My tío Pedro lives behind a trendy bar on Sunset Avenue in Los Angeles’s Echo Park. The apartment owners told him the other day that the price of rent would be going up – again. He is one of many who will be pushed out by rising prices, and I am one of the very people pushing him out.
Since moving back here in July 2014, I’ve had one foot in my former community and the other in this new place I call “home” – while slowly robbing my uncle of his own. I don’t know what the right thing to do is. I did what he and moms told me to do to avoid the gangs and violence: I got an education, and I earn more money than the rest of my family. I made it out of the neighborhood. Now, moving back feels wrong.
But you never seem to be able to elaborate just why. It’s not because the area’s got worse, it’s demonstrably got better!
Violence was common back in the 1990s around here. The park was off-limits at night because of the drug dealing and gang fights. It’s different now; the park is safer than ever. I took a girl there for a walk around the lake in the evening the other day and saw the bust of José Martí, the Cuban revolutionary whose writings and philosophy led to Cuba’s independence from Spain, and smiled at the thought of how Echo Park itself had wrestled its independence from the crime and violence it was once chained to.
I guess it’s not the location, but the people formerly inhabiting the location that made it such a bad place to live. How strange.
But there are bizarre things happening now.
The other day a few friends and I smoked a joint near the boathouse and no one – not even the cops – cared much to stop and check things out. Back in the day it didn’t go down like that at all. Don’t take my word for it either; look at Frank Romero’s Arrest of the Paleteros. Even selling ice cream those days was a crime for people of color.
One day my cousin, Echo Park Pete, was walking with me around the lake and he said, referring to the drug use: “Man, I went to jail for this shit and now people do it all the time and the cops don’t give a shit.” I thought about offering a plausible explanation, you know, invoking my Ivy League education, but it felt forced. It is what it is: discrimination.
Oh. Not the relaxing of laws or reprioritisation of scarce resources then? No, no, of course it must be racism…