I started an internship, about a month ago, with a pretty major news outlet here in California. I am working as a reporter/multimedia journalist for a community news blog that focuses on South Los Angeles (or South Central). The experience thus far has been many things: interesting, challenging, surprising, enlightening and, most of all, eye-opening.
I grew up in a small community on the western edge of South LA, called View Park. For that reason, I felt as if this internship would be a little easier on me, having come from the area. However, my experience has been such that the more time I spend in the community, the more I realize that I knew, and know, next to nothing about the area I grew up in, or the city of Los Angeles as a whole. It’s an interesting feeling to live in a city your entire life and suddenly realize how little you know of it. I’ve given so much effort to getting to know other countries and other cultures, not that that’s a bad thing, that I have completely overlooked the community that shaped me.
Perhaps the most startling realization I have come to, since I started working in the South LA community, is how deeply and subtly media messages and values are embedded in my thoughts and beliefs about this community. I have always prided myself on having a critical and analytical mind. Being an english major previously and a journalism major currently, I naively thought that media messages had less of an impact on my psyche. However, when it came time for me to walk around South Central, on my own, with my camera in hand, I became acutely aware of my discomfort, paranoia, and fear. I am not normally a person who is afraid to go out into the world, to talk to people, to photograph, etc. but as I stepped out of my car onto Central Ave., I experienced an internal shift from confident to fearful. This startled me. I was shocked to find that all of my media training – all of my critical thinking skills – didn’t offer me any more of a defense than the average media consumer. The stereotypes of the community and its people and the stigma attached to the area, were very much in the front of my mind.
Over the past month, my experiences in South LA have shown me a community that is entirely different from the one I was taught to see. It is a community with a vibrant history and culture, of which only shreds remain. South LA was decimated in the riots of both 1965 and 1992 and the community has never completely recovered from those traumas. However, if you can look beyond the problems, which are deeply embedded in the everyday life there, you will find people who are hard working, genuine, warm, and welcoming – at least that has been my experience.
I’m not sure where I am going with this post. I suppose I wanted to introduce a new topic to write about and most importantly, I wanted to start a new and different conversation about this community – a community that seems to have been abandoned; left to be ravaged by the problems which plague it. While the rest of LA grows, progresses and enjoys the many fruits of its labors, South LA is scraping to get by, one day at a time.
When I walk the streets in South LA, I see a vital population of people who want the same things as everyone else – happiness, health, success and a chance for their children to grow up to have the same or better. The people there get up everyday, pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and work to build their lives despite of the odds against them. At the same time, underneath the welcoming smiles and warm conversations, there is a sense of sadness and defeat that can only be felt in a community that has been isolated; left to its own devices, without support.
I find South LA to be many things, most of them contradictory to each other: complicated yet simple, saddening yet joyful, lively yet dreary, lacking yet rich in many ways. Most of all, I find it to be inspiring. My curiosity is peaked.