Awkward moments in Los Angeles

My grandmother, her mother, her sisters, my grandfather (in the baggy pants), friends and neighbors at their first Echo Park home. The home no longer exists and the neighborhood is now called Historic Filipinotown.

I wrote this a couple of months ago but was hesitant to post. But as a friend of mine (a prolific emailer and a notorious drunk – a bad combination) once told me “just close your eyes and press enter”

My friend and I tried to go to the Stories Bookstore opening in Echo Park. We walked by 15 minutes before the opening party was due to start and got a handful of stares from the young guys silk screening in the store window. Hmmm, no sign of opening party anywhere and the sign on the door says “open next week”. Perhaps it’s a private party, oh well.

We walked into the Time Travel Mart, I’d been curious about the place. It looked cool in photos. My friend walked in with me but leaves immediately because he cannot tolerate pretentious irony and the store was chock full of it. I thought the place would be more interesting somehow but it wasn’t. It could be me, I just didn’t get it.

A few seconds later a live performance of some country singer comes blaring over the speakers. It’s a song about rednecks, something like “I’m a redneck” for blah blah reasons and then there’s hootin’ and hollerin’ by the crowd. It’s possible I reacted to the song with a bemused look on my face but I can’t be sure. I was the only “customer” in the store besides the white hipster girl who worked there and her white hipster friend. The guy seems to really enjoy the song. The clerk girl seems embarrassed and says out loud for my obvious benefit, “Oh! I don’t think I can stand this song anymore.” Her friend disagrees and is like “Wait, it’s just getting good…” (The guy is in the redneck groove!) “I’m changing the song” she says but the her friend slightly moans in protest, until he notices me. Obviously the clerk didn’t have to think about the song until the Latina girl came in the store. I’m feeling very awkward, like I walked in on a secret. It’s like suddenly the curtain of kitsch and irony has been pulled back and exposed the reality of the situation, the one none of us in the store really wants to deal with at the moment. I leave so we can all feel comfortable again.


My mother’s family has lived in the Echo Park area since the 1930s. I spent a good chunk of my life living in the area. My grandmother was the first Mexican-American president of the Echo Park chapter of The American Legion (she was a Republican but voted Democrat, she had her reasons) and was super involved in all sorts of community activities to make the neighborhood a safe and better place for people to live.

On Sunday mornings, we’d drive in her big white 1950s truck to Pioneer Market (now defunct) on Sunset and she’d get her groceries for the week. (This was in the 80s.) There was a toy shop in the basement of Jensens my brother and I would get to visit once in great while for a rare treat. On the corner of Echo Park and Sunset there was a newsstand where I’d buy my latest music magazines from England and my grandmother, the Los Angeles Times. After that, we’d head to the Big Top Liquor store (no longer there except for the giraffe sign) on Temple St for menudo. She would bring her own pot, of course. Sometimes we’d see my mom’s best friend from childhood on the front porch of her duplex home on Logan Street near the park and we’d wave hello.

Now when I go to Echo Park I’m reminded of David Hoch’s quote “I feel like I’m a tourist in my own city.” It’s beginning to feel more and more like a hipster Disneyland. My mom’s best friend Antonia was pushed out of her duplex apartment she lived for half of her life. She now lives in the desert. It was worse for her son Junior. He knew all the store employees in the Echo Park-Sunset shopping district, you know one of those dudes that hangs out all the time and chats everyone up. He couldn’t bear to leave the home he lived in all his life. Most likely many of the store owners he knew are gone too. Big Top Liquor is gone, but the gang remains behind for now. Once in awhile we drive by Antonia’s old duplex, it’s been restored and finely painted in tasteful colors. It looks nice. She’ll say wistfully to my mom “Look Ana, look what they did to my old place. Wow, they really fixed it up.”

The neighborhood is still cool. It has stores I would’ve loved when I was a teenager and reading music mags from England but it’s not really a place for me anymore. And I guess it doesn’t have to be. But I think about all the people still there wondering what happened to their bars, restaurants and stores. I wonder what they think?

March 5, 2009:
Just to clarify, I do not consider Echo Park to be part of the Eastside nor do I support any blogs that promote this mistaken designation. In particular, the blogger “Eastsider” LA has refused to stop using my words and writings to promote his ill informed site. His blogging practices are atrocious and disrespectful, borrowing other people’s content without permission and pretty much stealing this here blog’s name. When I asked him respectfully to take down my quote his reply was: “What are you going to do about it?” Tsk, tsk. This person is a good example of what’s wrong with Echo Park.

64 thoughts on “Awkward moments in Los Angeles

  1. That place on Logan really looks different now. Very tasteful, but utterly different. I’ve been in that bookstore “Stories” which seems nicely done but I don’t think it’s gonna last, seems way too general interest for such a small space, and mostly not interesting stuff either. I think they’ve been suckered into the new illusion of Echo Park.

  2. Maybe I’m being a total white chick, but I’m confused. Isn’t it desirable for the quality, cleanliness & safety of the neighborhood to improve? and it’s sad that you feel like it’s “not a place for me anymore,” because…why? because the hipsters are annoying? Aren’t poverty, neglect and crime more annoying than hipsters? And if it truly doesn’t feel like “a place for [you],” why cede your hometown without a fight? Why can’t the new Echo Park be a place for both Latinos and whites?
    I grew up a middle-class white girl in a working-class Latino neighborhood. Recently, the area is becoming even more heavily Latino, which doesn’t really bother me. All that bothers me is what seems like an upswing in crime and less-savory businesses on our main street, like sex shops and strip bars. The sex shops & strip bars are here not BECAUSE the ‘hood’s gotten more Latino; the quality of the neighborhood has worsened due to the economy, because when times get tough it’s the lower-income communities that feel the blow first…but I digress. I guess what I’m saying is that the quality of a neighborhood should have everything to do with social conditions and nothing to do with the race of the people in it–even if that race is white. I can’t understand why the Latino community might be willing to write off such a special neighborhood. I know property values change & can push people away, but there must be *something* people can do…

  3. ” Isn’t it desirable for the quality, cleanliness & safety of the neighborhood to improve? and it’s sad that you feel like it’s “not a place for me anymore,” because…why? because the hipsters are annoying? Aren’t poverty, neglect and crime more annoying than hipsters?”

    I’ll tell you, back before I experienced what gentrification does (or the second wave of it) I thought the worse thing that could happen to a neighborhood was crime and dirt.

    But then something I happened. Being in the Los Feliz and Silver Lake area for years, I never had problems. I never had problems going to bars. I never had problems going to downtown LA. I never had any problems. If I avoided the gang element I wouldn’t have any problems, but as Silver Lake, Echo Park, downtown LA and Hollywood became gentrified I began to have problems.

    Problems according to the liberal doctrine of Southern California I shouldn’t have.

    Me being a college educated, private high school graduate I thought well it’s obvious that I’m not homeless, it’s obvious that I’m just like everyone else, but you know, I wasn’t.

    I started not being able to get served in the new restaurants. It started taking me a long time to get tables. People started looking at me funny. Me being from Canada and being used to being treated a certain way, I noticed this. I noticed that for the first time me being black did matter in a bad way.

    I would go into places and people would stop talking. I went to an art gallery in downtown LA during artwalk and they told me it was a private event, which I knew was a lie, because I planned the public event. I went to drink coffee at Starbucks and a cop did a U turn and rushed in to make sure that the barista’s where ok and that I wasn’t harassing my white boyfriend.

    This started happening right around the real estate boon time.

    Now the people I were around before in Silver Lake and downtown they were white, but the kinds of white (and black, latino, asian) people that are coming around downtown LA and the Hollywood area are different they are different than the people before.

    Now I’m going to say my old friends who used to be in LA would probably agree with me on this, so its not your whiteness that is making you not get it. It’s your class and the privilege of your class as well as your race in combination that is making you not get it.

    Fortunately for me, being black and not giving my resume every five minutes and dressing like a freak has allowed me to see the world more clearly. If I were white, I probably would have never noticed certain things, because I wouldn’t have to. I would be treated just like everyone else with a 100k degree and a professional job who plays artsy fart on the weekends.

    This monolithic existence with tattoos and piercings isn’t a desirable thing.

  4. Lucindamichele: Chimatli is morning the Echo Park she once knew (and giving us wonderfully slices of history) an Echo Park that is no longer. Change happens, and I will leave to other the debate over if this current change is good or bad. I love hearing Chimalti stories and even thought I am white and could be accused of being a gentiriticator (after we bought our house in the Sunset Junction neighborhood 12 years ago, we pushed the cops to get ride of a drug dealer up the street. We did win the harts of most of the Central America neighbors in the process) I do not take her take on the community as a personal attack on me.
    As far as crime OR the loss of working class Echo Park- The drop in crime was due to the good economice, not the number of “middle class” people moving in and replacing the “working class” the drop in crime was all over LA, not just Echo Park & Silver Lake. Now that the economic is sucking, we will see more and more crimes of all types in all of our communities.

    Browne: If the cops stopped to intervene every time they though a chick was harassing her boyfriend, they would have no time to get anything else done.

    Chimatli: I bit of a selfish question- in your collections of photos and stories, do you have anything about Silver Lake or Sunset Junction?

  5. Lucinda, first off I want to thank you for reading my post and for commenting. I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to express your feelings in a very honest way. I wish more people would do the same. I have to say though, I’m a bit confused too. I’m not sure how to reply to your comment because I’m not sure how much it has to do with what I was trying to say. I think maybe our worlds are so different that it’s difficult to understand the other’s perspective. That doesn’t mean that we can’t come to a mutual understanding though.
    For many of the issues you brought up regarding crime, poverty etc. I think Art’s recent post is a good introduction to how and why your old neighborhood is changing in a way you find unfavorable. Don Quixote’s comments are also a good source for explanations on this topic.

    As for what I wrote, I was very careful and thoughtful about the language I used and the stories I included. I was hoping to convey a sense of nuance and complexity with regards to the gentrification issue. I tried my best not to make any moral or black and white judgments about the situations I was describing. I included the ethnicity of the store clerks because it was relevant to the story. Also, I’m sort of sick of everyone being described by their ethnicity except for white folks, like being white is neutral. The fact that the clerks were white and listening to a redneck song and the fact that I was Latina in a predominantly Latino neighborhood was important to point out. I wish I could say that what I experienced in the Time Travel Mart was a rare occurrence, it isn’t. Like Browne mentioned in her anecdotes, these kinds of things happen very often in recently gentrified neighborhoods (being new inhabitants people are afraid of the unknown? The edginess is a little too sharp?). The Time Travel Mart story is one of the more obvious examples.

    You wrote: “I can’t understand why the Latino community is writing off such a special neighborhood.” First off, I don’t aim or claim to speak for the “Latino community” and secondly, be careful making such generalized statements.

    When Antonia and Junior left Echo Park they weren’t leaving by their own choice, they weren’t “giving up” on the neighborhood. They were PUSHED OUT (the first definition of gentrification is the displacement of poor residents). They were evicted because their building was sold and the new owners wanted them out. The building had changed hands a few times while they lived there but it wasn’t until yuppies bought their craftsman duplex that they were forced to leave. Do you know how hard it is to find a decent rental in Echo Park? Luckily, Antonia had saved some money and was able to afford a home in Twentynine Palms. They’re adjusting.

    Echo Park has always been a diverse neighborhood but the majority of white folks left in the early 70s on their own accord. They weren’t getting pushed out like the folks now.
    As for making neighborhoods better, my grandmother (RIP) volunteered and worked on various civic projects. She did stuff like get decent walkways so kids could walk safely to and from school. That’s how you make neighborhoods better by improving the quality of life for all the residents. Having boutique-y, kitschy stores that are out of the price range for the majority of residents doesn’t improve a neighborhood. So what if the houses get painted and restored if the residents that already live there don’t get to enjoy their beauty?

    I’ll be frank, I don’t really like Echo Park anymore. The commercial strip is dirtier and more littered than Lincoln Heights. The Mexican food there is boring and bland. 🙂 The community feels really transient and disconnected. There is definitely a class divide and a sometimes an ethnic divide. But like I wrote in my post, who cares what I think? I’m not the center of the world, I didn’t grow up with the privileged notion that the world was made for me. I moved on and found a neighborhood where I feel like I belong, one that reminds me everyday why I love Los Angeles.

    Just for the record, my family still lives on the same street the above house is on. My grandmother was smart enough to trade in my grandfather’s car (while he away fighting in Europe) for the house during World War Two. It’s amazing to me that a young woman with a newborn baby who had previously worked at Bullock’s Department Store, could afford her own home. That says a lot about how messed up our current economic system is.

  6. Dorit, I don’t think we have any photos of Silver Lake and come to think of it my family never mentions Silver Lake in any of their old-timers stories. My mom says life was oriented towards Downtown, they did everything there. My mom and dad had their first date (he was from the eastside, she from the westside) in neutral territory. They both caught the Red Car from their respective neighborhoods and met at a movie theater on Broadway.

    Thanks everyone for your comments!

  7. You wrote: “I can’t understand why the Latino community is writing off such a special neighborhood.” First off, I don’t aim or claim to speak for the “Latino community” and secondly, be careful making such generalized statements.

    …you’re right, that was dumb of me. I felt a little funny about typing it & shoulda gone with my gut. 😛

  8. I totally agree with this article but could not have put it into words. The neighborhoods were not riddled with crime before, just genuine neighbors, not a casting call of characters. I remember the toy store, Mena Toys, under the Jensen’s building. We were also gently and slowly removed from our home a few years ago….I go back with my husband now and reminisce. We live in East L.A. now and I am almost positive that will not happen here. I hope for my little daughter that it doesn’t!

  9. I can’t wait for the day when I get old and my kids and grandkids talk about me the way you talk about yours 🙂

  10. A while back, I heard on that KPFK show “La Causa” the host complaining about Echo Park gentrification. The thing was, his dad sold his house to move away, and cashed out due to the housing boom.

    Likewise, I’ve heard people up in the Garvey Hills, Koreatown, and El Monte feeling kind of sanguine about gentrification, but, they own their old houses.

    That’s the main issue.

    It’s not a simple issue, though.

  11. I grew up in Compton. my parents and grandparents have owned homes there for over 30 years. Looking at how bad crime and gang violence was there, I wish that area would have become “gentrified”. Like the point the above person made, if you own your home, the property value going up would be a blessing and you would have the choice of cashing out or staying to enjoy a better safer neighborhood. I’m sure a good portion of the latino and asian families that grew up in the area, own there homes, and still live there aren’t upset about the changes in the neighborhood because it gives them options, something they didn’t have before.

  12. I love the story of you and your family growing up in Echo Park. It’s nice to get a picture of what things were like in another time and to wonder what things would be like now if, say, Pioneer Market had remained open and the world’s worst Walgreen’s hadn’t taken over in that space.

    Since the neighborhood has changed (and continues to change) so much, I understand how you might feel like a tourist in your own city. That said, I think your examples of “awkward moments” are flawed at best, or at least could use some additional clarification.

    When you went to the Stories opening party, were the stares you received hostile or otherwise uninviting? I ask because you seem to have given up on the idea of attending without asking any one of those “young guys” if it was in fact a private party. Strangers staring at you can be awkward. I was just wondering if you attempted to make it less awkward by saying hello.

    In the Echo Park Time Travel Mart example, you again make no mention of speaking to anyone. Did you? I could see how everyone would feel awkward if you walked in (after your friend had immediately shunned the place), reacted to a country song with a bemused look (why you would do this is still a mystery to me; have you not heard country music before, or did you just never expect to hear it in Echo Park?) and then walked out without buying anything or even saying a word. That would be pretty weird, but it would have nothing to do with the fact that you’re a Latina, or that the two other people in the store were white hipsters, or the fact that some “redneck” song started blasting on the speakers. You obviously see it differently but I cannot for the life of me figure out how you came to your particular conclusion.

    Oh, and also: you forgot to mention that the Time Travel Mart is part of 826LA, which is, according to their website, “a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write.” So as a matter of fact, when someone buys something from that store filled with “pretentious irony”, they’re actually donating to an organization that is dedicated to the promotion of literacy. Does that help improve a neighborhood?

  13. ^Geez, are you a police detective or what? I told my story, take it as you like.
    I find it interesting how much LA Eastside contributors get grilled when they talk about gentrification and/or racism. And yet other blogs (the more popular and mainstream ones) and their comments are filled with veiled and not so veiled prejudices and stereotypes and no one says a peep. No one gets grilled. No one else is asked to explain every little detail to the satisfaction of their accusers. I just think some folks wanna find a way not to feel bad, not to feel guilty. Well, you know what? That’s your problem, not mine.
    Think what you will Scott, if you think my story is “flawed” I’m not sure what more I can say. It’s like I told Lucinda, you and I must see the world very differently.

  14. @Nick:
    I’m interested in your definition of gentrification. It doesn’t mean your neighborhood gets “better” or safer, sorry.

    from wikipedia:
    “Gentrification, or urban gentrification, is the change in an urban area associated with the movement of more affluent individuals into a lower-class area.[2] The area experiences demographic shifts, including an increase in the median income, a decline in proportion of racial minorities, and a reduction in household size.[3] More households with higher incomes result in increased real estate values with higher associated rent, home prices, and property taxes. Industrial land use can decline with redevelopment bringing more commercial and residential use. Such changes often result in transformation of the neighborhood’s character and culture.[4]”

    Even if I owned my own home, I wouldn’t want my neighbors to get pushed out cause they couldn’t afford their own piece of land. Renters are part of communities too.

    For a bit of fun, take the gentrification quiz!

  15. I was the one that walked out of that stupid “time travel” store, that place is beyond kitch and plain old dumb. Oh, they donate to something? So what, still stupid. I only found out later they had some “literacy” agenda. That’s still a stupid store but I guess if I got the punchline earlier maybe I’d be laughing? I sure as hell hope not, cuz that place is pretty darn stupid. It’d be nice if they did a workshop with 18-26 year olds about how they feel being priced out of the neighborhood cuz rents are going up due to more lame boutiques you’ll never be able to shop in, I bet you there’d be much less “I feel so good about myself and the special work I do to save these inner city illiterates”. If during the coming civil unrests that store remains unscathed, then I guess others did think they were an asset.

    Scott’s “I cannot for the life of me figure out how you came to your particular conclusion” reminds me of some other experience I once had with another condescending liberal that just couldn’t “get” my perspective. We were tabling at Loserpalloza and had some anti-police brutality info and some obviously sheltered and suburban person didn’t understand why there would be a need for that, because the “cops have always been nice and respectful towards me”.

    Some perspectives can’t be explained, especially when the other person really has no interest in believing it could possibly be true. Maybe buying stupid crap helps bring in money for the project (but that donor list tells me they ain’t dealing with chump change) but no, the store doesn’t help the neighborhood; it’s just a bad joke played on everyone that doesn’t get it.
    Plus, it’s a stupid joke.

  16. You’re not sure what more you can say? Okay, I guess I’ll try again.

    Did you speak to any of the guys who stared at you when you wanted to go to the Stories opening party? Did you ever actually find out if it was a private party?

    Did you speak to anyone at the Echo Park Time Travel Mart? Did you even know that it was part of a non-profit that helps kids in this neighborhood? Do you care?

    I see El Chavo has chimed in with the “It doesn’t matter what they do, they’re stupid” argument. Brilliant. You’re right, sir, who cares if they help kids? It’s stupid because it’s just another worthless boutique that’s ruining the neighborhood by… driving up the costs of rent and doing liberal do-gooder mushy bleeding-heart “I feel good about helping inner city dummies that wouldn’t ever learn to read if it weren’t for me and my do-gooder, Che t-shirt wearing, latte sipping holier-than-thou friends!” work. Is that it? Is that the logic you’re following?

    Oh, and I “cannot for the life of me figure out how [the writer] came to [that] particular conclusion” because the writing is not clear. I politely asked questions and got a snide “detective” remark (followed by a “condescending liberal” quip) in return.

    Anyway. Good luck carrying around those gigantic chips on your shoulders.

  17. “Good luck carrying around those gigantic chips on your shoulders.”

    Perhaps sir, you can advise me on how you do it.Hahaha!

    No, but for reals. There’s a big difference between what you wrote and Lucinda wrote. She seemed like she was sincerely interested in understanding my story and perspective. You seemed really condescending in your comment and very demanding and that’s why you were treated like a joke and she was given the courtesy of a proper response.
    You might want to remember that the next time you seek answers from others.

  18. Wow. Do you even know what “chip on your shoulder” means? Seriously. Do you have any idea? Because what you just wrote doesn’t make a lick of sense.

    I seemed really condescending and demanding? Really? Oh, yeah, okay, I guess I can see how you would think that. You’re the victim here of the evil white hipsters who listen to “redneck” songs and get all uncomfortable around a Latina as if a Latina belonged in Echo Park! Ha! This is hipster territory! If you don’t have Buddy Holly glasses and old Chucks then you don’t belong!

    Your story, such as it is, is some half-baked whining about a perceived slight. It offers no actual examples to further your conclusions. I actually thought there could be more to it, but no. You’re just an impetuous child who’s constantly under “attack” by everyone.

    Get. Over. Yourself.

  19. Wow. All smug and can’t read worth a lick. I don’t think the post was trying to make “conclusions”, but since yer an educated one then you know better. I’ll take the half-baked over your fully cooked pile of learned letters.

    Git. New. Catchphrases.

  20. The funny thing is, I attempted to make no conclusions about the incident. It was an awkward moment for everyone involved and that’s it. It’s up to the reader to draw their own conclusions about the story. Your conclusions are obvious and say a lot more about you than they do about me.

  21. conclusion |kənˈkloō zh ən|

    • the summing-up of an argument or text.

    “[I]t’s not really a place for me anymore.”

    I’m hopping off this failboat now. Goodnight!

  22. It’s amazing the bias in the blogosphere. People can put all kinds of racist, sexist, classist shit online and no one says anything. A person makes a thoughtful post about the truth we get all kinds of people coming out the woodworks whining about how unfair it is. Amazing!!!

    For the love of god, do you have to control everything. It’s like the Ugly American via new technology.

    And by the way I hate when yuppies with tattoos help “poor little children of color” “discover” their voice. It’s always twisted and sickly exploitative.

    “This poor little Lakeisha, she’s from the ghetto. Her mother beats her, but thank god I saved her from all that…”

    They have to remind you every five seconds how they are helping. Helping themselves to all the grant money that should be going to people from the community.


  23. Talk about personal embarassment propelled rant!

    Homeboy even got all “entitled rich sarcasm” on ya! Dont let your sweat ruin your $30 american apparel tee buddy.

    It’s called the white doublestandard, it’s the less in your face, more pussified way of giving whites the benefit of the doubt and minorities not. Us brown folks do it too, except we went through centuries of oppression to develop it, rather than a geneation of entitlement.

    Who cares if your multigenerational family has existed in echo park and you are discussing the changes in a very inoffensive manner, did you greet and introduce yourself to any of the “chosen ones” and kiss their rings? Did you even have a name tag to discern your personality from your browness, so that the people wouldnt be scared of you? Did you event patronize them so that your presence and persecuted validity could be absorbed and gloated about as a “so real”?

    Wow, good play chimatli, you even flipped his joke onhim and his head was so far up the “in my own bubble” culo that he didnt get it. I usually only get that kind of clear illustration when I argue with the bottom of the barrel in anti-illegal news boards. You scored one off a hipster, and you didnt even have to endure his cig smoke!

    Aye guey, if you exiist in OUR hood you should know this term: kick rocks leva!

  24. I assumed there’d be folks who would react like Scott. It’s so predictable. I was hoping I’d be wrong though. I think he was offended or threatened by my story and instead of trying to figure out why, he lashed out at me through interrogation and snideness.
    Also, am I not suppose to criticize the Time Travel Mart because it’s associated with 826? I helped organize a similar volunteer community project in my own neighborhood. I bet our budget for the four years we were open was what 826 gets in one month. So I’m not all mystified by this kinda stuff.
    I sincerely hope Scott does not work at 826. They way he so callously demeaned my story, my writing and my grammar makes me think he wouldn’t be a very good instructor to young urban youth.

    p.s. my comments about the time travel store were a lot kinder than the folks on yelp.

  25. I didn’t like it when some renters near my mom’s were displaced to make room for some stucco mcmansion/future foreclosures, but what can you do? This is America and that’s how things are. Except for the City of LA, there aren’t strong renter’s laws. (So, we need to work to keep them strong for renters to benefit in LA.)

    Now, I say this as someone more on the property-owning side due to my family owning property. I rent, but, I guess I see things more from the property side even when I’m renting.

    These rents are obscene, and, looking at the real estate sites, it’s getting to the point where it’s better to buy if you have the credit and some money.

    I think in NYC, before a multi-unit apartment is sold, the existing tenants have an option to buy it, or something like that. They need something like that here, to stabilize a lot of different things.

    A real big problem is that real wages have stagnated for 30 years. That’s why there isn’t stability in these formerly reasonably stable communities. I’ll keep it at that.

    I mean, shoot, I miss the existence of a big Japanese American community up here in the SGV, even though I wasn’t a big participant. Just having some businesses and orgs around was nice. That’s all pretty much gone now. People have spread out far and wide, and many of the old communities are disappearing. People kind of get it together for their kids, but adults are living far apart. (Don’t get me wrong – I really like all the Chinese and other Asian culture.) So, it’s more of a private community unless you’re in Torrance or Gardena.

    This experience is making me appreciate more the smaller ethnic communities in LA that were so small that even my then-large one ignored them. Did anyone besides Croats know there was a Croat community in Pedro? That’s a neat thing. What about the Belizeans?

    Anyway, to keep on topic, if the community convenience store (the one with sushi) were replaced with some high-rent, cornball art project to raise money for literacy, I’d be pissed off.

    PS – according to my teacher friend, the LAUSD reading level is now 1 year behind grade level. 8th graders average a 7th grade reading level. Considering how many immigrants they teach, that’s pretty good.

  26. Good morning!

    “I think he was offended or threatened by my story and instead of trying to figure out why, he lashed out at me through interrogation and snideness.”

    Ummmm, no. Context matters. If you purely made an assumption and walked away from Stories just because some people looked at you sideways, that really doesn’t mean anything. I mean, you were staring in a window and people were staring back. Is that it? That’s the awkward moment? What’s the point?

    “Also, am I not suppose to criticize the Time Travel Mart because it’s associated with 826?”

    Ummmm, no. Again, context matters. You wrote about the place as if it only existed in order to sell “pretentious irony” in the form of… well, I don’t know because you didn’t describe it. If the Time Travel Mart was only some kitsch selling hipster hangout (as you presented it to be) then it would be silly and pointless. Anyway, then you go on to read the mind of the clerk who didn’t have to think about a redneck song until you walked in (why exactly is this the case? Is it a known fact that Latinas don’t listen to country music?) and exclaimed that she didn’t want to listen to it anymore for your benefit (is that because you’re a “customer”? Or because you made a face? Probably not. That would make too much sense.) Besides, you’re not trying to draw conclusions. “The fact that the clerks were white and listening to a redneck song and the fact that I was Latina in a predominantly Latino neighborhood was important to point out.” Not to draw any conclusions, though. No. Never.

    Oh, and to Art:

    “Did you event patronize them so that your presence and persecuted validity could be absorbed and gloated about as a ‘so real’?”


    Also: “entitled rich sarcasm” is the best kind of sarcasm. It’s filled with champagne wishes and caviar dreams.

  27. Dude, does it really matter? Perhaps I’d engage you in a real discussion if you’d been respectful and genuinely interested in what I have to say. But whether you’ve intended it or not, you’ve come of as a real jerk and also, kinda trollish. Are you friends with Salty?

  28. Lorena, thanks for reminding me of the toy stores name, Mena! I know East LA isn’t the same but I’m sure your neighbors are happy to have you around.

    Alienation, Los Angeles does have all these micro pockets of communities. Where my family lives now, off Temple St, besides being a historic Filipino neighborhood was also a Cuban neighborhood.

  29. Wait? I thought you jumped off the “failboat”, why’d you jump back on? Cuz yer a dude drowning in his own words, desperately trying to save face.

    You really are a showcase for the smug and dismissive attitude the new EP hipsters are carrying, graciously belittling as they call you ignorant, being unnecessarily helpful in showing us pronunciations to words we all know, teaching us the meaning of “chips” (duh, does it come with salsa?) because we probably never heard the term before. And then the pedantic professor has a list of questions he demands be answered, like some scientist looking for a measurable truth by quantifying words. And yet, he can’t see the “context” of his own words but he sure can extrapolate on everyone else’s context.

    I bet he thinks he’s a “writer” too. He sure does have the makings for it; lots of words but nothing to say.

  30. Sigh. No, it doesn’t really matter at this point.

    EL CHAVO! You are hilarious. Comedy gold. Truly.

    Have a great life, everyone! I’m going back to my arrogant, smug, rich, entitled, cigarette smoking, vinyl record collecting, Bukowski quoting hipster lifestyle, doing my best to ruin Los Angeles for the rest of you.


  31. Thanks for the compliment! Coming from you it truly means something.

    “doing my best to ruin Los Angeles for the rest of you.”

    Yer doing a good job!

  32. The Cuban neighborhood you mentioned Chimalti was the one that supported El Carmelo, the Cuban restaurant that used to be where Masa is now- which used to be the best $3.00 breakfast in LA!! Now Masa isn’t a horrible business, and the Cuban restaurant was sold to a Spanish speaking Korean family that managed it as is was until Masa came along.

    But, Scott, it is a good example of the gentrification that folks here are talking about. It did displace members that were rooted in the community that were poorer. What do you supposed is the state of that Cuban community in Echo Park now? Where do the old timers who’ve been in EP for years go? If you were an old Cuban dude looking to have breakfast with your buds as you have for years and your public meeting place was now unfamiliar, unwelcoming and unaffordable? Just think about it.

    One of the best permanent public art projects in LA is the sidewalk in Little Tokyo by Sheila Levrant de Bretteville (who also founded the Woman’s Building in 1973 in the first red brick building on the right as you cross the LA River out of Lincoln Heights on N Spring). They simply state the history of businesses in stone in front of each shop, and have almost no pretense that it’s art. But you can immediately recognize that it is history and it is culture and it is real.

    Change to some degree is inevitable. But no matter what, the history of the neighborhood is forever etched under your feet. For newer residents, that history is often unseen, overlooked, and frequently trampled on– especially when newer residents have more economic and social capital. In Sheila’s artwork that idea is made literal, made visible- but also defiantly made indelible and permanent. Now all storefronts that open on First in Little Tokyo will be judged in relationship to how it honors the community’s history in relationship to previous institutions.

    I’m not really a LA Eastside contributor, but I love it because it is a virtual discussion that documents life East of the river where I have known for years, but now live. Don’t worry, the Time Travel Mart will one day close and be replaced by a Starbucks or whatever and maybe it will earn its place in the sidewalk too. But for now, just have some fucking respect for your neighbors and the people and culture that were there before you.

  33. Chimatli , thanks for clarifying your definition of gentrification. I understand where you are coming from but like you said, it’s not and issue that can be seen as “black” and “white”. It seems as if you are worried that gentrification will lead to a loss of culture and the cultural identity of the neighborhood which is a legitimate concern. But change is inevitable and not all change is bad. Los angeles is a cultural melting pot, like it or not. Sure there are pockets of culturally isolated communities, but we are moving more towards a multicultural society which I feel is a good thing. That does not mean anyone ‘s culture has to be lost or compromised, but embraced. Personally I like the fact that there are still mexican, el salvadorian restauraunts, asian markets, taco trucks, mixed in with new art galleries and specialty shops.b There are a lot more black and asian working class families moving into the neighborhood. And business that have been here for years are seeing a new boom from the new residents,: Barragan’s, Gold Room, El Compadre, etc. It does become a problem when institutions such as the pioneer market are closed to make way for a walgreens but so far, it’s not as bad as an silver lake or loz feliz. Realize that many of the so called “hipsters didnt move here with intent to displace or take over the neighborhood (although a small minority of them did), they moved here because it was cheap. They supported local business and are part of the community. And when property values went, they were priced out too (thats why they moved to echo park, priced out of silver lake and los feliz).

    Lastly, the oone other thing I would like your opinion of is what is a hiptser. Do you consider all young white people in echo park hipsters? the way you seemed to classify the girl at time travel mart came off as a generaliztion.

  34. This a great thread, very lively. A lot that I could comment on, but I just want to give my two cents on one piece, hopefully shedding some light on an issue that I know a lot about:

    Chimatli said:
    “weren’t “giving up” on the neighborhood. They were PUSHED OUT (the first definition of gentrification is the displacement of poor residents). They were evicted because their building was sold and the new owners wanted them out.”

    I have lived in Echo Park for a while now. Due to rent control, I pay about a third of the market rent. New landlord bought the place, wanted me out. I did not want to go. I did what 99% of the other people didn’t. I told him to get stuffed.

    He persisted to try and evict me. We went to court three times and beat his ass solidly every time(you cannot evict someone in Los Angeles without cause). Sure it was a pain in the ass, but I am still here. My neighbors saw all this happen.

    When they began to get the same treatment, I hustled for them. I knew that many of them spoke English as a second language and did not have access to the tools that I had, which I used to win. I told them what to do, told them what papers to file, what evidence to collect, which lawyers to talk to(pro bono), which tenants rights groups to get in touch with, and told them that if they did everything that I said and still got evicted, they can have my house and I will leave. I meant it too.

    Despite all that, despite hearing from attorneys, despite seeing me hand our landlord his own ass multiple times, despite our many successes and hours of discussions on the sidewalk, one after another they left. It was “too much trouble”, “the landlord gave me $6,000”, “I will just go live with my brother”. Everyone has their own reasons, but none of these people had to go. They ultimately chose to.

    I am not relieving these real estate speculators of their responsibility and lack of ethics. Most of them are scumbags, and harassed and intimidated many of these people. They suck, and ultimately they will get theirs.

    However, some of the blame must be laid at the feet of those who chose to leave. If you really value something, you need to stand and fight for it. Especially if others are standing with you. Don’t flake. Don’t sell out. When we are talking about how Echo Park changed, let’s discuss this. Let’s solve the problem instead of scapegoating the hipsters(frankly, its like shooting fish in a barrel).

    This is the real story. I wish nobody had to go through this, but the reality of the matter is that while some(who knows, maybe most) did not know their rights, many did. And of those many, most chose to leave. They could have stayed. Some did.

    And I am glad that we are still neighbors.

  35. Hexod, I think it’s awesome you went out of your way to fight your landlord and also help your neighbors. It’s this kind of collective activity that improves a neighborhood and empowers people.
    I had a similar experience here in Lincoln Heights. My landlord tried to evict me illegally because she wanted more rent for my place. I took it to the housing department and she had to rescind the eviction. She then figured out if she moved one of her family members in she could get me out. So that’s what she did. I could have taken her to court and try and prove that she did this action in bad faith but by then I was so worn out, I couldn’t go through with it. Eventually, the rent was raised to $300 more than what I was paying and two dudes who got priced out of Hollywood moved in. Luckily, I was able to find another place in my neighborhood with the help of my neighbors.
    I understand why some of your neighbors didn’t fight. Going to court and dealing with lawyers can be very intimidating especially if you’ve never had good relations with those in authority positions. I know for myself, I felt the process to be gut wrenchingly worrisome. By the time I moved, I just wanted to get on with my life.

    I know gentrification is a complex issue and for me it one of class. It’s interesting to me how much *other* folks have brought race and ethnicity into the discussion. The thing is, anytime we talk about these issues it’s gonna be really messy because nothing is clear cut. I’ve said before in other threads I don’t blame individuals for gentrification, I see it as a social phenomenon. Frankly, if I’m gonna blame anything or anyone, I blame our current economic system that’s full of inequities and causes the forced transience of communities across neighborhoods and borders.

    As for hipsters, I say what I mean and mean what I say. When I use the term hipster, it’s not code word for “white” people. There are plenty o’ hipsters that are Latino, Asian and Black.
    For me, a hipster is someone is who is super concerned with their image and dispassionate and disconnected from the world around them. There’s a reason why no one will admit to being one.
    (I know this is been around forever but it’s still relevant):

    As for calling me out on generalizations, discrimination etc. fine go right ahead. I don’t agree with your insinuations but I have no problem hearing you out. I do ask one thing though, on other blogs when people start making generalizations about poor people, “illegals,” and all the other code (shit) talking that goes on about people of color and the working class, I wanna see you question them and demand they clarify their positions.

    Well, thanks all for the discussion. I’m sure there will be many more here at LA Eastside.

    P.S. Funny thing I overheard today, a woman born, raised and living in Boyle Heights was talking about how her nephew moved to a “bad neighborhood” and that neighborhood was Echo Park! 🙂

  36. Great post, Chimatli. Thank you.

    Got me thinking … I arrived in Echo Park in 2003, part of the “new wave.” I was happy to be there; looking for proximity to downtown, proximity to green space, an “old” neighborhood, a sense of community, independent businesses where I could shop for clothes, food, and liquor. Back then I’d get my gas at Magic Gas and all my groceries — fruit, pan, tortillas, carnes, cereales — at Pioneer. One night me and a friend walked into Gold Room, back when it was waaaay off the hipster radar, and pretty much never left. To live and work, I found the last little one-bedroom cottage below $800 in the whole region (in 2003 dollars), in a four-unit complex on Echo Park Ave., across from that Salvadoran Pentecostal church (which is now some overpriced bakery-looking thing, I think).

    At first all my neighbors were “old.” Across from me a Filipino family. Next to them a lady who had lived in her little cottage for 30 years. Behind me, a mom and dad and two kids, recent immigrants, and in the back, a young guy like me, musician, child of immigrants.

    One by one, a new owner booted the families out. It was the cruelest thing. The moves were loud, angry, stressful. It was awful to watch; the young family would give me tamales and stuff. The complex was “spruced” up. They left me and the other young guy alone but after a while I couldn’t handle the mala vibra, and moved away.

    Neighborhoods are always changing. But when it happens so rapidly, so close, so violently, in a manner of speaking, it is really difficult to take.

    Last time I was in L.A. (in April), I avoided Echo Park as much as I could. People have been telling me about the new pretentious irony high-end wine-bar generally idiotic vibe of the neighborhood and I don’t think I would be able to tolerate it if I rolled through again.

    I miss the girls at Gold Room, though, if they’re still there, Sol, Hesenia, Lili, someone please tell them I said what’s up. Sol is from D.F. she hasn’t seen her family in like 16 years.

    Daniel H.

  37. “And by the way I hate when yuppies with tattoos help “poor little children of color” “discover” their voice. It’s always twisted and sickly exploitative.”

    I don’t think so, but I’m not a yuppie, and I don’t have any tattoos. I volunteered a couple times with 826LA and wish I could do more. My favorite part was when they sent me to a charter school downtown to help high school kids study for AP exams. The kids were really sweet. I really, really hope it helped them.

    I have to say, really, that for me (I can’t speak for anyone else, anyway) most often these feelings of discomfort and awkwardness can be solved by reaching out & talking, sharing that common humanity.

    I guess it could be said that I’m a privileged oppressor using these children as a tool to feel good about myself, and thus oppressing them further. And I cannot really refute the essence of those facts. But the intangibles–the kids, they way we interacted, the fun we had, the way they remembered the lessons about grammar I’d explained, the way they told me about where they wanted to go to college–I just can’t believe it boils down to sinister facts about the relationship between oppressor & oppressed. I just can’t believe it was “twisted and exploitative.”

  38. In general I’m not trying to be a dick, when I make these statements Lucinda, but there are lot of programs in the area that can’t get funding. The reason they can’t get funding is because they don’t know anyone. These grants and the money out there that are funded by all of our tax dollars are given out unfairly. And more often than not they are given to people who are kids of people on the boards, who went to the alma maters of certain places and whose parents know people.

    Now this wouldn’t be bad but the fact is this: Many of these neighborhood kids never see anyone who look like them helping them and it looks like we, people of color don’t do anything to help our communities (especially in regards to the arts.) And we do. I see time and time again people come on to this board and talk on variations of the themes what WE don’t do and why don’t WE start programs or why didn’t WE fix the crime.

    Now the fact is people of color do things, we simply can’t get funded. We can’t get the police to respond. We can’t get publicity. We can’t even get the papers to stop calling everyone that gets killed in our neighborhood a gang member.

    When we have programs we can’t get the buzz to sustain us. We do live in America and to some extent we do need the mainstream to help us just like they help 826, but they refuse to. They refuse to help us, but we still have to give our tax dollars to pay for all of certain people’s fun projects so they can do their art and tag on some “helping” bullshit.

    The mainstream media (and blogs) even refuses to link our blogs and acknowledge that they get information from us (people from the mainstream press or people formerly from the mainstream press.) And when they do acknowledge us, it is in a disrespectful snarky manner.

    People can’t even come to this board and be respectful. On any other board from LA Metblogs to LAist they would have thrown people off (I in fact am banned from commenting on Laist owing directly to me not being happy with their portrayal of Watts and saying so,) but we let people come on here and just air all kind of shit after they have made like two posts, but you know we allow that, because we want to be open.

    Most of the bloggers here at least had the courtesy to have made more than ten posts before they start puffing up our feathers and giving people shit. And I’m not talking about you personally Lucinda, but there are people on here that really…well you are going to come on here just to talk shit and not listen, you know who you are.

    Time and time again friends of mine have been rejected for grants just to see someone from New York or Chicago or North Carolina who moved to Echo Park or downtown LA or wherever last year get funded for ideas that where just like Joe or Jane Lopez who is two generations deep in a neighborhood.

    And then working class children, working class children of color start to think that in order to be artful that they need to be accepted ONLY by people who look like you. And the problem is you are a great person, but Chimatli is also a great person. Art is also a great person. And those children should be getting a variety of experiences. And while yeah we could volunteer at that place, it’s us working for yet another upper middle class person from outside the neighborhood taking the credit for our work and that puts a whole other spin on things.

    People of color can’t ever get funded for anything that isn’t very specifically race related and it better not be anything art related, because that money only goes to people from Cal Arts.

    I guess people of color arent objective enough to have a multicultural art program.

    The problem is people who are from outside the working class dynamic think that the neighborhoods that they are volunteering in are crap (is evidence from many comments here) that need fixing and help from them and that taints their teaching. That taints their help.

    That lack of respect for history, the lack of respect for the positive qualities of working class life that isn’t just about gangs or drugs or poverty isn’t focused on, so you have a bunch of kids writing shitty poems about how shitty their neighborhood is when they aren’t from a shitty neighborhood, but that’s what they write because they want to please you. Kids admire adults, especially if the adult is personable and cool and attractive. And subconsciously they are just writing what they think you want to hear and that’s the problem when middle class people from the suburbs go to working class neighborhoods and people of color neighborhoods. It’s not the fact that you are there, but the fact that people who look like the people who write on this board are not allowed to be there.

    This isn’t about 826 or you Lucinda, this is a much larger issue.


  39. I have been involved in fundraising (mostly grant writing) for about 8 years now and yes, it so helps if you get to meet someone at the foundation (a great way to meet these foundations is at “meet the funders” event)

    And I understand being a little pissed about the upper class coming into working class neighborhoods to “education” our kids with no respect for what the community its self is doing (and doing with out all the fanfare. But I am hard pressed to turn my back on volunteers.

    I currently work at a homeless shelter. Volunteers show up every night to feed our shelter residents. In addition to coming in to serve the food the shelter cooks up, these volunteers bring in additional foods, such as fruit, salads, cookies and other “extras” we simple could not afford to buy and haven’t the time to make. In addition, the volunteers donate toiletries, new socks and undergarments, books, playing cards and other items that our guests need. We simple could not run the shelter with out this out side help. The volunteers are in a higher class then our residents are currently in, but so what.

    My daughters “inner city” school depends of volunteers, parents, community members as well as “outsiders” to supply the “extras” like arts, literacy and math enrichment, fundraising and staffing. All these volunteers are needed and appreciated, and believe me the kids do not care if the actor coming into their classroom to read them a story have the same skin color as they do, they are happy to have someone paying attention to them. The kids do not care if the parent who is coming in to staff the library is a Mexican-American, they are just happy to have the library open during lunch.

  40. “And I understand being a little pissed about the upper class coming into working class neighborhoods to “education” our kids with no respect for what the community its self is doing (and doing with out all the fanfare. But I am hard pressed to turn my back on volunteers.” Dorit

    No way I want to turn my back on volunteers, but I feel there should be a variety of organizations in charge of those volunteers. I’m not about taking AWAY people, but adding people to the mix.

    “My daughters “inner city” school depends of volunteers, parents, community members as well as “outsiders” to supply the “extras” like arts, literacy and math enrichment, fundraising and staffing. All these volunteers are needed and appreciated, and believe me the kids do not care if the actor coming into their classroom to read them a story have the same skin color as they do, they are happy to have someone paying attention to them.” Dorit

    I did not say that I have a problem with people who don’t “match” the kids volunteering, the problem I have is when the ONLY organizations being chosen are organizations where people don’t match the kids.

    I would want my kid to be exposed to black people, latino people, biracial people, gay people, white people, upper class people, working class, asian people, american born, born in iceland…but sadly that won’t happen in the confederate state of LA.

    There seems to be institutional racism and classism put in place in the arts in particular and that’s a real problem.

    I’m going to link a conversation about poverty porn and the issues of people of color pimping their own people, because that’s the only way they can get funded for art projects and get book deals and get published.

    This is why I take issue with the same type of people being in charge of the arts, because owing to their very narrow views (and right here on this thread you can see how people who tend to be volunteers think how much better the neighborhood is since they moved in) people who are little children of color who go to these programs, who get exposed to these programs get programmed of what the particular type of person with power thinks and how to dance for these people to be looked at favorably.

    And even people who maybe don’t even get exposed to these programs, but owing to the people who are head of the English and art departments ONLY being exposed to people of color through inner city art programs or homeless organization they view people who look like me as children or in need of some assistance. All of us.

    They don’t differentiate between us being adults and the people who they volunteer with who are children or drug addicts or homeless and in order for us to be successful we have to play this game where we have to tell sad stories about how horrible our neighborhoods are and how horrible our parents are and etc….etc….I was told once that I wasn’t ethnic enough by a writing teacher, because my black experience didn’t match her experience as a volunteer in south central and she had no problem telling me this.

    Now I refuse to play this game, but I get very strong vibes from people that they expect me to act in a certain manner, like Maya Angelou (nothing wrong with her, but that’s not who I am, there is more than one way to be black) and have stories about my father beating me…it’s highly irritating and I also find it highly irritating the people of color who play this game well.

    Validating stereotypes lies, etc just so they can be the one token. It’s a sick thing.

    And you know really I wouldn’t be ok with a child of mine being helped out with someone who thought they were trash or better than them or viewed them as a cute little stray dog. I can teach my own kids art. I would never have some actor a**hole talking to my kids about anything. I don’t have kids, but if I did, no way. I would want to know what kind of person is “helping” my kid, because the lifelong damage an ignorant personable person can do is much more damaging than not being exposed to painting or poetry, especially for a person of color which my kid would be.

    Conversation on Racialicious

    Think of all of the art we are missing out on, because only certain people are viewed as worth enough to be in charge or funded, it’s sad. It’s sad the art that is being lost out ignorance and the same circle jerk of jerks getting all of the money.

  41. “And you know really I wouldn’t be ok with a child of mine being helped out with someone who thought they were trash or better than them or viewed them as a cute little stray dog.”

    This is…if this really happens, then it’s horrible. But I’m pretty sure that when I volunteered, I never thought of any of the students as little stray dogs. 🙁

    They were just, well, kids. Kids is kids. Long long ago I taught art to kids of mostly upper class families. and the kids at this school where I recently tutored, who came from mostly families that never could have afforded the expensive classes I used to teach? same thing. Same attitudes, same questions, same friendships, same hopes, same ideas. Kids are kids. 🙂 which is cool.

    Other people’s kids, that is. You won’t see me having any of my own any time soon. 😉

  42. Lucinda, it is obvious you are a person of genuine convictions and motives in your good deads, because of that I do not think you fall into the category of wealthy do-gooders Browne is lamenting.

    Damn Browne, you hit that one spot on. That is basically the story of our nonprofit org

    Me and my wife both really got into community activism and service while living in Oakland and Berkeley. We came back to LA after finding out she was pregnant and thought “why cant we do the same shit in our own barrios that we were doing in Richmond and East Oakland”. I was into art (as well as my wife, she went to the art center while I went to the LA river) and was socially deviant, and fell into that narrow crack of 85% of urban kids who arent good enough to get into art programs and not bad enough to stay in jail for those long stints where you get to participate in art classes. The most art formal art training i ever got was a summer class at the ELA arts center when I was 11 and my box of stolen color pencils from my highschool. Because of this I rarely experimented with color and had never used a paint brush until i lived with my (then) girlfriend in Berkeley when i was in my early 20s. I drew a lot, tattooed, and pieced with one color fills before then. mt drawings got 3 friends into cal arts highschool. There is a mural we did across from self help graphics (tonatiuh) and while I was sitting down taking a break from painting I noticed a familiar moniker on the meter box below my mural, it was one of my tags from when i was a teenager.

    When i began playing with color it was like a whole new world opening up. Unfortunately I never have really not had to work full time since i discovered color and painting, so i never have been able to dedicate my full resources to painting. Me and my homeboy (our elacamp art coordinator) always joke/lament on our need to start hustling canvasses because that’s where the money is at, we just dont have the time. Shit, i barely have time to do murals nowadays.

    Anyways, our org’s achilles heel is grants. We thought that the merit and quality of our work would be sufficient to find funders, but this is LA and that rarely happens. In this city it seems like those who do good deeds often find people trying to manipulate/exploit them a lot easier than those who will help them. After a few years i said fuck this, abandoned the grant “I know this person” jerkoff fest, and focused on getting contracts and putting a certain percentage into the nonprofit account to fund our charitable endevours. We have stayed this way ever since, Ive asked a few folks to do grant writing but nothing ever really coalesced. Our enticement is a percentage of the grant because we cant afford to pay people up front. With our shoestring budget, no office or non-volunteer staff we have still managed to paint over 5 dozen murals with thousands of kids and hundreds of gang members pulled directly from the streets.

    As years went by i got more cynical about LA’s nonprofit and art scene. When I first was pushing the org I’d meet with a lot of older white ladies who ran their own charitable endevours. They always discouraged me from doing our thing “because it’s so hard to stay afloat”, would ask me to quote some BS mural in their atwater office wall and basically waste my time. I always was jealous of these rich white ladies being able to devote their full time to their orgs, and how they could pull so much money from charities that I had trouble getting funding from.

    I actually worked for several nonprofits run by rich white ladies who paid themselves well and worked in communities they understood very little. I would be initially enamored by their good intentions and willingness to work int he hood, but would always see the same pattern of BS occur. These ladies always held their personal pay above all other org functions (and it was always above 70k), paid their latino worker FAR less than college grads who didnt know jack beyond theory, and would eventually push down other orgs working for the same causes but run by genuine locals. And when locals did form groups that get funding, it is always the most self righteous hyperbolic BS folks who talk the most but have the least to really say. In the latino community, charitable foundations and public entities prefer to invest in folks who portray themselves as crazy urban graffiti writers or angry radical mexica warriors who dress either like a zapatista or frida kahlo, but little between. Me and my wife joke that if we were east oakland camp we’d be a multimillion dollar foundation with a youth arts center by now.

    I really dont like artists and their lofty ideals of their selves. Even when I wrote graffiti I was disgusted by most egotistic writers and their pissing matches. Unlike Browne i can “soft shoe” for the man, it comes from choosing between an ass whooping/ arrest or “yes massa, Im scared” more times than I’d like to count. But for some reason i feel like such a fucken sellout when I tapdance the poor barrio boy paintin charade at nonprofit events.

  43. Browne has brought up some important issues and basically I can back up everyone of her points with anecdotes. Here a couple…

    I helped run an all volunteer center in Northeast LA, our only funding came from cash donations and sales of stuff people would donate to us i.e. books and clothes. It mostly worked cause our only budget was the rent. A lady in the neighborhood who happened to be a professional grant writer really liked our project and volunteered to help with a Liberty Hill grant proposal. She was impressed we kept such good records and accounts along with the stuff we were doing out of the space, internet computers for the community, homework space for the kids, free classes, couches for anyone to hang out on, workshops, readings, art etc. She thought we’d be a shoe-in. Imagine her surprise when we got a letter back stating our project sounded good but we were “unknown.” Tia Chucha’s was kinda doing the same thing (no disrespect to them) but because everyone knows Luis Rodriguez, they get funded. That was the last time we bothered with that.

    Another time this young traveler chic (she had the hippy-anarcho look) comes into the space with her well dressed mother and says she wants to check out our place cause she wants to do something similar. She just moved back into town and some guy she knows was gonna give her $20,000 to start her project but she had no experience, no collective, no space, she just wanted to do something “cool.” She was asking all these questions and after explaining the point of our project (the idea you can create public space in a store front, the idea of bringing together people where interaction is not based on consumerism, creating examples of viable projects made with limited resources) her mom kept asking if we were architecture, public planning students or artists and I told her mom, “none of us have college degrees” which seemed disturbing to her. By the way, the girl was super haughty and seemed she wouldn’t know what a “community” was if it smacked her in the face (and I kinda felt like doing that). So I suggested to her, if she can’t figure out what to do with all that money she should give some to us. She and her mom left quickly after that and we never heard from her again nor did she start any similar projects I know of in Los Angeles.

    We still get kids in the neighborhood coming up to us telling us to start another space. Some even volunteer to help and other kids (now grown up) say it meant a lot to them to have that space. It wasn’t specifically for kids but it was right near a junior high and they were the ones to take advantage of the center. Also, the respect we had for the kids was mutual. None acted up or did anything crazy except for four boys who had too much energy but backed me up once when I had to tell the trust-fund musicians next door to stop with the loud music cause we were having an event. In four years we were only tagged once and that kid was told by other neighborhood kids to stop and it never happened again. The cholos also kept clear of the place and never bothered anyone. These things are possible but you have to have respect. One girl (a volunteer) in the neighborhood told me after a coffeehouse opened up a few doors down from her apartment “You should of seen the way they (the mt washington people drinking their coffee outside) looked at me, in my neighborhood. Like I’m the one that doesn’t belong!” Among the kids in the neighborhood that establishment was not respected and I heard all kinds of crazy things they were planning to do to it but maybe they just said those things to feel better about being alienated.

    Anyways, so many stories…

  44. Darn it Chimatli, you caught me drinkin and now im gonna rant:

    East LA CAMP started from a corrupt nonprofit. When I first got back to LA I got a cool job doing murals in Hollywood (including the roll down doors on the boulevard, hint), actually it took a while , before that gig I was a night security guard in Pico Rivera.

    Anyways, about a year and a half into it I came upon some defiitive evidence that some corruption was going on. I had heard some of the other interns more involved with grant management note how the boss was screwing us over in projects, having us do all the work for half the grant budget and they’d pcoket the leftovers. The boss hired all of her family, including a few people who literally hung out or shopped at the mall for their pay. The bookeeper and secreatary both had major gambling addictions and aided in the graft. Beyond that, a clear line had been established between how we operated in the barrio and how we operated in tonier areas. I was pissed abou tit and wanted some resource equality, so like a naive fool i confronted teh boss about everything. She told me it was none of my business and yelled a lot (that’s what she did), so I let it go. A few months later they tried to fire me for some BS, so I quit.

    By that time I knew the ship was sinking, they had been screwing with me and my other coworker(who addressed her seperately), so I took a lot of her books on nonprofit creation. My pregnant wife put together the whole chingada, all I did was volunteer my time. We basically used the resources of this corrupt agency to make our own 501c3, i even told several granteurs about her funny business which basically ended their mural program.

    The funny thing is my boss tried to fire me for being unnacountable (she couldnt reach me on the phone) for another program i was coordinating,and that program actually hired me after i quit the job. Because I knew so much and their termination reason was bogus (and I couldve collected aton of unemployment) I left with no termination and a glowing letter of recomendation. My homeboy took the termination and sued the shite out of them and won, and he put a piece back into ELACAMP. My new job was super cool, i worked a few hours a week for awesome pay and was able to paint murals in my spare time.

    That job was my crutch until the program was cut because of DWP corruption in 2005.

    I know some folks who started and run the Latino Urban Forum, which I am a member of and support. I know they have a couple dozen grand in funds they got from some foundation or whatnot, and have not done shit with it. i asked what the org goals are and got a vague respones about public advocacy, but it still burns me that they can find so much funding for nothing. Actually, iI know because the founder is well known the money came in. Mind you I support the org, but dont understand why ELACAMP actually puts in work and cant get the same love. i find that a lot. I know El Monte has paid some artist 50k to paint some BS mural, i couldve implemented a citywide art program with that money.

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