local insights

The Real Faces of Los Angeles: East LA

Luka Gidwani’s graduation picture at Belvedere park. Submitted by Gidwani.

 

TW: Sexual assault, molestation, domestic abuse, depression, PTSD.

 

One way you know you are growing up is when you learn new things about the world you thought you already knew. This was the case for me when I first started UCLA. I was born and raised in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood in East LA. I already knew what LA looked like to me, but when I first arrived in Westwood on Move-In Day, my idea of home became different. 

East LA is the east side of Los Angeles that consists of predominantly Latinx, undocumented, and low-income communities. Though East LA has heavily influenced LA culture, it is often neglected due to the idea of “Hollywood LA,” the idea that Los Angeles is a city where only rich, boujee, white, elite people with easy jobs such as social media influencers, successful YouTubers, models, and actors live. This idea has been ingrained in every non-LA native as they pursue an unrealistic, industrial, BIPOC exclusionary lifestyle that harms and erases racial and ethnic communities such as East LA. 

Many don’t know this, but Los Angeles once belonged to Mexico before the United States owned it. Even then, Los Angeles was home for many Mexican and Chicanx people and continues to be. Chicanx culture and lifestyle play an enormous role in modern LA culture. Yet, many don’t recognize it and even oppress Latinx communities in Los Angeles because they don’t fit the “Hollywood LA”culture white elites have created. 

To reclaim power and space, East LA natives speak about the real Los Angeles they grew up in: East LA.

 

Ariel Miranda sitting on top of a hill in El Sereno, East LA. Taken by Jerylee Perez

“I think that’s one of [the biggest] misconceptions, [LA people are] all just superstars, we’re all from Beverly Hills, we all have cleaning ladies… when actually our families are the cleaning ladies.” 

Ariel Miranda (he/him) is a Chicano, LA native who was born and raised in the East LA neighborhood El Sereno. His family arrived in El Sereno when his mother migrated from Zacatecas, Mexico to East LA, where she met with her childhood friend and settled in the neighborhood. He now attends California State University, Los Angeles, and is pursuing a B.A. in English.

“When I think of whitewashed LA, I think of victims of gentrification. I think of places like Highland Park, Echo Park, Silverlake… My dad lives in Cypress, near Highland Park, and I remember going there when I was younger and it was nothing like how it is today, you know? I drive by there today, and there are little coffee shops that also teach yoga. There are fusion restaurants. I mean, c’mon, that’s white people stuff.” Whitewashing LA is essentially modern colonialism, as luxurious, expensive establishments are imposed in the communities of BIPOC that erase the cultures, lifestyles, and people of those original neighborhoods. Because BIPOC don’t have access to these luxuries, they are erased from Los Angeles communities they once called home

Ariel shares that “a lot of celebrities see living in our neighborhoods and communities as tough, but that Hollywood will do something to improve their image, like ‘look at me, I’m in a tough neighborhood.’” For [celebrities], we’re just a backdrop for a three minute music video, but for [us] it’s [our] actual life.” Ariel highlights that people who live the glamorous LA lifestyle use Latinx neighborhoods for these purposes. They use LA as something they can gain from, but never stop to think about how they can uplift and represent our communities and voices in the media accurately. 

 

Mia Berber leaning on the street signs she grew up in East Los. Submitted by Berber.

“They only see West LA, they only see Beverly Hills, they only see Rodeo Drive, they don’t go within our communities and actually see the true representation of what LA really is.” 

Mia Berber (she/her) is a born and raised East Los Chicana who is also an LA native. Her family settled when her grandmother migrated to East LA from Puebela, Mexico, and met her husband, a Chicano from Boyle Heights. The two then had Berber’s mother, who is also an East LA Chicana. Her mother met her father in East LA, and the rest is history. 

Berber is currently a performing artist studying dance at UCLA, so she has experience in the dance industry. Since she is also an LA native and East Los Angeles native, she knows how fake and harmful industrial LA propaganda can be towards BIPOC. “The biggest misconception… is that LA is fake, that LA is full of boujee people who are rich… That’s so annoying to me because that’s not LA. I think there’s LA industry culture, and then there’s LA culture. I think LA culture is Black and Brown culture and community, and understanding that as a community of color we have each other’s backs, and the fact that us POCs created LA culture.” 

East LA communities are often neglected from the idea of Los Angeles because it doesn’t fit the elite narrative people have created. Not only does this not recognize Latinx, Chicanx, and other BIPOC influences on LA, but it also creates negative, stereotypical ideas where our neighborhoods become known as “the ghetto,” the “bad side of town,” and seen as “dangerous.” However, many East LA folk see beauty and strength within their neighborhoods. Berber shares a description of her home and smiles, “The moment I get off the 770 bus, it smells like flowers, fresh flowers from the people selling them around the corner. It’s just bright. I feel like when I come home… color just stands out more. The sun seems like it’s shining more. There are just flowers everywhere. That’s what I love. It’s busy because we’re hustlers… East LA is full of nothing but hustlers who work for their shit. It just smells fresh to me. When I come home, I feel refreshed.” 

 

Luka standing in front of their home in East Los. Submitted by Gidwani.

“First thing [East LA] is very lively! During certain times of the year, like New Years or January all the way to Fourth of July, it’s just fireworks… You’ll always hear parties or music playing… My favorite [thing] is that there’s lots of stray cats and dogs!” 

Luka/Isa Gidwani (they/he) is a UCLA transfer student who graduated from East Los Angeles College (ELAC). Luka has lived in Belvedere Gardens for about 8-9 years but originally lived in Hollywood until their family moved for housing security and safety. Luka also spent most of their childhood in Highland Park/Montecito Heights.

Like many, Luka appreciates and admires East LA for its beauty, culture, and how it has shaped who they are. Specifically, Luka appreciates the programs and institutions East LA provided for them. ELAC is a community college in the Monterey Park area, a middle-class neighborhood next to East LA. Still, many East LA residents attended the school and took advantage of the resources and opportunities there. For Luka, ELAC introduced them to classes relating to their identity the most: Chicanx and gender and sexuality courses. Luka is now majoring in philosophy, which Luka says is “super dominated by cis-hetero, men, which is just like, literally the opposite of everything I am!” Still, Luka is motivated to pursue this major. “Because of all the experiences I had at ELAC, it made me want to kinda change that and bring different perspectives to philosophy. It’s very white centered, when I don’t think it should be.”

Additionally, ELAC introduced many community programs that have inspired Luka. Luka experienced sexual assault and different forms of molestation growing up, and when they attended ELAC, their depression and PTSD hit hard for them during this time. “I joined the honors club… and through [it] we would partner up with other clubs at ELAC. Through them I found out about the East LA Women’s Center… They have this annual candlelight vigil… its an honor of people who have survived and have been victims of domestic violence and other forms of sexual violence too. I participated in that as a volunteer and it was really cool because I ended up leading the chance and leading the walk… it was really cool just experiencing that and the community getting together in support of people who have experienced domestic violence. It made me feel very empowered, and that experience really pushed me to… [transfer] to UCLA from ELAC… that’s how [East LA] has positively impacted me.” 

East LA is a crucial part of Los Angeles that many people tend to forget since the people, culture, and lifestyle don’t fit into the capitalist, white, rich ideas many have created. However, we exist. The hardworking people exist. A beautiful culture exists. 

“I take pride in who I am, and love myself. I think that’s a good form of resistance against the whitewashing of LA and misconceptions about LA.”

The Hidden Gems of Mexico City: Entry 1

My name is Emilia Acevedo and I was born and raised in Mexico City until age 15 when I moved to California to attend a boarding school. I remember at school when I told a friend that I was from Mexico, he asked if we have Domino’s Pizza or Amazon. Of course, my immediate response, in a slightly offended tone, was “Yes. Yes, we do. We also have McDonald’s and Starbucks,” to which he responded, “Wow, that’s amazing!” while looking like a five-year-old at Disneyland for the first time. It is easy to forget that a lot of assumptions are made about Mexico – its food, its people, and what others think it is despite not visiting it (or not doing so properly). There is a very particular feeling to it when you’re around the people or are in the places you never even imagined existed there. I have found that most often, it is very convenient to have someone who lives in Mexico and knows its particularities and non-touristy features to show you around in what my dad calls, “The Real Mexico.” 

Since I left, I have never been able to look at Mexico the same. By being away, I realized all of the special aspects of my country and its people, qualities that you cannot find anywhere else. Because of this, I choose to write about the special, unknown places of Mexico City to share some of the hidden gems of this beautiful country – and what better way to start than with food! Now, I know I said that a lot of assumptions are made about Mexican food, but the dish I will tell you about today is very much “worth the hype.” No, it’s not tacos, but quesadillas – the easy, number one, go-to meal that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and everything in between. There isn’t much to quesadillas. Most of the time, they are just a folded tortilla with melted cheese inside. But, oh my, can they be different depending on who makes them and how they make them. 

Behind one of the most visited churches in Mexico, La Parroquia de San Juan Bautista, and in one of the colonial municipalities of Mexico City, is a literal hole-in-the-wall called “Mercado de Comida Coyoacán” that has up to a dozen small stands where most sell quesadillas. 

The outside of the Mercado de Antojitos de Coyoacán from Google Maps

My favorite stand, owned and run by la Señora Irma and her family, used to have at least 20 people around it at all times before the pandemic, with everyone attempting to take a seat on the benches around the stand or simply eating while standing up. However, due to the pandemic, they were forced to close with no income from April to June. Today, only six customers are allowed per stand at all times, but la Señora Irma and her family said they are just happy to be back and working.

Photo by Francisco Moned on TripAdvisor

To order your quesadillas, you write on a piece of paper what ingredients you want inside of the tortilla. Within five minutes of placing your order, you’re served your quesadillas freshly made with the most beautiful cheese pull you will ever see when you take a bite. 

Photo by Laura Bernhein on Matador Network

They have two different types of very spicy salsas, a bowl of cheese, and a bowl of sour cream on the counter to put on top of or inside of your quesadilla with a fridge full of popular sodas like Coca Cola, along with noncarbonated drinks like guava or mango concentrate. The list of ingredients you can add to your quesadilla, and their translations/descriptions, are as follows (you can add cheese to any of the ingredients for the quesadillas or pick your own two ingredients to mix);

QUESADILLAS:

  • Flor de calabaza (zucchini flowers)
  • Pollo (chicken)
  • Sesos (cow brain)
  • Chicharrón (pig skin)
  • Requesón (a cheese similar to ricotta)
  • Huitlacoche (a parasitic fungus that develops on young ears of corn)
  • Rajas con queso (poblano pepper with cheese)
  • Frijoles con queso (beans with cheese)
  • Panza (cow stomach meat)
  • Carne (beef)
  • Queso (cheese)
  • Hongos (mushrooms)
  • Papas (potatoes)

The food sold here is given the name comida corrida. Its closest translation being “running food” since it is served quickly for the people that work in the area and have a short lunch break. Comida corrida is terribly underrated, often thought of as dirty or low quality, but Señora Irma‘s quesadillas are most definitely not dirty nor is her food low quality. I don’t think it is an overstatement to say that on most days I would much rather eat there than at a high-end restaurant. Unfortunately for me, if I did, I would most likely end up gaining a pound or two since their dishes are made out of very heavy corn dough. The cheese that is used for quesadillas is called Queso Oaxaca, and it is a moist, mozzarella-like cheese, only saltier. It also contains a lot of oil so it is certainly not the best for people who like to count their calories, but if it’s your cheat day, it’s definitely a must. However, you can choose whether you want your quesadilla fried or simply cooked on a comal (a flat griddle) as they have a menu called Las Dietéticas (the dietetics). Overall, Mexican food, and especially comida corrida, is not very diet-friendly, but if you’re traveling all the way over here, then why not have it? I promise you, it’s worth it.

Nahla: Representing the Communities Who Have No Voice In Cinema


Nahla photographed by Kristian Punturere

We live in a world where society is predominantly led by men. Men are the majority in many areas of work such as construction, education, law, and engineering. This repetitive pattern has caused women to feel powerless and isolated as their work is often overlooked. As a result, women find themselves internalizing the idea that what they have to offer and who they are will ultimately be shut down. These issues are also present in the film world. There are not many women found behind a camera, and those that are often mention feeling a suppressing wave of criticism. Women in film face the underlying fear that what they want to put on the screen may be judged or seen badly. According to research conducted by Dr. Martha M. Lauzen at San Diego State University, “women comprise 20% of all directors, writers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 100 grossing films in 2019, up to 16% in 2018.” This is how Nahla enters the scene and shines her light and talent from behind the lens. Nahla is a 24-year-old Mexican-American filmmaker originally from San Diego, who at the age of 14 moved to Tijuana. By living in a border town, her identity transformed as she began to identify as a transborder person. She began to cross the border back and forth from Tijuana to San Diego for almost five years in order to get her education. At San Diego City College, she studied documentary film production while also working a full-time job.

From a very young age, Nahla found beauty in the arts. She expressed her creativity through many mediums such as drawing, painting, dancing, acting, stagecraft, and was even part of a mariachi band. As the clock kept ticking and the days went by, she asked herself an important question: What am I going to do with my life? Nahla found it hard to choose only one passion from her many interests. In the end, she figured out that the solution was film. 

Nahla art directing on set of DC the Don taken by Matthew Reyes

With this in mind, during a zoom interview she mentioned “in the society that is the United States, it is common to see that they want to categorize people in boxes when in reality, everyone has their unique path and I am lucky to have found mine.”

Nahla is on her own unique path where she has set her personal goals as to what she wants to accomplish within film. Her main objective as a filmmaker is “to capture the underrepresented voices in cinema.” This vision of hers came little by little. It made its appearance on her first day of class when her professor gave her a camera and told everyone to “tell stories that you know instead of telling the stories from a different point of view that you can’t personally understand.” At first, she didn’t do this; Nahla tried to make her art depict images that were not true to her. It wasn’t until her documentary production class when she began to tell stories that were more personal to herself. To her surprise, being true to herself came with problems. She started noticing that she was not only one of the few women in the room, but that her short films focused on the female perspective and she was showing them to a male-dominated room. Nahla did not let this stop her. She continued to make the films that she wanted to create instead of making films to satisfy male filmmakers. 

Nahla art directing on set of DC the Don taken by Matthew Reyes

Nahla has had the opportunity to work with many talented artists in the Los Angeles area. Among them are Viva la Bonita , Vel the Wonder, and A+ Films to name a few. While working in LA, she noticed that the pattern continued and not a lot of women were behind cameras. The first time she worked with director Alex Cobian, she noticed that besides her there was only one other female on set. When Natalia, the only other woman on the project, was not there, Nahla was the only female on set. The gender imbalance is a topic that, for her, is very present in the set atmosphere. Nahla and her team Guapruns ( @guapruns, GUAPRUNS ) are “striving to represent not only the Chicanx community but females in the industry as a whole.”

As a result, La Ciné Femme was born. During a Zoom interview, Nahla stated that to her, La Ciné Femme is “a community for women and feminists that is pushing towards having as many women as men on set to fill the gender gap.” The name of her project is translated from French as ‘the female filmmaker’. On the bottom of La Ciné Femme´s logo reads “Since 1896”. That year is there to honor the year the female filmmaker Alice Guy-Blachè was born. Alice Guy-Blachè is the first recorded filmmaker to use a close-up shot but unfortunately, history has not acknowledged her innovation. Guy-Blachè lived part of her life in Chile and at the young age of 21 she got involved in cinema. By the year 1910, she had founded her own company, Solax Studios, in the United States.

Nahla’s homage to Alice Guy-Blachè demonstrates her project’s goal to give women in film the proper recognition and a space where they can feel they belong.

La Ciné Femme Logo created by Nahla

Nahla expressed that film is “the most powerful tool to tell a story.” It is the best way to vividly experience by seeing and hearing a narrative and to digest the stories of others. In the near future, she plans to make a film she wrote alongside her team that reflects on border life and what it means to be a transborder person. Besides that, she also has plans to create her own clothing brand for La Ciné Femme. Through this, she will give female filmmakers clothing they can feel comfortable wearing while working on set. Lastly, her plan is to travel to different parts of the world to connect with other filmmakers, to keep making art with others, and to continue her journey of sharing people’s stories that are still waiting to be heard.

If you would like to stay up to date on Nahla’s projects and the work of La Cine Ciné Femme, follow them on social media.

Website: https://www.xn--lacin-femme-fbb.com/

Instagram:

Nahla (@nahlahh_) 

La Ciné-Femme (@la.cine.femme)

“No Estamos Esperanzados”: Expectations of California Day Laborers for the New President and COVID-19 Measures

Street corner with Day Laborers ready to work. Taken by Lesley Ramirez

 

For many of us, life has been brought to a halt thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, but this is not the case for day laborers. Day laborers in California are, for the most part, undocumented immigrant men who work temporary jobs. Every day without fail, these groups of men wake up a little before sunrise to begin their day of work. However, due to their citizenship status, many of them have not had the luxury of receiving stimulus checks or any form of federal aid during the pandemic.

Following social distancing regulations, I went out to interview a few day laborers. I asked them the following questions: how has COVID affected day laborers? What do they expect the new president to do differently from the current lame duck? What can our communities do to help them? 

The first day laborer I spoke to was Brandon D., a man in his early thirties, wearing a face mask to comply with COVID-19 regulations. I asked him his thoughts on President-elect Joseph Biden and how he thinks Biden will help immigrant workers. Brandon shared that “at the very least the new president does not seem as racist as the current one. This gives me some hope that he will treat the Latino immigrant communities a bit better.” As for COVID, he said, “Of course he can do a lot more to help us. A big thing [Biden can] do is to get a vaccine out and make it accessible to everyone.” 

Other day laborers like José Rocha and Angel Vázquez agree with Brandon D. and share that they do not wish to see anymore future lockdowns implemented by the new administration. 

Rocha added that another lockdown would “bring on another episode of chaos in the stores. We are out working all day. We don’t get off until late in the day and by the time we would get to the stores everything would be out of stock.” He also said, “If I don’t work, that hurts my family back home as well.”

Along with not receiving government aid, I asked the men if any of them received any form of supplemental help from their bosses or employers. Rocha shared, “It’s me and another guy working, my boss. When he doesn’t get any jobs, I don’t get any jobs, so there was no way for him to help me out. I’m just glad we are both working again.” 

I asked Vázquez what he expects the government to do to help him and others in similar situations. Vázquez explained his disillusionment with the government and stated that “the first government to fail me was the one in Mexico. They discriminate on age, they don’t allow people over 55 years old to work because they don’t want us to receive pensions after retiring, but they’re allowed to run for office at 55 and run a corrupt government.” Following that response, Vázquez was picked up for work that day and asked if I could come back the next morning. 

The following morning, Vázquez continued to share the lack of expectations he has for any president or government. He said, “No estamos esperanzado a que nos den nada, solo que nos dejen seguir trabajando. (We’re not hopeful in receiving anything, we just want them to keep letting us work.)” 

Vazquez added that he and other immigrant workers are always willing to work and that “there’s always going to be jobs we can do because there are things no one else will do, it just all depends on whether they [the government] let us work. The advantage of our job is that we’re always outdoors and we are not around other people.”

Aside from asking them what the government and those in positions of power can do to help, I asked the men what their communities can do to help them and other day laborers.  Rocha asked for people to be more mindful in the case of another lockdown. Vazquez said, “If it’s not necessary for people to go out, they should stay inside because there are people that have to work.” Finally, Brandon D. asked, “Que la gente en la comunidad siga usando mascarillas. Eso nos ayuda mucho porque nos protege un poco más a los que tenemos que trabajar. (People should keep wearing masks. That helps us out a lot because it protects those of us who actually have to work.)”

Mexican Strike-Out

Illustration by Alvaro Hernandez

[CW: mentions of suicidal ideation and the adverse impact of displacement on mental health]

The Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series for the first time since 1988. The city erupted in fireworks and huge crowds to celebrate. In honor of this anticipated moment, it is worth remembering the families that once resided in the small barrio, Chavez Ravine. 

Chavez Ravine was a small town located a few miles away from Downtown Los Angeles. Generations of working class Mexican-American families occupied its main three neighborhoods: La Loma, Palo Verde, and Bishop. The residents of Chavez Ravine built their own homes, schools, and churches, and lived in peace, unbothered until the summer of 1950.

The American Housing Act of 1949 provided funds to construct 10,000 new public housing units in Chavez Ravine. Residents received letters from the city telling them to sell their homes to build Elysian Heights developments. They were promised access to these housing projects after their completion. Some residents refused to leave, while others relinquished their homes for a small amount of monetary compensation fearing they would get even less money if they opted out and trusting that the city would fulfill its original promise. Using eminent domain and forced evictions orders, the city successfully cleared the land, and Chavez Ravine became a ghost town

The housing development was then canceled, and the Dodgers’ owner, Walter O’Malley, made a deal with the city to build Dodger Stadium. Bulldozers and sheriff deputies invaded the community and kicked out the remaining families on May 9, 1959—a day known as Black Friday to the residents of Chavez Ravine.

In the documentary, Chávez Ravine: A Los Angeles Story, former resident Beto Elias reveals that he witnessed his school, Palos Verde Elementary, be torn apart by bulldozers. “In a thousand years, they are going to start digging and find a school down there,” he stated.

Dodger Stadium officially opened three years later on April 10, 1962. The Dodgers instantly developed a large fanbase, and the small town that once existed was long forgotten in all the fame. 

Thousands of people visit the Dodger Stadium annually since it first opened, but others, like the residents of Chavez Ravine, swore to never step foot in the stadium. Another former resident, Carol Jaques, states, “It’s like dancing on a grave,” since most of the town’s remains are buried underneath the stadium. 

After they lost their homes, the residents were forced to settle in the surrounding neighborhoods where they faced a new set of challenges. For example, Silver Lake— a white majority community at the time— was anti-Mexican, signs read “Mexicans get out.” They made it extremely difficult for Mexican families to live in the area by enforcing redlining and other discriminatory practices to maintain residential segregation. 

Carol Jaques and her family were among the first Mexicans to live in Silver Lake. Carol reveals that the transition to an all-white community was a culture shock, and racism took a toll on her self-esteem as she grieved the loss of her old home. 

Selena Ortega, a scholar who studies Chicano Studies, researched Mexican displacement and conducted an interview: Chávez Ravine and Boyle Heights: 20th and 21st Century Displacement of Mexican Communities. In the interview, former Chavez Ravine resident,  Carol states: “First you get that immediate shock of where you are that is so different. Then, it’s the loss of your friends, the loss of what you do every day… I really think I just wanted to die, I became very self-destructive.” 

Chavez Ravine provided a safe place where Mexican families like Carol’s felt like they belonged, and when it was taken away, they lost a part of their identity. 

Today, many people have no clue that this town existed. Amid the Dodger’s Championship, we must pay tribute to the communities of Chavez Ravine that made it possible for us to enjoy baseball games. The team brought the city together, but it came at a very high price that can’t repair the damage done to the former residents of Chavez Ravine. All that remains are their untold stories that lay buried along with their town. 

Keep this story alive and preserve this history, by watching Jordan Mechner’s documentary: Chávez Ravine: A Los Angeles Story to gain a better understanding of how Mexican families have been historically displaced and continue to be today.

Caught in a Loop: An Appropriation of Hoops

Illustration by Jessica Martinez

Gold, silver, large, small, tassels, and decorations: hoop earrings come in a variety of unique representations and colorful motifs. 

Rooted in Latinx culture, hoops represent the “sazón” of minority groups that wear these accessories to signify and represent their solidarity to their cultural identity. Once seen as low-class and distasteful, hoop earrings have now surfaced as a popular trend among celebrities and fashion shows. The fashion elite has cultivated hoops as edgy, stylish, and trendy while minorities were patronized for their distasteful fashion choices. 

From Hailey Bieber to Taylor Swift, these celebrities have partaken in the hoop trend and have been labeled as “stylish” as a result. Considering those who are revered for participating in the new trend (mostly white women), one must ask the question: why is it acceptable for them to wear hoops, while minority groups are scrutinized for their hoops? 

In an article by Refinery 29, the history of the hoop earring is unveiled to date back to 1500 BC Egypt, continuing to a “golden age” of piracy where pirates adorned themselves with hoops. However, more recently, hoop earrings have been associated with Latinx ”chola” subculture. The “chola” subculture was born from the working-class, Mexican neighborhoods in Southern California and incorporated hoops as an identity; it was also an essential part of other working-class communities, such as those of Latinx and Black communities. Across time, hoop earrings have engraved their significance throughout underrepresented groups, cementing their presence in history by demonstrating that they have been around long before they were a “trend.”  

In her article in the New York Times, Sandra Garcia tells a similar story. Garcia recounts how she felt empowered with hoop earrings, “Gold hoops — thick, wide, bamboo-style, small or thin — were an extension of our sass, our style and us.” In a unique twist, Garcia would often lose a hoop and carried a collection of sole hoop earrings she would wear mismatched. She believed that during the 90s the mismatched hoop earrings “were in.” Although, as she grew older she ceased to wear hoops. Her decision stemmed from the fear that hoops painted Garcia as, “too loud, too visible, too ghetto, too black.” The dichotomy between Garcia feeling empowered versus self-conscious about hoops demonstrates how society casts a negative light on cultural identities. 

The obvious questions that present themselves are then: Why is it not acceptable for minority women to practice and project their identities through hoop earrings? Why is it that when white women wear hoops they are made to be cool, hip, or trendy?

Ruby Pivet, a Latinx writer, echoed these questions in her article for Vice. Pivet mentions Vogue magazine declaring up-dos and hoops as the “‘ultimate summer pairing,’” while mostly crediting white models. Pivet says, “White girls did not start the ‘trend’ of over-sized hoop earrings and yet they’re the ones being praised for donning the ‘edgy’ style.” In contrast, women of color face apprehension and racial stereotypes for portraying their identities in the form of hoops. 

In 2015, the Givenchy spring collection consisted of models adorned in facial piercings, hoops, and baby hairs. In a review by Vogue magazine, the fashion show was referred to as a “Chola Victorian” inspiration. Yet, none of the models identified as Latinx, and most of them were white women. The show lacked representation from the so-called inspiration they based their show around. In reference to the baby hairs used by the fashion show, Philip Picardi mentions that, “the message this sends, even though it is hopefully inadvertent, is that baby hairs can look ‘chic’ on white girls, but are still ‘hood’ on Latina and Black girls.” The same ideology can be applied to hoop earrings in the sense that hoops on women of color are seen as “ghetto,” while on white women they are “in style.” 

The Latinx fashion culture, strongly misunderstood by privileged dominant groups,  has been dissected to root out the original sources of the fashion items.  Francis Solá-Santiago expressed in her Glamour article that she previously saw hoop earrings as a rite of passage and as relics handed down by generations. However, it became apparent that in order to appear “polished” or taken seriously she would have to dress down her accessories. This misconception was defied by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Puerto Rican Democrat from the Bronx,  as she was sworn into congress. Ocasio-Cortez wore bright red lipstick, a white pantsuit, and her hoops. Through this act she reverted back the stigma behind hoops by owning her heritage and conveying the message that hoop earrings are powerful. In a Twitter statement Ocasio-Cortez said, “Next time you tell Bronx girls to take off their hoop earrings, they can just say they are dressing like a congresswoman.” As mentioned by Solà-Santiago, Ocasio-Cortez defying the status quo, demonstrates that Latinx women “shouldn’t sacrifice their identity for the sake of professional success.” Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez represents that Latinx women can have positions of power without sacrificing their culture regardless of diverging from what is conventionally seen as professional. 

Hoop earrings may appear insignificant, but they represent more than a simple trend. The culture behind them comes from a history of oppression and exclusion for women of color who wear them. Hoops stand for resistance against appropriation that converts cultural expression into fashion. Regardless, the mainstream fashion culture will move on to the next item to appropriate, but it is up to the women that wear hoops to reclaim the culture that shapes their identities. 

Lil Foo Coffee: Culture, Coffee, South Central Pride

Lil Foo Coffee logo created by Jonathan Funes

Frankie Martinez, a trans non-binary Latinx male, born and raised in South Central LA, owns Lil Foo Coffee, a coffee pop-up stationed in Echo Park. Much like Spider-Man’s ability to swing from building-to-building to help his community, Frankie works in the same way: swinging from coffee shop to coffee shop refining his passion for the drink and his passion for his community.

Four years into the coffee scene, Frankie began his coffee endeavors at Starbucks, but resenting the corporate environment that Starbucks created, he moved on to a mom-and-pop shop, Tierra Mia, a downtown location where he created a bulk of his artistic connections. 

Working at the Tierra Mia in Downtown Los Angeles, Frankie says he loved the environment and the people that he met. “The area helped me gain followers,” he says, “and connect with artsy folk that followed me to Echo Park.” Always striving to work more with coffee and the community, Frankie ended up working at Little Amsterdam, a Black-owned coffee shop in Mid-City where within a month of working there, he became the manager.

Frankie has a willingness and passion for the community and coffee, making him the perfect candidate to be Little Amsterdam’s prodigy. The shop owners pushed him and guided him into starting his own coffee business. Not only is Little Amsterdam the catalyst to Lil Foo Coffee’s inceptions, but the reason why Frankie is stationed in Echo Park, a gentrifier’s utopia and the gentrified dystopia.

“[Little Amsterdam] is located in Mid-City because they knew they would get their bread more in Mid-City than in the hood, you feel me?” They guided him because of his willingness and passion for not only coffee but his devotion to his community. 

Knowing that he needed to create a following before he could open up his actual shop, Frankie settled on making his “bread” in Echo Park, the junction where Latinx culture and gentrification lie. “The majority of coffee loving people are white people,” he says, “unfortunately, the mentality is that, and they’ll pay anything.”

Lil Foo Coffee Stand in Echo Park taken by Frankie, the owner himself.

While discussing his pricing, Frankie mentions that this coffee is priced between 4-5 dollars, and consumers can add a shot of CBD for 1 dollar, “which is rare” he says. “This older generation of Latinos/as/x love coffee and it’s not just white folk. I know that being in Echo Park, my prices are generally very low.”

Funneling the money he makes into the community is Frankie’s main goal, saying, “Make my money and my bread from coffee-loving white folk, and bring that money back to the hood.” Frankie’s current aspiration is to create a coffee shop where people, presumably like him, can just come chill and feel safe.  

With a big and bold Leo personality, Frankie wanted the coffee pop-up to have the same energy as him. Having a clear path of how he wanted to represent the shop, Frankie teamed up with Latino artist Jonathan Funes to create an official emblem. Lil Foo Coffee’s emblem blends Frankie’s love for both graffiti and, iconic New York rap artist, MF DOOM, saying, “the bubble letters are [MF DOOM’s] brand, it’s his logo. Me loving MF Doom just makes the [shop’s image] more me.” 

Conscious of the space he is inhibiting, no matter the success, South Central runs deep in one Frankie Martinez, “I’m from the hood, I’m from South-Central, and I’m going to bring that wherever I go.”

Catch Lil Foo Coffee in Echo Park Thursdays from 9 AM – 5 PM  and Fridays-Sundays 12 PM – 8PM.  Be sure to check their Instagram for any schedule changes.

 

An Iced Latte and an Iced Mocha from Lil Foo Coffee taken by Frankie

Capturing the Brown Experience Through Photography

A Profile on Latina Photographer, Andrea Flores

Demonstrated through the lack of equality in commissioning, publication, and exhibition, the photography industry has dissuaded women from picking up the camera for decades while men are offered most of the opportunities to succeed. But new generations have been pushing for platforms to be given to all perspectives instead of the few, privileged voices that hold the limelight. 

Andrea Flores’s photography has grown from a favorite pastime into an instrument that challenges the boundaries set up by the white, male-dominated photography industry. The first-year business student has been involved in past organizations such as Word Agency, LACMA, LA84, The Children’s Clinic, and more. But the one she looks back on the most fondly is Las Fotos Project, a non-profit organization centered around giving young girls of color the opportunity to express themselves through photography and mentorship. “With LFP, I’ve had my own solo exhibition titled ‘Growing Up’ which is based on the relationships I have with people and what it is like to be me,” Flores said over the phone.

“I survived the night without dying, (we were talking about hot cheetos).” Image credit: Andrea Flores

Flores uses film photography to capture the moments of flickering youth, focusing on her friends, the places she grew up, her community, and the spatial mobility of Los Angeles. She utilizes the sense of freedom and rebellion that comes alongside adolescence and uses this to challenge the obstacles of an industry filled with people who work to keep underrepresented perspectives unseen. 

Flores was initially introduced to photography by her mother. As a child, she was always fascinated by the photography her mother did for fun, which ultimately led to her own fascination in the world behind the lens. 

“Feels like mid90s.” Image credit: Andrea Flores

“I’m what they call a darkroom photographer,” she explains. Originally involved in digital photography, Flores decided to partake in LFP’s darkroom semester two years ago and fell in love with it ever since. “Film photography is also an interesting medium because you never see your results until after the process.” 

The process of film photography and development plays an essential role in Flores’s creative process. She claims, “[I] go with the flow. I get my camera one day, I get an idea and I just do it.” Flores isn’t interested in capturing the still, sterile moments of her life. Instead, she focuses on movement, skating, the subcultures hidden within Los Angeles, and the everchanging fluidity of youth. 

“We should make an LFP vlog.” Image credit: Andrea Flores

She also focuses on showing the beauty of brown skin. She actively challenges the exclusion of models of color by encouraging them to embrace and absorb not just their own identities but the identities of those around them in the spaces we all inhabit. 

Flores sees photography as more than a way to showcase her perspective to the world; it is also her safe space, a place to express her creativity with no judgment. “Photography is a journal, it is something I carry with myself,” Flores stated. Despite the weight of its expectations and restrictions, she doesn’t carry it as a burden. Instead, it is something she bears proudly, confronting the limitations imposed upon her by going directly against them.

In the future, Flores hopes to gain widespread recognition for her work, not just as a photographer, but as the person of multiple identities behind the camera. She wants people to understand the world through different perspectives, and she wants them to appreciate and embrace these different trains of thought. However, above all else she wants young girls of color to be able to dream beyond what previous generations could. 

“Jasper Bones V-Day show.” Image credit: Andrea Flores

And how does she hope to accomplish this? “The long term goals I have are to be an in-house photographer for a band or work with a magazine,” Flores declares, passion thick in her voice. “I would really like to work with my dear friends Romina Estrada, Natalia Angeles, and Jackie Rosas. Our styles are different but still go hand in hand.” 

Not only does Flores strive to be inclusive in what she photographs, but in the methods she incorporates to the process behind it as well. Flores understands that expanding beyond the constraints of a white, male-dominated industry is a learning process that she is willing to navigate in order to pave the way for others.