Tag: Los Angeles

What Will You Do When the Gentrifiers Come for You?

OK, I have to admit I was thrilled when our landlord informed us that he was selling our building. This was a guy who would tell us how much he appreciated us as tenants and then — mere days or even hours later — threaten to evict us over some imaginary breach of our lease or Seinfeldian personal slight. Basically, he was nuts, and over the years, we grew to hate dealing with him.

However, my relief over being rid of the bipolar landlord was short-lived.

You see, I live in Los Angeles, which is very tenant-friendly. For example, rent control exists, and owners can’t just boot people out if they feel like it.

However, there are ways to send renters packing — even those who pay their rent on time and are model tenants.

One way is to buy a building and then move an immediate family member in. Now, this isn’t some vile loophole. It makes sense that if you buy a building, you or your kid can live in it.

But legal and ethical isn’t always the same thing, as you may have heard.

In our case, the new owners took possession of our building and promptly deflected any questions about their intentions — good or otherwise.

We were concerned about this for a very real reason. Our neighborhood, as I’ve written, has morphed from skuzzy to somewhat nice to flat-out hipster, all in a brief blink of time. We moved in seven years ago, when the area was still affordable, and young guys in Civil War-era beards weren’t clamoring for more coffee bars.

hhipsterbeards

 

I still love living here, and the rapid gentrification hasn’t been so egregious that the neighborhood has lost all its character.

Of course, old-timers might disagree with me. For example, our neighbors have been here for 15 years. And as a lesbian couple, they were at ground zero in prodding the area from seedy enclave to happenin’ LA hotspot.

Yes, let’s just get this out of the way. There is never a better development for a downtrodden neighborhood than the news that gay couples are moving in.

Our friends are a big reason why this neighborhood is so popular. They worked to turn this area into a beautiful urban garden.

And the new owners have responded by kicking them out.

Our landlords have announced that their daughter, in her twenties, will be moving into our friends’ apartment.

It’s hard to view this development as anything less than the following scenario:

Spoiled Millennial: Daddy, I want to live in that neighborhood that was divvy, but now it’s all hip and trendy.
Rich Daddy: You’re in luck, sugar plum. I just expanded my vast real estate empire by buying a building there.
Spoiled Millennial: So I can have my own place, rent-free?
Rich Daddy: Of course. All we have to do is kick out the couple who has lived there for 15 years and helped make the place great in the first place. Consider them gone.
Spoiled Millennial: Goody goody. Thanks, Daddy.

Is that a bit much? No, it’s not. Because regardless of how the actual conversation went down and the tone of voice used and the amount of angst that occurred, the result is the same.

The rich kid wanted our friends’ place, and she got it. And our friends are packing up.

I’ve written before about gentrification, and how it tends to hit black and Latino neighborhoods harder. Indeed, there is a large Hispanic population in our neighborhood, but it has been dropping steadily for a few years now.

In our case, some very rich white people have decided that our area is now desirable, and they will ultimately take whatever they want.

Damn, maybe we were better off with the crazy landlord.

 

 


Don’t Feed the Animals

As many of you know, I am the father of the most awesomeness, coolest, greatest multiethnic little boy ever (and no, I’m not biased in the least).

And as many of you parents out there also know, being a toddler’s dad means that you spend a lot of time at the zoo. I’m talking yearly membership and don’t make any other plans for Saturday mornings — that kind of thing.

Now, many people have issues with zoos, based on animal rights and other noble ideas that I really don’t want to debate right now. But suffice to say, I’ve encountered a few protesters on occasion when I’ve taken my son to the zoo. They have all been polite and reasonable, by the way.

So I was unsurprised when I approached the zoo gates this past weekend (chasing after my turbocharged kid, of course) and saw a man with a bullhorn.

bullhorn_full

 

I figured he was a PETA supporter or was angry about Billy the elephant or something like that. But no, he was yelling about racial discrimination and the evil bigotry that went on at the zoo.

This naturally got my attention.

He was a gangly white guy, clearly on his own, with no protest signs or marching compatriots or petitions to sign. He was just screaming about Mexicans (and by this, I assumed he meant Latinos in general) and their supposedly shoddy treatment at that most nefarious of places: the zoo gift shop.

Yes, he insisted that the zoo gift shop discriminated against Mexicans. To be honest, I’m not sure how they supposedly discriminated, because his ranting was a bit hard to follow. Apparently, the zoo gift shop was refusing to hire Mexicans, or refusing to sell items to them or exploiting their labor or some combination that I didn’t quite understand.

In any case, I was mildly impressed that this white guy would take time out of his day to stand up for his Hispanic brethren.

This era of good feelings lasted about twenty seconds.

Because then the guy shouted, “And do you know who the gift shop helps? All those filthy horrible Muslims!”

Yikes…

I’m still trying to figure out this man’s rather precise prejudice. After all, he apparently liked Hispanics. But in accordance with the new pyramid of bigotry prevalent in America, he despised Muslims — completely abhorred them, in fact, because he went on yelling some pretty grotesque things about Islam and Mohammed and sharia law and on and on and on.

Let’s be clear: this is the kind of support we Latinos most definitely don’t need.

My son did the wise thing and ignored the bigot at the front gate, and we went in to see the gorillas because they’re his favorite.

When we came out, the nutjob protester was gone. But I couldn’t help but think of him on the drive home.

More specifically, I couldn’t help but think of my favorite Lou Reed lyric: “Well I know one thing that really is true / This here’s a zoo / And the keeper ain’t you!”

Tell ‘em, Lou.

 


Fading Into Insignificance

This weekend, Chris Rock will host the Oscars, during which he will — maybe, possibly, in all likelihood — address the fact that the last 40 acting nominees have all been white. He may also mention that the track record of behind-the-scenes nominees (e.g., writers, cinematographers, and so on) is even more dismal.

Now, many people have hyperanalyzed the reasons why the Oscars are so white, and why the film industry lags behind other art forms in projecting America as it actually exists, and whether or not this is all a misunderstanding or deeply ingrained racism.

I’m not going to recap all the backlashes and counter-backlashes that this mess has conjured up. But I do want to point out one very telling, almost universally ignored aspect of this controversy.

BRENTWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 24: Nate Sanders displays the collection of Oscar statuettes that his auction company will sell online to the highest bidder on February 24, 2012 in Brentwood, California. (Photo by Toby Canham/Getty Images)

 

You see, the Academy has announced that it is changing the rules, and eliminating people who are no longer active in the film industry from its roster of voters.

This has predictably riled up those long-time Academy members who are in the twilight of their lives, many of whom are crying, “Ageism!” They may have a point.

But what I find interesting is that, in the reasons and justifications for their opposition to this rule change, more than one Academy member has said that it is unfair to ethnic minorities. As many commentators have noted, “if there’s a black Academy member out there who agrees, please do get in touch.” And yet, many people still embrace the idea that altering the status quo to increase diversity is actually a bigoted response.

What does this tell us?

Well, for starters, it shows once again that people who are accused of being racists will often turn around and shout that their opponents are the real racists. It’s a nifty bit of swift-boating.

It also reveals that acknowledging an institution’s biases — and by extension the touchy topic of white privilege — causes people to freak the fuck out and get more than a little defensive.

But more than anything, it serves as direct evidence that white people in positions of privilege, such as rich Hollywood types, feel that they can pontificate on any issue and shout down any viewpoint different from their own.

Think about it. Here you have a wealthy white person deciding what is and isn’t fair to ethnic minorities. He or she isn’t concerned with whether or not ethnic minorities perceive it that way. Privileged individuals are used to having their voices heard, so why should this subject be any different?

In this way, they prove, unintentionally of course, that there really is a racial problem in Hollywood. After all, this is a case of rich white people saying, “There, there, all you struggling blacks and Latinos. We’ve decided that your proposed solution is actually harmful to you, and in our great magnanimity we’re going to fight against it — for all of you, of course.”

It doesn’t get any more arrogant.

 

 


Genuine Imitation

When Senator Ted Cruz won the Iowa caucuses, many media outlets noted that he became the first Hispanic to win a caucus, anywhere. But that milestone quickly became subsumed in a discussion of whether Cruz was really and truly Hispanic. Perhaps he was one of those LINOs (Latino in name only), or as I heard growing up, a coconut (brown on the outside and white on the inside).

 

[ File # csp6110028, License # 1325460 ] Licensed through http://www.canstockphoto.com in accordance with the End User License Agreement (http://www.canstockphoto.com/legal.php) (c) Can Stock Photo Inc. / margo555

Personally, I accept both Cruz and Marco Rubio as Latino. But clearly, neither is illustrative of the Hispanic experience.

For example, picture Rubio playing up his family’s immigration experience to a crowd of Latinos in Texas. “Yes, my family came from Cuba, which means we were granted special status and didn’t have to worry about ICE raids like all of you. Now who wants me to kiss one of their niños?”

Or imagine Cruz talking about his privileged past to a crowd in East LA. That’s about as likely as him playing up the fact that he was born in Canada (which is apparently still a shocker to many Republicans), or denying the scientific consensus that he has a creepy face.

But it’s much more than their backgrounds, of course. As president, neither would tackle issues crucial to the Latino community. Rubio has flip-flopped so many times on immigration that it’s impossible to know what he believes. Perhaps more refreshingly, Cruz is upfront about his right-wing insanity, so we know he really couldn’t care less about affordable health care or better schools or other touchy-feely concepts that Latinos inexplicably want addressed.

As such, I would never vote for either of these guys, and stats show that most Latinos agree with me and, furthermore, aren’t too wild about the GOP in general.

But like it or not, they are both Hispanic. In any case, I’m not one to pass judgment on their Latino bona fides.

I’m fairly light-skinned for a Latino. I’ve never been to my family’s homeland (El Salvador). And my Spanish is lousy (ok, maybe a little better than Cruz’s). So does all that make me a fake Hispanic?

I hope not, because in that case, I would have to change the name of this website.

 


Family Far and Wide

So I was at the ophthalmologist’s office, getting my yearly exam to make sure glaucoma hasn’t kicked in, or that my retina hasn’t detached (again).

In any case, the nurse looked at my chart and said, “Hey, we have the same last name.”

Now, the only people I’ve ever met with my last name are cousins or aunts or some other semi-immediate family member. So this was a little surprising.

The nurse made me go through my family history, and we discovered that we have the same great-grandfather (!). Yes, I too am impressed that I was able to remember the name of my great-grandfather. Try it sometime — it isn’t easy.

According to my subsequent Google research, the nurse and I are second cousins. She was California-born, which makes sense in that the largest population of Salvadorians (outsider of El Salvador, of course) is right here in Los Angeles. And she assumed, naturally, that I was also a SoCal native.

“No,” I said. “I’m from Wisconsin.”

Consider her mind blown.

Yes, the nurse was impressed that our family name had made it all the way to the American Midwest. But then she added that some of her cousins (my third cousins?) moved to Melbourne a decade ago.

“I talked to them on FaceTime a few weeks ago,” the nurse said. “They have these El Salvadorian kids who have thick Australian accents.”

Well… crikey.

nw-gal-aus-20140125214254582223-620x414

 

Later, I told my mom about running into my second cousin, the nurse. Mi madre really wasn’t that surprised.

“Your great-grandparents had eighteen children,” my mom said.

“I’m guessing they were very Catholic,” I said.

“Yes, so you were bound to run into a cousin someday.”

OK, that’s true. But I still thought it was kind of cool.

 


Straight Outta That One Place

I’m old enough to remember when hip-hop first broke through. I’m talking about artists like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Slick Rick, and Run DMC. And what about Kid Frost, arguably the first Latino rapper?

Of course, I definitely remember the first time I heard NWA. Those guys were fucking terrifying.

 

o-STRAIGHT-OUTTA-COMPTON-facebook

At the time, I had never been to Los Angeles. Now I live here — something I could not have predicted all those years ago. And yes, I have spent a little time in South Central.

Compton today is not the gangsta mecca that is was back in the day. The city still struggles with poverty and unemployment. But crime — especially homicide — has plummeted in recent years.

And for the place that symbolized African American disillusionment, there is some irony in the fact that Latinos now make up about two-thirds of the city.

Does this mean everything got better when Hispanics moved in? Well, that would be an interesting, even bigoted claim to make.

There are, of course, myriad reasons for Compton’s improvement over the decades, but it is undeniable that Hispanics have changed the city in many ways.

Naturally, culture clashes have occurred. It is human nature, unfortunately, for tribalism to kick in when “outsiders” show up. And that’s true whether it’s blacks moving in white neighborhoods, whites moving into Latino neighborhoods, Hispanics moving into black neighborhoods, and so on in every combination of cultural and ethnic diaspora possible.

But again, does the fact that this particular city is a lot more livable than it was thirty years ago mean that the album Straight Outta Compton is a period piece? Hardly — nor is the movie a look back at a distant past that is inconceivable to us.

Events in Ferguson and around the nation are enough to prove that.

The man himself, Ice Cube, says the only change in race relations is that cell phones now exist so that violent confrontations can be filmed.

Somehow, that doesn’t make us feel all warm and fuzzy.

 


All Waffles Come With a Side of Hatred

I think we can all agree that stopping the growing Nazi scourge that is taking over pancake houses across America should be our nation’s top priority.

Wait… you don’t know what I’m taking about?

Then clearly you haven’t seen this video, in which a brave patriot stands up to a Latina who committed the grievous sin of speaking Spanish in public.

The woman, Norma Vazquez, was at an IHOP here in Los Angeles with her son, Carlos Steven. They were apparently letting all those trilled R’s and double L’s fly around the place during their private conversation. And hey, let’s face it, even whispering Spanish is a clear affront to God’s favorite language — English.

So a woman approached the Vazquezes, and in the spirit of neighborliness, promptly snapped, “We speak English in America.” She also offered the helpful suggestion that the mother and son should “go back to Spain,” even though Ms. Vasquez is from El Salvador.

Now, you might ask what all this has to do with Nazis. Well, that’s where things go from ignorant and hateful to completely weird.

The confrontational lady equated speaking English with freedom, telling the Vazquez family, “Do you want the Russians over here telling you what to do? Do you want the Nazis telling you what to do?”

Indeed, I’m sure all red-blooded Americans agree that saying anything in Spanish is the gateway to fascism. Perhaps the wrong combination of Spanish phrases — like el sombrero or la fiesta or sin verguenza — acts as some sort of incantation, causing Hitler and his minions to rise from the grave and feast upon the brains of English-speaking, freedom-loving Americans everywhere.

And yes, that does sound like a kick-ass sequel to Dead Snow.

dead snow

 

In any case, it turns out that Norma Vazquez does speak English, but her preferred language is Spanish. It also turns out that her son, Carlos Steven, knows how to use a camera phone. He videotaped the English-only lady and her bizarre tirade, and he posted it to Facebook, where it has since garnered 15 million views and almost 500,000 shares.

So what do we make of this situation? Well, it’s clear that the fear of foreign languages and hatred of bilingualism — which are concepts fairly unique to America — aren’t fading away soon. It’s also clear that individuals who really, really hate Spanish will continue to insist that it is their right, even their duty, to accost people and let ‘em have it if so much as an hola slips out.

Remember, just a few months ago, another upstanding patriot screamed, “USA, English only,” at terrified schoolchildren.

As for the English-only woman prowling around IHOPs, ready to pounce on Spanish speakers at the first sign of trouble, well, I’m tempted to call her a xenophobe.

But she would probably just say that’s a made-up word and to speak English, damn it.

 


Like a Burst Piñata

Say you open a small business. You run it for a few years, do pretty well, and always pay your debts (especially the rent) on time.

Then you arrive at work one morning to find a bulldozer parked in the pile of rubble that used to be your store.

pinata wreckage

You might get the impression that something was slightly amiss.

Well, recently, a piñata store in Austin was demolished, without the storeowners’ knowledge and with their possessions still inside. The storeowners, who are Latino, say that the greedy landlords bulldozed the store because they could get more money from the tech companies that are moving into the area.

The storeowners had a lease through 2017 and had just paid the rent for the upcoming month. When confronted about their reckless destruction of the store, one of the landlords (yes, a rich white guy) used the term “roaches” to describe the storeowners. Remember that the storeowners are Hispanic. Clearly, the term “roaches” was not an accident.

The incident shows how Latino neighborhoods are literally and figuratively being displaced for upscale residents. There have been numerous flare-ups in Austin over gentrification, with many Latino leaders claiming that rich newcomers are driving out long-time residents. And there have been similar disputes in New York, Los Angeles and other cities, often in Hispanic neighborhoods that are changing rapidly.

And here’s where it gets conspiratorial.

A recent study implied that Latino neighborhoods are more likely to be gentrified than African American neighborhoods.

Harvard researchers analyzed patterns across Chicago and found that gentrifying neighborhoods tended to be predominantly Latino or white working class, with fewer African Americans.

The study implied that Latino neighborhoods are more likely to be gentrified in the traditional sense (i.e., young white newcomers moving into the area). And they are also more likely to receive the theoretical benefits of gentrification (e.g., urban renewal and municipal investment). No word, however, on what happens to Hispanic residents when the bulldozers get revved up.

Keep in mind that the same study also implied that there is a tipping point, where the percentage of African Americans in a neighborhood either makes gentrification likely or unlikely.

Basically, too many black people keep the white people away.

Why are Latino neighborhoods more attractive to white gentrifiers? Well, there is no hard data on that, and it’s unlikely that a future study will include the question, “Why are you ok moving in next to brown people, but not black people?” Although the answers would be illuminating, to say the least.

The researchers said that in addition to their statistical proof, there is anecdotal evidence that Latino neighborhoods are viewed as more desirable to gentrifiers than African American areas.

For example, the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn — often pointed to as the prime example of gentrification — previously had a large Latino population. That’s not the case anymore, as the cliché of the young hipster inevitably features a white guy (usually with some bizarre nineteenth-century facial hair, but that’s another story).

In response to this dark side of gentrification, some Latino community leaders in Los Angeles launched the “gente-fication” movement (“gente” is Spanish for “people,” but you already knew that).

The idea is that upscale Latinos will stay — or in some cases, move into — Latino neighborhoods and revitalize the area themselves rather than rely on newcomers. The trend has slowly caught on in other cities, such as New York, Houston and Phoenix.

Although results are difficult to quantify, the LA neighborhood of Boyle Heights may be in the midst of a Latino renaissance, due in part to the gente-fication movement. And community activists are attempting to duplicate the neighborhood’s success in other Los Angeles areas.

But the movement has drawn fire for what some claim is an exclusionary, or even racist attitude. After all, if you’re saying that you want a specific racial or ethnic group to move in — whether it’s white, black, Latino, or other — things quickly get uncomfortable.

Where all this will lead is a mystery. Perhaps gentrification will wipe us all out. Or maybe we’ll achieve some kind of balance where newcomers enrich neighborhoods while long-time residents maintain the area’s culture.

In any case, hopefully no more piñata stores will get bulldozed.


It’s About Branding

There I was, ready to enjoy some enchiladas suizas and a generous helping of tequila, when I saw them.

But first, let me be clear about the Mexican restaurant in which I was dining. Years ago, I saw Brad Pitt in the place. He wasn’t around on this night, so I don’t want to implicate him. The point is that this is a popular LA site that teeters on the edge of authenticity (good food in a simple setting) and hipster irony (the kid of place where Brad Pitt walks in to show off his bona fides).

So I shouldn’t have been too surprised to see a large table of yuppies (tangent: do yuppies still exist?) hooting and hollering nearby. It was a birthday party apparently, and they had their own wait staff.

Now, the waiters and waitresses for our area were dressed casually, in jeans and polo shirts. The wait staff for the private party, however, was dressed, well, more colorfully.

The waitresses had frilly dresses and Carmen Miranda-style headpieces, and the waiters were decked out in campesino attire, complete with huge sombreros.

Sombrero-mexicain-adulte_4

 

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Nice Try

So for two years in a row, the top individual prize in the entertainment pantheon — the Oscar for best director — has gone to a Latino.

birdman

That’s great. And Mexican auteur Alejandro González Iñárritu took time in his speech to give a shout out to immigrants, which was classy.

But of course, much of González Iñárritu’s triumph was overshadowed by a truly tone-deaf chiste from that master of humor, Sean Penn (as an aside, is there any artist who is more respected but less liked than this guy?).

Now, González Iñárritu has pointed out that Penn’s comment was an inside joke between friends. We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, then, and say that Penn isn’t a straight-up racist.

But perhaps inside jokes aren’t a very good idea when millions of people across the planet are watching. And maybe tossing racial jabs isn’t very bright when you’re representing an organization that is hypersensitive about its horrible record on diversity.

All Penn’s joke did was make every white liberal in the audience uncomfortable, confirm the bias that many ethnic minorities believe lurks within the system, and “underscore the problem the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences has been trying desperately to disprove.” Namely, that the Academy has a racial issue.

The stunning lack of diversity in the entertainment industry is a well-known facet of American culture, and I’ve written about it more than once.

And it is not, as many right-wingers seem to think, just blacks and Latinos clamoring for jobs they haven’t earned. It’s about equal access and opportunity. One could argue this is all that any fight over civil rights is, at its core.

But when it comes to the entertainment industry, specifically, it is about something more. As González Iñárritu has proved, different perspectives lead to new ideas and new stories. It is essential for any art form that, to remain relevant, it continue to grow.

And to be blunt, there are only so many more movies that we can take about an upper-class white family gathering together for a funeral/wedding, or a white guy’s attempt to bond with his elderly and uncommunicative dad, or the adventures of white prep-school kids coming of age.

We want something else.

 


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