Opinion: A personal holiday story



Shanice Joseph | June 2013

Shanice Joseph | June 2013

Shanice Joseph is a resident of Watts and a former member of the Intersections South LA Reporter Corps.

When I asked my little brother what he wanted for Christmas, I was surprised when he replied, “nothing.” In the history of my twenty-four years of living, I have never heard a child, especially one under ten years of age, say that they wanted “nothing” for Christmas. As much as I wanted to inquire more about what appeared to be a nonchalant and defeatist attitude toward Christmas, I had to start getting ready for work, so it would have to wait until later.

I have been a airplane cleaner for American Airlines at LAX for two years. Although my job is stressful at times, it financially supports me, my family and my education. I usually dread going to work and wanted to call off today, but I needed all the hours that I could get so I could buy everyone something for Christmas….or at least that was the goal until my brother declined the gesture.

I got into my mother’s car and sat in between my younger brother and younger sister for the ride to my job. As I looked outside, it appeared it was going to rain. “I don’t want to go to work,” I sighed for the four millionth time. I wasn’t looking forward to cleaning up international throw-up and picking up blankets that people threw everywhere onboard the plane. The thought of calling off again played with my head until my mom pointed out a homeless woman.

“You have to admire her dedication. Rain, snow or heatwave, she’s out here hustling,” said my mom.

My heart sunk in my chest knowing that my mother wasn’t exaggerating. This homeless woman really did stand all day, at this busy intersection (on a small island divider) for long hours holding up a sign, asking for change for survival.

“Yesterday when I saw her, it was pouring rain but something else caught my attention,” said my mom. “I was driving down the street when I saw this man and woman both pushing a stroller each, with a young girl walking behind them.”

“Wait this street?” I asked, looking out the window and frowning. It was a wide and busy street. There were not many lights. There were no sidewalks, but there was a bike lane that the family must have been walking on, and the speed limit was 40 mph. There was no way I was going to walk down this particular street, especially not in the rain or with three small children. The slightest turn of the wheel could seriously injure a pedestrian.

“Yes,” my mother continued. “At first, I wasn’t going to stop but it was raining hard, it was Sunday [meaning that the Metro bus was going to take forever], they had kids with them and none of them had on a jacket. They all had on light cotton sweaters or long sleeve shirts, but nothing rainproof. So, I yelled out my window, ‘do you want a ride?’ They hesitated to answer, but I pulled over anyway and they all eventually got in”

Now, here was something that wasn’t surprising at all. I love that my mother is so helpful, but I worry about her. She is always giving a stranger a ride somewhere. She has been doing this for as long as I could remember.

“They all got in. They were soaking wet like they had been walking in the rain for a while,” continued my mom. “At first they were quiet, but I start talking so the mother replied back. She explained that they had seen a flyer that said this building was giving away Christmas toys, and they went. It was a long line that went down the street. They stood in that line for hours and then it started raining. She said they tried to stand there as long as they could to get their kids some gifts, but the rain just got worse, so they had to leave.”

I shook my head. That was so unfortunate, but something told me my mom wasn’t done.

She saw my facial expression and continued, “I felt so bad for them that I start looking for things in the car to give them, because I didn’t have any money and I didn’t have anything in the car to give. I looked at the father and he was just so distant and maybe even disappointed in himself. So I asked them where were they going and it got awkwardly quiet, so I thought I said something wrong. I asked again and the father spoke for the first time since he been in the car. He said, ‘Western and Lomita,'” I frowned again.

My mother knew exactly why I was frowning and nodded her head slowly. “Yes they are homeless” she said, confirming my thoughts. Although, according to a recent article published in The Los Angeles Times, “13, 000, people fall into homelessness each month,” it still bothers me to hear such stories, especially when certain factors like children and the holidays are involved. Unfortunately, their situation is nothing new or uncommon. California has one of the highest number of homeless individuals in the country (over 20% of the state’s population is homeless,) and the numbers are increasing, forcing the state declare it as an emergency situation. It’s so upsetting that I would give up a lifetime worth of Christmas presents to solve the problem.

For some people, the holidays are the best time of the year, meanwhile for others it’s a heartbreaking reminder of how they have struggled financially throughout the year. Also, a lot guilt and stress falls upon the parents, especially homeless ones, for not being able to provide the necessities, let alone toys. I have witnessed the stress pass down from the parents to the children, which causes children to be selfless and either not expect anything for Christmas or not want anything for Christmas. I looked over at my younger brother and wondered if this was the case for him.

“Yeah, I felt so bad. The dad probably felt worse; he was probably beating himself up for standing in the rain and still not being able to get anything. To add insult to injury, no one wanted to pick them up and drop them off,” my mother continued.

“They are residing at a broken down motel which is in walking distance of Palos Verdes, one of the richest neighborhoods. All of these nice warm cars passing them by and not doing anything….but that’s another story. I just told you that to remind you of how blessed you are and how thankful you should be. The next time you feel like calling off work, don’t.  Some people have the hardest time finding a job or financially supporting their families, and you are complaining about the one job you do have,” she said.  My mom was absolutely right, I had no right to complain.

When we arrived at my job, I managed to change my attitude and turned to my younger brother once more. I asked again what would he like for Christmas and he paused as if he was thinking. My mom looked at me through her rear view mirror and said, “I heard someone say, as we get older our Christmas list get shorter because what we want, money can’t buy.”  It was an interesting concept. However, my brother smiled as if a light bulb had clicked over his head.

“I want some Pokemon cards, and you have to play Pokemon with me,” he laughed. I smiled back at him, “Sure, we can do that.”

It wasn’t much, but sometimes the bare minimum, be playing cards or a kind gesture like giving a family a ride out the rain, was something people greatly appreciate.

 

OPINION: Why Latinos need to speak out for Black lives



Ferguson protesters reach the site where Ezell Ford was killed last August. | Daina Beth Solomon

Ferguson protesters reach the site where Ezell Ford was killed last August. | Daina Beth Solomon

By Alberto Retana, Executive Vice-President, Community Coalition 

How much unrest will our country experience before we substantively address the injustices acutely impacting Black people?

For months, across the nation, tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets to demand police accountability, transparency and justice for the families that have fallen victims to state violence.

I am Latino and I stand in support members of the Black community seeking justice for their children and families.  It’s time that we, as Latinos, boldly speak out in support of justice.  If we are to truly deal with racism in America impacting Latinos, we need to understand what is happening right now with Black America.

[Read more…]

Obama announces immigration reform



obama

Obama addresses voters | Flickr Creative Commons

President Obama announced Thursday executive actions that will remove the threat of deportation and grant work permits to as many as five million undocumented immigrants. This will apply to parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have been in the country for five years or more. Obama also expanded his 2012 action which authorized young people who came to the United States as children to remain legally in the country, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Since Congress has stagnated for years on creating immigration reform that changes laws and a path to citizenship, Obama issued the reform with his own presidential authority. [Read more…]

Redefining environmentalism in South LA 



By gardening and keeping lights low, a family in Watts

challenges mainstream notions of “environmentalism.”

Ashley-Enviro5

Ashley and her mother in the garden at their Watts home. | Ashley Hansack

“Turn off the damn lights! You act like I have money coming out of my ass,” yells my mom.

It’s not: “turn off the lights because you waste energy,” “turn off the lights because we need to reduce fossil fuels,” or “turn off the lights because we need to conserve resources.”

It’s: “Turn off the lights because I cannot afford to give up an extra ten dollars to pay the bill. I told you once and I don’t want to have to tell you again: turn off the damn lights.”

There are 13 light switches controlling the visibility and the mood lighting throughout my family’s house in Watts. In every bedroom, hallway and common living space, there is a light switch waiting to come to life and shine.

Enter the bathroom. Light on. Exit the bathroom. Light off. Enter the bedroom. Light on. Exit the bedroom. Light off.

Again and again, I turn the lights on and off without ever stopping to think about where this light comes from and how I have the great magical power to bring light into a room with the effortless flick of my wrist. [Read more…]

From Watts to Walla Walla: The burdens and the blessings of my college education



Alisha Agarde (l) and author Ashley Hansack (r) at a First Generation Mentorship Program Dinner at Whitman College in 2013

Ashley Hansack (right) with a fellow student at a First Generation Mentorship Program Dinner at Whitman College in 2013. | Ashley Hansack

During the fall of 2010, I applied to eighteen colleges and universities across the United States. As a first-generation, working-class, Latina applicant, college counselors prompted me to highlight my diversity in my college essays.

“You are different,” they would say. “Use that to your advantage,” their smiles would imply. Essay upon essay, I would highlight characteristics about my family, my school, and my community that seemed trivial and unimportant to my identity. Yes, my blood runs with 100% Mexican heritage. Yes, my mom raised my four sisters and me on her own under a housekeeper’s salary. Yes, I grew up living in the ghetto streets of communities like Watts and Compton. Yes, unemployment and food security were at the forefront of many family discussions. I would be praised by my mentors and counselors, who urged, add more details here, a little more pity there, and girl, you have yourself an award-winning essay. [Read more…]

First person: City Year tutor in Watts encourages others to mentor



Vanessa Gonzalez with Superintendent John Deasy and Allison Graff-Weisner | City Year LA

Vanessa Gonzalez with LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy and Allison Graff-Weisner, executive director of City Year LA | City Year LA

By Vanessa Gonzalez

Growing up, I was a shy, self-conscious, but studious girl. I was afraid that I might become involved in gangs—a common occurrence in my neighborhood. My parents tried their best to help with schoolwork, but their limited education and language barriers were challenging for all of us. The lack of books and computers also made it difficult for me to learn.

I struggled with my self-confidence and circumstances, until one person changed my whole perspective. My amazing high school science teacher, Ms. Tam, told me that she genuinely believed in me and that I was capable of accomplishing anything I put my mind to. From that moment on, I was excited about the future and ready to show the world all that I could offer. [Read more…]

OPINION: South LA gentrification blues



Let me tell you a little something about South L.A. 

 

A response to the L.A. Times article: “Soaring home prices spur a resurgence near USC.”

A South LA mural depicts the neighborhood's mixing of cultures. | Foshay School 7th Grade Photo Project

A South LA mural depicts the neighborhood’s mixing of cultures. | Foshay School 7th Grade Photo Project / Intersections

As I read the article mentioned above, I couldn’t help but picture “South Los Angeles” as a meaningless, desolate neighborhood infested with drugs, abandoned houses and cars, and weird and scary “ethnic” people. Thank goodness for gentrification, coming to save the day! (Note: sarcasm.)

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not against diversified communities—racially, ethnically or socio-economically. In fact, I am completely in favor of mixed-income neighborhoods that promote the well-being of all residents, and enrich all of our lives, regardless of color, culture and economic status. I genuinely believe and embrace the richness of a multi-cultural, diverse world. [Read more…]

OPINION: Sheriff’s Department spied on Compton residents



The same Sheriff’s Department that is upset over federal secret surveillance in jail probe had no problem spying on Compton residents.

Editor’s Note: The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deployed a small Cessna to circle the sky above Compton for nine days in 2012. It aimed to film the city like a video version of Google Earth, capturing crime scenes that could help deputies identify and catch suspects. Ultimately, the images weren’t detailed enough to be useful, and the department axed the program. The Center for Investigative Reporting revealed the project earlier this month, and the Los Angeles Times caught on this week. Now that the news is out, locals are asking: Why didn’t we know? 

Want to share your own opinion? Email [email protected]

A neon sign for the LA County Sheriff's Department |  Michael Dorausch

A neon sign for the LA County Sheriff’s Department |
Michael Dorausch

I am not oblivious to the fact that I can be watched and tracked by the powers that be.

I realize that when I check in on Facebook, drive my car or use my cellphone, I am practically inviting those “powers” to do so.  I resigned myself a long time ago to the idea that even in my bed in the dead of night, somebody could be watching.

So for me, the problems with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s secret mass surveillance experiment conducted on the residents of Compton in 2012 have less to do with the actual experiment than with the cloud of secrecy around it – especially the decision not to inform the public in order to avoid complaints or public outrage.  [Read more…]

OPINION: Brother’s Keepers & #WhiteMenMarching while LAUSD makes school tougher



Obama may aim to help young men of color through his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative. Meanwhile, here in Los Angeles the school district is raising its high school graduation standards — and will need to make a concerted effort to help its most disadvantaged students.

Young Men of Color forum | Sikivu Hutchinson

Men of Color College Forum at Gardena High School | Sikivu Hutchinson

According to GOP Congressman Paul Ryan, an insidious “inner city culture” has prevented “generations” of “inner city” men from seeking jobs. Evoking the ghost of the GOP past, present and future, shiftless lazy black men with no work ethic are to blame for the high rates of unemployment in the U.S.’ ghettoes. Ryan’s comments were no doubt a desperate attempt to stay relevant and on message after not receiving an invitation to be grand dragon (marshal) of the “nationwide” White Man March.

A few weeks before Ryan trotted out his Black Pathology 101 thesis, President Obama announced that the administration would spearhead a “Brother’s Keeper” initiative to address the dire socioeconomic conditions confronting young men of color. A central focus of the initiative is improving college-going rates for African American and Latino young men, who lag behind women of color in college admissions. Another is reducing Black and Latino mass incarceration.

See also on Intersections: Obama announces My Brother’s Keeper for young men of color

[Read more…]

First person: Why I should get in-state tuition as an undocumented student



Obama offered me protection from deportation and the chance to get a job — But what about my education?

My Graduation

Miguel pictured with family at his high school graduation in June 2012

I am told I crossed the border to the United States when I was 2 years old, sitting in the back of a car. But my earliest memories are of South Los Angeles — of my parents staying up until midnight and then waking up every weekday and on Saturdays at 3:00 a.m. to check on the tamales and boil water mixed with maizena, blocks of chocolate and cinnamon, for champurrado, a traditional Mexican corn-based drink. My dad would load his yellow vendor tricycle with a huge olla , or pot, of tamales, utensils, and the freshly made champurrado. My mom would fill a grocery cart with the prepared foods, which she would push as she walked my sister and me to elementary school.

That changed the fall of my senior year in high school. My parents told me they were moving because they feared for their lives. They had reported to the police that a gang member was extorting money from them. When the gang member found out, he threatened to kill them. My parents wanted me to move with them, but I chose to stay to finish high school because I believed there were more opportunities for me in California as an undocumented student. The day before I sat for the SAT, I said goodbye to my younger siblings and my parents.  My father started to cry when I hugged him; I think that was the first time I saw him cry — and it made me cry. I then entered my house alone and lay on my bed until I fell asleep. [Read more…]