Columbusing the Old Neighborhood, Part 1

I have quite a few fond memories of traveling into Downtown Los Angeles as a kid. Its not very far from my home but add in LA traffic and it is a mess. But on a weekend, we could be down there in 15 minutes. So it’s a place we frequented often. Sometimes it was to go to the “alley,” where you could buy cheap ANYTHING. Mostly, we went for clothes. The flower market down there is where we bought all the flowers for my parents’ vowel renewal when I was in the sixth grade. There’s a place called Moskatels, which is basically heaven to me – it’s like a Michael’s outlet – where I dream of the crafty Etsy store I will someday open and where you can buy giant ornaments the size of my head for a dollar.

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One of my most favorite places to go was always Grand Central Market. I used to love hearing my dad reminisce of his trips to the market when he was a boy. He and his family (a family of 8) lived well below the poverty line and Grand Central was a great place to buy produce to feed so many people on such a small income. For me, the best part was the amazing Mexican food you could get and find a corner to eat in. Bustling with tons of brown folks, Grand Central Market is not far from the many historically significant Mexican sites in Downtown LA (Olvera Street is still standing and Linda Cielito is a go to for taquitos if you need a suggestion). These were my people and people my family seemed comfortable around.

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Seeing as I have spent many of my adult years not in LA and instead trying to find the brown folks where I live (shout out to Little Mexico in South Bend!), I was painfully unaware of the changes that were happening in my beloved little haven. Shortly after my return from Colorado a year and a half ago, the Expo line opened connecting the Westside (Santa Monica, Culver City, etc. = expensive) to Downtown. Given that parking in DTLA had always been a struggle, I thought the Expo was a great addition to avoid the parking fees (although free parking on Sundays at Grand Central and Moskatels! Hey! – But not anymore. Sad face). However, clearly the Expo was put in to connect the wealthy people to the brown part of town. Well off folks have started to move into Downtown creating a “hip and trendy” downtown and commuting to the Westside in a more environmentally sustainable manner. And folks who can afford to live on the Westside are heading into Downtown for weekend events.

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I do think there is something about creating a place for entertainment or embracing the cultural beauty that has long-existed in a city. However, the “improvements” have not benefited the folks who have called this place home since it was Mexico but is instead making housing prices too expensive for them to afford and columbusing the places in which they once conducted business.

I have used the Expo line to avoid the exorbitant parking pricing at an LA Rams game, to go to an old library operating out of an old bank vault, and to attend LA’s second annual Dessert Week this past fall. After leaving on a sugar induced high, my parents and I headed on foot to Grand Central for our beloved sopes covered in only the very best toppings and Mexican meats. Immediately my dad said something about all the White people followed very closely by “THEY SERVE BEER HERE?!” You see, Grand Central has less of a market-feel these days (I only spotted two produce stands) and instead seems to have been taken over by trendy craft beer, specialty bagels, organic ice cream, and yes, free wifi.

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Definitely not the food of Brown folks

Luckily, our favorite Mexican food storefront was still standing and we ate until our bellies were full thoroughly confused as to what was happening around us. We tipped the women who made our food. She seemed surprised. So, the folks who have columbused a place I love also do not tip the folks who make their food – this was once customary particularly knowing wages at these ma and pop places were not enough to pay the bills.

I think there is certainly a right way to bring communities together to share in the rich cultural history a city was founded on but erasing the very people responsible for that history is not the way to do it. Sadly, the place my dad went with his dad to pick produce early in the mornings no longer exists. I can only hope my favorite food stand will be there whenever I am able to travel out their next. We need to hold on to as much as we can in a climate that values conformity to the norm more that embracing our uniqueness.

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