creating counter culture through a re-building of our cities

ever since i was a teen, growing up in east los angeles, attending a high school outside of my immediate geographical location, i have been questioning why communities look different. i quickly noticed that my “borrowed” school had trees and grass while the schools all my friends attended did not and instead those schools had lots of concrete and fences. i noticed that my home-community was mostly mexican american, the only non-mexicans were the liquor store owners who drove in from another community into ours, parked their car in front of their tiendita (little store) and sold us things like, candy, soda, chips, cigarettes, cheap wine, and beer. i would imagine that maybe i went to school with the owners daughters at my privately run all girl school paid for by my tia who wanted my sister and i to “get a good education”.

the education i gained during those formative years was beyond that which the pretty high school i went to gave me, thankfully i found a handful of friends who helped me through the segregated lunch hours. it was at that time that i realized that for reasons i did not yet understand there were major obvious differences between communities of color. why were we being pinned up against each other i was not sure, but it felt like it helped grow misunderstanding between us rather than a common ground solidarity where we can begin to question the injustices in our communities, one more privileged than other economically, still the same mouse trap, and us teen-aged girls being fed the notion that we all had the same opportunities if we only learned to swallow the tasty american dream offered at the lunch counter, continue to not ask questions about why the division between our communities (both geographically and physically when we were in the same school, sharing resources and teachers) existed/still exist.

well, for the most part i think we did a good job of both- we politely (as good girls do) co-habitated the space with out much trouble, questioning, or critical thinking about the false seemingly satisfied group dynamics, the underlying ideologies that divide and conquered us, or how we can begin to breakdown imposed barriers between us so that we can share with the rest of our communities that another way is possible and we do not have to just pretend we were all in agreement with the injustices, instead we can critically and creatively embrace a new kind of solidarity where the oppressions over our heads (oppression of privilege, racism, classism, homophobia) would not only be addressed in our education but we would create a new generation of thinkers/movers and shakers that would do things differently in the “real world” as they so often told us we would upon graduation.

moving from my east los angeles/alhambra teen experience to san francisco and the bay area continued to feed my passion for questioning environment and its affects on human beings ability to reach our full potentials. in san francisco i learned the importance and the positive way in which a city can encourage its inhabitants to live healthier lives. for one thing, there was a lot of walking, carpooling, and bus riding. the city is small enough to walk from one end to the other in hours. the hills are a work out to walk, but it feels so good! san francisco is by no means a perfect city- its much too expensive for common folk to live in, activism is created in and feels like it operates in some sort of “bubble” that is hip and trendy, it comes with its own dress code its so cool…not too far off from los angeles’ too often exclusive clicks where either you are liked or you are not, no in betweens really.

los angeles, just like all other cities i have visited in the states (Fresno, Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Tucson,  Phoenix, Atlanta, military town of Fort Benning Georgia, New Orleans, Austin, Houston, Albuquerque, and Las Cruces), is extremely segregated both by systematic structures that hxtorically keep communities separated to avoid any type of organization or solidarity and also by individual choice caused (maybe) by fear of the other, laziness to do something different, and apathy of our current world state. then there are other as real reasons why the segregation happens- comfort of culture, food, language; conscious folks navigating how to integrate into a community with out seeming presumptuous about entering with out “permission”; and the age old reason- economics: you live where you can afford to live.

i’m calling for a responsible and not superficial integration/a breaking down of traditional barriers between cultures, socio-economic realities, etc. re-organizing ourselves not in the interest of “development” where greedy “developers” are the only folks who go home winning. city/neighborhood planning, specifically urban city planning is something that definitely sparks my interest. it touches my core belief in ubuntu, solidarity, the collective breaking down until we understand the interpenetration of oppressions, and social change that is all inclusive and calls for dignity for all.

imagine having a say in how our communities look and feel, imagine thoughtfully/lovingly/y con conciencia coalescing cultures by breaking down barriers that normally divide us (these alternative ways of integration can be found in a few areas in los angeles, i.e. lincoln heights and highland park*)…all this addressed by the way we build/re-build cities.

as i revisit my very own personal and intimate hxtory of showing interest in how cities are built/not built, how environments affect our abilities to reach our potentials and on our self esteems, the divisions among communities of color, i feel rooted in liberation psychology/theatre of the oppressed as my guiding principles. i am excited to expand the conversations i am having about how all these interests of mine/realities of life (including collective trauma, institutionalized oppressions, etc.) and integrate them all to create new dialogue and possibly explore some answers to questions and challenges that seem impossible to address in isolation from one another.

*i am sure there are tons of arguments against this statement, and i would probably agree with many of them, but for the purposes of this blog entry, and the topic overall, i feel that i witness a different type of integration happening in these two areas especially when i compare it to south los angeles and the irresponsible so-called “development happening around the USC area where thousands of families have been misplaced and continue to be pushed out due to careless USC Master Planning, city planning, and CA state selling off hxtorically public land to “make up” for its own budget crisis.


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