I am an LA native. I'm from San Pedro, CA, Los Angeles's port town, and have spent time living with my grandmother in Watts, CA as well. As far as I know, Los Angeles is home-- all of Los Angeles--not just the recently gentrified areas of it. My everyday sightings in my neighborhood include the projects, hard-working yet rough people sitting on their front porch, and the occasional drug-fueled "tweakers" from the local halfway houses, screaming and twitching down the street. Most of the people I grew up around were people of color, predominantly Latino or Black, and poor. That was my reality. It is for many LA natives here.
So, as a spring admit freshman here at USC, my experience so far has been interesting to say the very least. Although USC is located in South Central LA, it is a socioeconomic microcosm in comparison to the rest of the city. Unlike the locals of South Central, USC is predominantly Caucasian (30.7%) with International students (23.9%) and Asian students (16.8%) as the runner-ups. In addition, many of the students that attend the school are at least middle class and range to the upper middle class, and even high class-- which is something you don't really see in Los Angeles unless you venture into gentrified, or tourist areas. Of course, USC is very generous with their financial aid, and it is to be recognized that most of the students here have some type of financial aid. However, that is significantly different from students that are in or are near the poverty line-- and that needs to be recognized.
I mention all of this because there are key variables into the displacement I feel in my own city, and they all leak into other aspects of my life here one way or another. For example, on the first day of my LINC class (a week long Marshall trip for freshmen on international commerce), all the students introduced themselves, answering questions posted on the projector screen. One of them was "Why LINC?" Every student talked about their love for travel, the amount of it they do, etc. That's great for them, and it is a completely valid reason. On my turn, I answered, like everyone else, "I wanted to do LINC because I've actually never been out of the country. I just got my passport for this trip." I was the only one in the room who had never been out of their country, and now whenever I interact with my classmates, that's usually the first thing they mention, to which my answer is always "My family never had the money to travel". That's only one of many encounters of disconnect at USC, and they range from economic differences, to cultural differences, and even somewhat racist encounters. I've spoken with others concerning my personal experiences, and many of them have also had similar experiences (they are also people of color and come from a low-income background). I am not the only one in this struggle.
Diversity is important, I am a huge advocate of that. The problem is not that I'm suddenly around people that do not look or come from the same upbringings as me; the problem is the underlying attitude about low-income minorities, and the manifestation of that through interactions with them, and the areas associated with them. Rather than really getting to know Los Angeles and all its inhabitants, many are quick to only go to Westwood, Santa Monica, or Hollywood, and almost look down upon the "ghetto," areas. As a result, so much of LA is being gentrified to cater to this audience and enable this attitude, raising prices of goods and property in hopes of attracting the wealthy. My city is looking different nowadays--and it feels different too. When I talk casually to fellow peers here on campus, sometimes I use lingo common to neighborhoods of L.A., and am returned with confused, uncomfortable reactions. I have people from Pennsylvania trying to tell me about the local spots-- all of which are in gentrified areas-- as if I was not born and raised here. My Los Angeles is a completely different world from that of the students here at USC. Progression is necessary, but wiping away the grit from this city is not. I encourage everyone to really think about this--for any city, not just Los Angeles. Think about the people around you-- really take a look at them. Rather than judging superficially, search for substance. There's so much here in Los Angeles and its people, and trust me, it's not all in gentrified, trendy areas where coffee is sold for $6 a cup.
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