“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” - Margaret Mead
Wilmington, CA is...the hood.
But don't take that from me. I think it's just like any other town, like Malibu, like Glendale, complete with its own set of realities and norms.
No, take it from my partner who has lived in the little city her entire life, after her family lived a bit in Long Beach. She went to elementary at Hawaiian Avenue, Banning High School, and Harbor College. She went to programs for karate and gymnastics at Banning park. She goes to one of the many churches around the area.
She's had brushes with violence, of which has been a matter of concern and perhaps pride for a few of its citizens. She knows the difference between a firecracker and gun shots. She was subject to lockdowns and frantic situations. While walking around as a pre-teen, she had been asked by a group of tough girls, "Where you from?" to which she could only respond in a confused, "My house?"
She has managed to separate from what she thinks is the ordinary crowd of Wilmington. She went on from Harbor to a Cal State, and is now a full-time teacher and grad student. She recalls how she as a girl was marked for pregnancy by age 15. Everyone around her not in her family seemed to be getting "caught up" in what they have observed to be the local norms.
The ideal for her growing up was simple: to get a sense of economic stability, so that she may attain other types of stability. "Stability" meant/means getting out of Wilmington. She hated the violence and lurking threats thereof. Buying her first car, a 2nd hate late 80s Toyota Corolla, at age 19 was a way for her to "get out" and literally and figuratively move into stability.
If it weren't for her dream of becoming a missionary for her church, she would not think about changing any of the harsh social realities in Wilmington, just escaping it. Though she wants to do good in the hood, Wilmington is a launching pad where she waits till she earns enough to gain entry into "better" things. Nearby Torrance is her ideal landing place, the place where better things are --- the Thai food, the coffee shops, Trader Joe's, Islands, Marshall's, the movie theaters, the bowling alley. The place she wants to "live" as opposed to simply "get by."
Wilmington is a place to "get by." "Getting by" means doing what you need to do to survive. When you're "getting by", you're not where you permanently want to "be." Outside of the parks and alleyways, people don't really walk or seek anything out for recreation in the civic centers on Avalon St and Anaheim. Its a town of discount shops, clinics, hair salons, pawn shops, check shops, big chain fast food --- and these are not all inherently bad things, they are simply affordable alternatives for residents and not the business types nor demographics hyped up as the American ideal.
Wilmington is a place to "hold on" and "wait" for something better rather than the place you want to cling on to, live in, and/or end up. It's a town defined by residents I see the most in terms of its negative labels and limitations, rather than its opportunities.
Me? I don't see Wilmington that negatively. I find that most people are just decent folk, especially at Banning Park. I love the library and its job postings (hate it's lack of hours though). I love the Banning High School Track and its policy, allowing the public to actually use it. I love Banning Park (just needs running markers for how many laps makes a mile etc.). I love the taste of Gus' chicken sandwich and fries. I love Pronto Pizza and its affordability. I love that current UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrerro is Wilmington-born and bred. Phineas Banning's mansion makes me wonder about everything that was here before the civil war was fought.
But I can speak about all this optimistically and easily because I've been safe and fairly insulated from the violence or threats that my girlfriend has been exposed to.
The 'hood and life in it has always been something of a curiosity to me, the subject of most of the music I've listened to and objects people have wanted to improve. I've come into Wilmington with a pretty optimistic view of everything, undeterred by stories of drug dealers, police raids, shootings, and deaths.
The academic discipline I've been trained in, Anthropology, sort of predisposes us to an optimistic viewpoint of anything considered to be "disadvantaged." Were in the business of understanding lives and worlds of peoples and places that are widely considered to be "exotic." "Exotic" doesn't mean just other countries or little islands, but nowadays kinda means any category or group of which most people don't know too much about --- the "rich", the "poor", the "powerful", online communities, Filipino-Americans, gay old Russian men in West Hollywood, practically anyone or anything can be made or labeled "exotic."
A majority of us Anthropologists tend to go to people and places people want to ignore and/or forget and tend to want to do something about it, while then educating the public at large about our experiences, usually safely situated from thereon with middle-class American comforts. A professor of mine once said that Anthropologists are a lot like missionaries, only in my humble opinion, we don't like imposing our beliefs, nor are we interested in converting people into anything.
Were like missionaries in the sense that we like to learn everything about a people and/or place. We like to engulf ourselves in a people/place. This predisposes us to seeing the best in people and places no matter what.
For me as an institutionally-educated adult, everything in Wilmington seems to be an opportunity. I realize I sound like kind of a "hipster", wanting to "change" some of the aesthetic conditions of the neighborhood, but maybe my way of thinking and bringing in similar-minded folk is a way to pump social value (if not economic value) into a town whose own folk seems to look down upon each other.
And there seem to be a group of young Wilmingtonians that want to help make things "better." And by "making things better", I mean connecting a community and making things more "permanent," making it so that people see opportunities rather than limitations. I'm pumped to have come across the Wilmington Wire and its Facebook page, and learned about work and organizations that are trying to do good.
An ongoing update of this city to be continued.