest two where there’s been the greatest number of expulsions: “the state’s exodus of poor people is notable in Los Angeles and San Francisco counties, which combined experienced a net loss of 250,000 such residents from 2005 through 2015.”

I wonder of those 250,000, just how many were students at LAUSD at some point.

This is Los Angeles. And it is ongoing. That is, until we place our foot on the dial.

J.T.

L.A. Metro’s Buses Are for Writers

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76 Bus to Union Station; Los Angeles, California

I can still remember riding Metro’s 780 bus –from Los Feliz and Vermont–all the way to Pasadena City College–with my notebooks in hand, as I mused about the world I viewed through the windows. Still a teenager at the time, in true L.A. fashion I’d always take the seat all the way in the back-corner, right next to the windows where I could see nearly everything and everyone in front of me.

I started college in the city of Pasadena in the Fall of 2008, or the same year that Barack Obama would be elected to the office of the President of the United States.

It was a radically different time for me, and all I could wonder about through the days on the bus was just how much of the rest of the world was changing too. Somehow, I felt right at the center of this change, or at least near the center of something monumental, and I valued that feeling. It’s the reason why I wrote.

I never felt excluded, nor unheard, so long as I had the page to hear my voice and the pen to lift my words onto that page. I also didn’t mind very much being rather alone in this, either.

It didn’t strike me very much, if at all, for example, that I’d find myself as the only person on the bus scribbling away at a notebook. I also didn’t find it odd to spend whole evenings on the third floor of Pasadena’s Shatford Library, even if it meant I’d get to the bus stop just before 10:00 PM.

It all came to me very naturally as I made my way between what were two very different cities to me at the time.

In the evenings on the bus the stillness of nights lit up by the stars and streetlights above made for dazzling visions to take into my dreams.

In the daytime on the bus, the bands of pigeons making their way through the clouds as people crisscrossed the crosswalks made it clear that we were all in it together, separated only by whims of time and space.

Construction in the city was something we’d all have to deal with on our respective commutes as well. One way or another, something was always being built.

And I always cared about these particulars of Los Angeles, seated quietly inside its buses, absorbing its landscape through the boulevards, one street after the next on the way back to or from ‘the pueblo’, long before it was the pueblo.

I’ve shared the days and nights with Los Angeles on the bus in sequences like these for nearly ten years now, and still do. But I wonder just how many people my eyes have actually seen through all of the rides I’ve taken, and just where they all might be now. I imagine most of them are still in Los Angeles like myself, as a result of the blink of an eye that time tends to be for most of us, but only the skies know.

As interestingly, while as a seventeen or eighteen year old I didn’t think that to care about L.A and the state of the world meant it’s where my mind would be dedicated going forward, it’s now clear to me that that’s exactly where I am.

I’ve seen more than just Los Angeles and Pasadena, however, in the ten years since I first boarded Metro’s 780 and 180 buses to and fro between the two.

Since 2008, I’ve also been to Seattle, to Washington D.C., to Las Vegas, Phoenix, and New York, as well to Miami and also Chicago.

Through the Golden State, I’ve been to Sacramento and San Francisco more times than I can count, and been to and lived in the wonderful city of Davis, and have been to Tahoe, Santa Cruz, Salinas, Watsonville, Oakland, Berkeley, Half-moon Bay, as well as Pleasanton, Chico, and San Jose.

San Salvador, El Salvador
City Center; San Salvador, El Salvador

Abroad, since 2008 I’ve been to Mexico three times, and seen various other cities and states on the American continent as a result; from Tijuana to Guadalajara, to Mexico City, to the city of Puebla in the state of Puebla, to Zacapoaxtla, to the City of Oaxaca, San Pedro Cajonos, the city of Ayutla, and more.

I’ve also been to El Salvador, to the heart in San Salvador, and to Soyapango, Santa Tecla, San Jose Guayabal, and more.

And I’ve been to Guatemala. To the City of Guatemala, as well as to Tikal, and the adjacent city of Flores in Peten.

In 2017, I even made it to Japan. To the marvelous city of Tokyo and its various mini-cities or Japanese pueblos in Shibuya, Ginza, Harajuku, as well as in the historic Kyoto, the wonderful city of Osaka, and even the great city of Hiroshima too.

I’ve met many wonderful people through each of these trips, and am still in contact with many of them. Together, they form what Los Angeles and the world is to me today.

If on ten years ago on that 780 bus route someone had told me that I’d get to see all of these places and more, I can only imagine how curious I’d find that to be. Now, I’m only more curious about how the next ten years with The City and the world will unfold.

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Atomic Dome; Hiroshima, Japan (2017)

One thing is certain to me, however. The seats of L.A’s Metro buses–whether on the back-corner or elsewhere–are congenial places to write one’s thoughts out, to claim one’s dreams, and to imagine all the other places we can see and be a part of. Just as well, the city of Los Angeles is quite the city to write in. Together, these are the ‘Goldilocks conditions’ that have transported me across the world and which continue to do so.

So let’s keep writing, Los Angeles. That Metro bus is but a great place for it.

J.T.

Deed Restrictions in Los Angeles

Red Car On Santa Monica Blvd - 1940
Red Car on Santa Monica Boulevard, ‘East Hollywood’; 1940

T-RACES, or the Testbed for the Redlining Archives of California’s Exclusionary Spaces, is a powerful map and treasure cove of historical documents showing how cities like Los Angeles were developed over the course of the 20th century, particularly during the years just before World War II. The archives contain ‘area descriptions’ of L.A. neighborhoods as seen by city and county officials of the National Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC); to learn more about the HOLC, readers can visit Design and Violence, where my treasure hunt for the documents began.

I’ve gathered a few of the area descriptions of the “Los Feliz” and “East Hollywood” neighborhoods, respectively, all of them dated in 1939, and they are startling reads. 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, lead 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, for 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 is 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 is the HOLC describing these conditions to?

That is, just who determines that ‘negros’, ‘foreign’ and ‘Jewish’ people and their dwellings reduce the overall quality of life? In literature it’s called the white gaze, or the white imagination that dictates a certain narrative or reality.

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, the neighborhood 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” or mostly unattractive rating.

“[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. On the other hand, it’s sobering to consider how World War II and the Japanese interment which followed removed 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 the 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 others.

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

J.T.