The Opportunityscapes - Chronicling Compton - February 26, 2014

Bits and Pieces of Compton

Letting it Go:  Life Review 

We've had plumbing problems, but my fiance was able to locate a plumber who used to live in and around the neighborhood.  He mentioned that the street I live on in particular was not very good.

He mentioned that in addition to all the crimes committed, they would intentionally shoot pellets at the street lights to make it dark.  I'm not sure where and when he registered these memories, but so far so good.

I have seen lots of young folk give long stares, but who knows what they're thinking.  But I know something as simple as a mean-"looking", meaning a stare that appears to be badly intentioned, can be the cause of a violent act.

As I mentioned before, the only real issue I've had so far being on the street I've been on has been:  drumroll....finding parking.

I think less than chaste thoughts when "my" parking space is taken by a neighbor and/or visitor.

However, I've gained a big chunk of inspiration in not caring about such things.

One source of that inspiration?

The sermon given during the last Sunday of Black History Month at the church in West Rancho Dominguez.  And no, I'm not becoming a proselytizer, I promise, but I wish that what he said had more cache on the INDIVIDUALS of the community.  And by INDIVIDUALS, I mean the youth who seemed to be socialized into/want to get into lives where enacting violence and killing is a respected activity.

Many people at this particular celebration were wearing either fashions from various parts of Africa or shirts celebrating black history.  The Nigerian priest who runs two parishes around LA, a first-timer at the parish, made the comment that he had never seen so many African-American Catholics.

What he talked about would sound white Murrica American-y if context was completely stripped away from it.

He talked about freedom and oppressors.

Basically, to enjoy what freedoms we were afforded here.


That not enjoying those freedoms was a-kin to letting oppressors take hold of our lives.

How our impulses can often be wrong when it comes to understanding strangers.

I mostly enjoyed what he had to say if it weren't for his Bill Cosby-like pronunciations.

What he said made me think about the differing associations and definitions of freedom within white American contexts and within black American contexts.  My personal feeling/hypothesis is that white American contexts tend to emphasize "freedom" in association with gun rights and freedom of expression while the black American contexts tend to emphasize freedom in association with forms of slavery and cycles of oppression.

The Opportunity-Scapes of Compton

Thanks to my homey at the Transitional Zone for posting video of this perennial favorite of mine.

At 2:29 you hear this:  "Liquor store--church, liquor store--chicken shack, liquor store--church, liquor store--check cash."

Bambu is rapping about Watts, the place who grew up which is just a few streets North of us.  It's a straight bike ride away.  The description appears to fit most of Compton as well.  It fits so well that when I stopped by a few years ago while on a bike ride still not knowing much about Compton, I looked at Target as if it was some kind of oasis.  There doesn't appear to be a lot, but then again there doesn't seem to be much reported.

Last week, I posted the Dissertations and Theses of Compton and found some inspiration for future fields of study.  I saw lots of dissertations about the educational system, social programs, and business opportunities.

Given that Compton has been talked about by its celebrities and society at large in terms of deficits ("I grew up on the mean streets of Compton"), I wonder what are the business/job opportunities available to the young folk here, what opportunities do they actually take, and are there any social norms/barriers to those opportunities?  What are the "pathways" to jobs?  And who if anyone helps them?  How does this compare to people in a town like say, Santa Monica?

So far, I've found out that a few of my younger adult-aged male Latino neighbors work at the Port of Long Beach as dispatchers.  Some work in Aerospace as parts assemblers.  Another neighbor, older immigrant Latinos seem to work as fruit vendors with a pushcart.  Oh and they've also got a teacher and a no-name data collector.  So far.

Dissertations and Theses of Compton - Chronicling Compton - February 20, 2014

First, the Bits and Pieces of Compton

Daily Life Review

It's been 6 months here in Compton.

No news is the best news.

I've continued running my route;  I can't believe how slow I still am.  I haven't biked so much in the last two weeks, so nothing to report about biking. 

As of late, my fiance and I have been focused on wedding planning.  When we've had free time, we've spent it with friends or with each other from outside the boundaries. 

Were in Gardena taking in the Asian bakeries, the boba, the pho, the Asian dollar store.  At least I have.  For groceries, we still alternate between the 99 Cents store, Food4Less, and Trader Joes.  As far as eating goes, I'm tempted to try a Tam's burgers one time though. 

We've gone to the church that is technically in West Rancho Dominguez Hills in the middle of black history month, which means FREE breakfast.

We've played tennis one time, though we went all the way to Gardena for a court.  Yes in the home of Venus and Serena Williams, we have to go out of the city bounds for a damn tennis court.  We could've gone to Tragniew Park for tennis, but plastered in front of the entrances is a sign saying "PERMIT REQUIRED."  I suddenly understand the comment made in Spanish from Google, "We want the tennis courts open!"

All in all, everything's been swimming along.

The Dissertations and Theses of Compton

As a budding researcher with many interests, many a time I've utilized the ProQuest Search Engine in search of dissertations/theses related to anything about Long Beach, Cambodians, gangs, etc. etc.   

This time I was in search of academic dissertations/theses in "compton, california."

Dissertations and theses?  Dissertations and theses because this is people's culminating work.  Unproven people's culminating work.  Unproven academic people's culminating work trying to make themselves "proven."

From that search I've received two types of dissertations/theses as far as I can tell:  1) Dissertations/theses about Compton or parts of Compton itself  2)  Dissertations/theses that take place in Compton.

I'm far more interested in the first category, however, I think the second category can catalyze interesting discussion as well.

Here's a sampling of the Dissertations/theses that take place in Compton, the second category:

A sampling of the Dissertations/theses about Compton or parts of Compton, the first category:

Stories of Broadway in LA

"No one knows these streets better than we do.  They don't know the alley ways, the empty buildings, the cuts.  They're just visitors." - My friend, Pixel, on Broadway.

My friend Pixel is someone I work with, part-time.  He wears the standard outift of snapbacks and shorts, a T-shirt usually from his friend's company, and Nike dunks. 

He grew up in Pico-Union, and when we get together, he's pretty much my informant about life on the streets as a Latino youth in 1990s South LA.

"Broadway, Downtown LA was our playground.  Ain't nothing anybody can tell me about living here."

Bringing Back Broadway:  Free Shrugs

Way back in 2007, fresh out of college, interested in urban planning and running, I'd attended a Bringing Back Broadway meeting.

I remember Jose Huizar making comments about how he used to go to the theaters along Broadway and watch Kung Fu movies.

I remember people waxing poetic about the old, classic theaters.

I remember the idea of a Historic Preservation Committee there speaking to landmarkize these theaters that were over 50 years old.

I remember the idea of a Streetcar coming back to LA.

I didn't really know what to make out of it, other than think, 'Oh OK.'

Now, almost 7 years later, it looks like momentum is on a big upswing.

Surveying Broadway

For a few days, a crew and I were tasked with doing interview surveys along Broadway on behalf of LADOT.

A LONG few days mostly because we had to meet a certain quota, which could become tricky to meet when there is no one walking after 7PM at night.

I culled surveys from a great range of people (or what I thought was a great range):  long-time residents, new residents, people who work there, people who recreate there, old, young, English-speaking, Spanish-speaking, men, women, black, white, Asian, Latino, affluent, transient.  To me what was missing and what there didn't appear to be many of: Pacific Islanders, Middle Easterners, Indians from India. 

As a method of data gathering, interview surveys are one way of getting information quickly.

However, not all surveys are taken equally.  Some respondents were really putting thought into their answers and put me at ease, some I had to yank answers out of and write quickly.  However, the interview surveys won't say that at all, it's just a series of circles of and ratings --- nothing really about what it means to live, work, or just be in the area, just questions about people's perception of safety.

Some gave me an oral history of "how it used to be."  I enjoyed those interviews the most, albeit in the midst of being mandated to meet an hourly quota, they were an impediment, an obstacle.

It was a bit of a shame to not be able to record what they shared with me.  I felt there was an overwhelming worth to what they were saying, because they were sharing with me what they thought or at least what they thought could be interesting.

So in attempt to re-capture what they told me, from memory, here's a sampling of what people talked to me about:
  • A young white homeless man who agreed to be my first interview after seeing my initial attempts to corral a passersby for an interview.  He knew the routines of the local district peace officers; he couldn't stay around in his corner.  He wouldn't be around for long.  After the interview, the officer came and gently asked him to leave.
  • A elderly Christian black man.  When I told him that "we were interested in his opinions", he seemed to be very interested in saying that adding what we were adding on Broadway was "progress."  He seemed to be indifferent to it, mostly.  However, he was able to recount his youth when there was a streetcar on Broadway and when there was a Streetcar that went all the way to Watts.  While he revealed a wealth of information, what I remember most from our conversation was that he predicted racial strife in the future and disliked the gay lifestyle.  He was waiting on a bus bench when I met him for his fellow evangelist friend who never appeared to come;  he told me that following Jesus was the most important thing I could do in life.
  • An older Latino business owner/employee at the Grand Central Market between 3rd and 4th Street wanted to tell me that it wasn't very handicapped friendly
  • A red-haired 56-year old black man waiting at the bus stop.  He had seen me struggling to cull in participants and told me "you could survey me."  He said that he had been in the neighborhood to pick up a check from his bank, and pay his rent.  He'd been on disability and was proud to pay only $200 of rent in his $1,300 apartment in Crenshaw.  He says that it was about time;  he was 56 years old.
  • A skid row resident Mexican and East Indian whom I thought was a business owner.  Why a business owner?  He criticized the presence of the homeless as something that brought down the value of the neighborhood.  It was all fine and I was nodding my head along till he mentioned that he himself stayed at Union Rescue Mission, which made me wonder, why the self-hate?  He said he had come to the US in the 1970s and everything was "bad" back then.
  • An old school 2nd generation Mexican American who said he knew everyone in the neighborhood.  He had a tatt on his neck, and it seemed like he worked for a restaurant there as "unofficial" security guard. 
  • A philosophizing borracho talked about how life was not limited to our bodies.  He told me that he didn't want his wife knowing that he was out and about.  He told me about how he was a contrast to his tightly wound worrying brother who died a few years ago.  His mission was to enjoy a few drinks.  When I said that I am Filipino, he said that he knew a few of us when he worked in the medical industry;  I wondered what he did now.
  • A white West Angeleno talking about how downtown needed to have afterhours stuff like more bars and restaurants.  He'd noted that he'd come to this part of town because of this particular Italian restaurant that we were in front of;  he reasoned that people would come to any neighborhood they thought had a destination such as this Italian restaurant.  He noted that all he saw was bridal shops and businesses that closed down early.  He would like to see lofts and restaurants.
  • Speaking of Italians, a transplant from Italy who recently moved to Thousand Oaks.  She was there showing her mother around the big city.  She'd said that neither Thousand Oaks nor LA was a real "city."  It wasn't a real city because she couldn't walk, bike, or take transit anywhere.  She was frustrated because of her complete reliance on the car to get around Southern California.
  • Two punk rock queer girls, one from Brooklyn, the other from here.  Both with a sense of sarcasm.  They were going to the Chinatown New Year festival, something I'd wanted to go to.  They'd just been passing.
Broadway:  the Underground Playground

My friend Pixel immigrated here from Mexico when he was 4 years old.  He has an older brother who taught him English, which allowed him to skip ESL classes.  They thought his balding ass was some kind of genius kid.

He's told me about an elementary school of hanging out, walking down certain streets, being jacked, and being labeled a gangster while going to high school in Granada Hills.  How he received lessons about horticulture and chemistry just by virtue of being an avid blazer.

He's asked me, "Do you know what it feels like to be jacked?  Do you know what it feels like to have a grown man searching your body for anything they can take?  Do you know what that does to you?"

Of course I didn't know. 
He'd punched a 22-year old in defense of a friend before he learned what a mall was.  He remembers the old stores along Broadway:  his favorite toy shop, where his mom got clothing, where he and his folk did business.

The streets of downtown LA at night are where he went to "play" as a youth.  Essentially, only the freaks came out at night  As a young Latino male, ready to get down, he liked this.  Reveled in this invisibility that was already forced upon him. 

They knew the vacant buildings, the places where they could smoke, drink, throw parties.

They knew where they could write.  At least the more encoded, more public type of writing.

Pixel remembers those days fondly, this was his youth. Broadway was the canvas, a place that held these memories of him and his friends together.  It's what essentially made him, him.

His reaction to the new developments?

Maybe you can guess.

How would you react to someone stripping away the infrastructures of what made you, you?  How would people react if they stripped away USC or UCLA or some institution?  Of course its not exactly similar, but it's where he got educated about the world.  The only difference is that USC/UCLA/other institutions charge, have rules, and give employers a more stable reference point about an applicant's qualifications.

Once they started "cleaning" out the "bums", it was over.  They began to make it safe for "other people" to come.

He dislikes the Staples Center, the Lakers, and LA Live for what they did to the people living there.  He tells me that what happened at Staples Center is what happened to the people at Chavez Ravine when the Dodgers re-located to LA.

"No one knows these streets better than we do.  They don't know the alley ways, the empty buildings, the cuts.  They're just visitors," says Pixel.

This makes me wonder, where would someone in his shoes at Pico-Union be today?  Where do they go?

Ya Scared? Go to Church - Chronicling Compton - Thursday, Feb 5, 2014

 Yes, I'm supposed to update on Wednesday, yesterday but I was busy so today will have to do.

I didn't really do or find much "reportable" news, other than go to church and watch the Super Bowl.

Welcome to Black History Month.

Said the priest saying mass at St. Albert's on Sunday at 9 AM.

Having been to my share of Catholic churches with diverse demographics, I can't say I've ever quite seen anything like what I've been seeing in Compton.

But first, the Bits and Pieces: 
An Outsider's Description of the Catholic Church in Compton

I haven't been much of a church person in my adult life. 

However, that all changed with my fiance, and I go regularly with her.  My beliefs are still my beliefs however, if you know me well enough.

We went/still go to her church in the South Bay, which is the antithesis to the Catholic church that I grew up in Los Feliz, a decidedly "modern" church. 

At her church in the South Bay, they speak Latin in some masses, highly formal, marble everything, highly ornate fixtures.  The people are dressed up as if everyone is getting ready for a job interview, though I do see a few people "straying" from the herd.

When we can't make it to her church, we opt for Compton's Catholic Church, and have been doing so for a few months either at 7:30 AM in the morning or 9:00 AM.  She has likened the experience of going there as similar to the experience of going to church in New Orleans 7th Ward district --- tons of black folk --- these people are usually NOT the face of Catholicism.

Ever since I was a kid, the face of Catholicism was either, usually white, Filipino, or Latino be it at my church/school or other churches around Glendale/Eagle Rock/Los Feliz.  Sure I saw black folk every once in a while, but there was never really a community of them.

Welp, that has officially changed.  Now I'm in a community of mostly black and Latino folk.

A few observations:

1)  SINGING.  All in caps.  SINGING.  This time with an exclamation point.  SINGING!

I hate to be writing the same damn script and stereotypes that has played out in our movies, TV shows, but the singing even in the dead of morning at 7:30AM is something else, even though it's usually just one little old lady is really really good.

9:00AM even better.  Like I feel I should be paying to see them in concert or something. This past week they brought in a choir, where almost each and every hymn had the congregation clapping.

It appears that whatever choir they bring in is rotating.  One week a parents' choir.  The next week some people that look like the choirs from black churches whenever they are shown in a movie.

One time they brought in a choir that sang "How Great Is Our God" --- a song I didn't really care a lot for, but they made that into a song that I actually stayed the entire mass for till they finished their last crescendo.

2)  The Sign of Peace is a time for A LOT of handshaking. 

The ushers will shake everyone's hand in the 7:30AM mass, and attempt their darndest in the fuller congregation at 9:00AM. 

With the fuller congregation at 9:00AM, all you hear for a good 3-5 minutes is exchanges of peace, and people throwing up peace signs to anyone who will look in their direction. 

Yeah, take that, gangsta ass image of Compton.

3)  The layfolk at the mics, control the flow of the mass, not the Priest.

They make announcements about anything, and dictate the etiquette during certain rituals by spelling out what it is they need to do.

One time, the leader of the parents' choir had his 3 or 4-year old son sing "Hosanna in the Highest", which is usually a "chant"

4)  A focus on racial and social justice? 

A handful of people for black History month were wearing traditional African garb.  A few were wearing t-shirts about knowing their roots.

For last Sunday's mass, the church's altar had been adorned with large banners of figures in African clothing with the words Umoja (unity) and Imani (faith) laid out vertically on the banners.

At my fiance's church, before the current Pope Francis, I felt there was a lot of political-speak that I'd never remember hearing at any church I'd attended.  Maybe I wasn't "awake" to notice, but that church made no effort to hide its conservative politics;  it's specialty was combating and protesting abortion clinics (if you must know where I stand, I stand where my AP US History Teacher stands, "I don't know because I'll never have to get one").

However, hearing the priest this Sunday speak, it sounded downright revolutionary.  He brought up a list of saints that are actually black.  He'd also brought up the history of segregation within the church, something that I feel would be ignored by the priests in that South Bay church.  All of this was justification for why they needed to celebrate and acknowledge black history at the church.

Meeting Auntie and her Neighborhood

Don't shit where you eat.

Nearing the end of mass, one of the parishioners mentioned that they were serving breakfast...FREE.

FREE is almost always the best price, specially for those of us who are non-monetarily endowed.

We go to the breakfast at the parish hall that doubles as a basketball court. A handful of tables, about 15-20, seating about 8. 

The food is covered in metal trays, but there is coffee and juice.  Coffee helpful on this gloomy Southern California chilly February Sunday.  There is also bake sale that we didn't have any cash for.

We do not know anyone in particular and don't know where to sit, so we happen across a table that is initially empty.  We claim it.  I notice that she's cold however, and offer to walk and get her some coffee.

The line for coffee takes about 5 minutes to get through, but I make it, and make my way back, to see that the table where she was sitting was now shared with an elder black woman, a middle aged black man, and some other middle aged-elder black woman.

The elder black woman calls out everyone she sees and knows.  Her name, I'd like to think of her as auntie-like, so I will refer to her as Auntie.

My fiance makes small talk with her in between her call-outs.  She talks about her good time at the casino in "Mission Vieja."  I hear her call someone out and asks him about his wife.  His wife has been sick.

Eventually after all Auntie's made her call-outs and a long line begins to form for breakfast, we get on to talking about our lives.  How were new to the parish.  How we came from that church in the South Bay. How I came from the valley.  How I'm still a student.

We learned about their lives as well.  How Auntie raised children in this neighborhood.  How they made it despite being so poor.  How they moved away except for one.  How when the middle-aged elder woman tried to moved to South LA, she had a string of bad luck --- Compton was really the place for her.  How Compton was really nice.  How all the problems were not because of the people within Compton, but from people who lived outside.  They didn't want to make a mess where they lived, so they would do their dirty in Compton.

A rousing 3 hours of conversation that I'm barely capturing the essence of.

My fiance and I would later bike back home, our food satiating.  A few hours later we would make our way out to Long Beach via the 91 freeway. 

On the way there on Central Ave., my fiance sees Auntie, out and about.