After a refreshing and relaxing day off we were straight back into the action today most of which was spent in Boyle Heights in East Los Angeles. We set off for East LA from Santa Monica after singing – badly – happy birthday to Matt J who is 21 today…bless.
Boyle Heights – depending on who you ask – is between 80% and 95% Latino and as such is the area of the city that tends to receive the most immigrants, some of whom will get work in the neighbouring garment manufacturing businesses.
Our morning was spent visiting the East Los Angeles Community Corporation (ELACC). They are a community organisation not unlike WLCAC in their objectives but based in this very different community. Their primary purpose is to build capacity in the local community by building and maintaining affordable accommodation, helping people buy homes and avoid foreclosure, assisting individuals and businesses with their tax returns and financial management, training individuals in the community to become leaders, and helping children with their school work in afterschool clubs. This multifaceted approach certainly seems to be working and they are building many new housing units.
We met at ELACC’s latest development the Sol y Luna Apartments and were given a presentation of the organisation’s objectives, history and outlook by Lupe Legaspi, Director of Programs at ELACC and José Fernández their Tenant Services Manager. There was some fascinating material on how the organisation is trying to help the local community resist gentrification by holding land and property (not unlike WLCAC) but also by setting up lending circles to bypass banks and by helping those threatened with foreclosure on their properties (a tactic by predatory lenders in the district is to lend to buyers who they know will not be able to pay back their mortgages a after reaping interest payments from them to take possession of the property). The students asked a number of great questions and I think learnt a great deal about the politics of urban planning and grass roots community organising.
And there is real pressure to develop the area from eager but not overly wealthy gentrifiers unable to afford the converted lofts and warehouses in the neighbouring downtown and taking advantage of the accessibility afforded by the recently opened metro system. ELACC then stands literally at the front line of the battle against gentrification and have ensured that in its covenants, its buildings in the area will be affordable accommodation in perpetuity, thereby maintaining the social diversity of the community.
We took a drive along 1st Street and stopped for a long lunch at El Mercadito. This is an important shopping and recreational space for the local community and until only a few years ago it was very difficult to get by using English alone. The students were asked to explore the market and then take lunch at either one of the restaurants or on the third floor where they ate whilst being entertained by a mariachi band.
After lunch we took a short driving tour of the local neighbourhood to get a sense of how the standard LA housing stock (single story stuccoed bungalows) has been adapted by the Latino community to suit their lifestyles (basically an increase in enclosed outdoor spaces).
On the way home we dropped into Sawtelle, a Japanese neighbourhood quite near the hotel. Here the students were encouraged to eat cream cakes – but only one did – and have a look around some of the shops which have hybrid objects reflecting an interesting trans-Pacific cultural mix.
The navigators today had a tough job to do. George in the lead van was very capable and also able to give us a lesson in Spanish whilst map reading. Hannah S was mostly concerned with recounting their Venice Beach experience from yesterday. Beth was a very capable co-pilot and kept Martin on straight and narrow, even spotting parking spaces for him. In the afternoon Courtney, despite being nervous about it, was also an exceptional navigator, guiding us seamlessly to Sawtelle. Amy in the second van, sadly, forgot her glasses. Kitty in Martin’s van was brilliant and got Martin out of trouble after he lost the convoy.