Strivers and The Know-How City

LAST NIGHT, the students in my “Telling L.A.’s Story” workshop put the final touches on their photo blogs. The subject: Genius Loci. The assignment was an attempt to see how deeply they were thinking about not just the city, but their relationship to it/themselves in it — while taking into account all that they’ve read, heard, observed in class this semester. I was particularly touched by the ones who really did try to go deep and figure out how the last few weeks had altered their way of thinking about a city that oftentimes is so shrill and overbearing you just want to close your ears and hide in a closet. But, many of them reflected on the past, why their parents had come, deals they’d walked away from, stress they decided they didn’t need any longer. Many of them tried to find words to describe a feeling that is still in the midst of forming. The brick and mortar of decisions that they are making that are becoming the foundation for their lives. They are still forming.

I’ve been writing/blogging/photographing with them. The exercise sent me back — way, way, way back — to my baby-sitters street in the 70s off of Slauson and those little houses that lined her neat, postcard perfect street. They didn’t call South L.A. “South L.A.” then. They didn’t call it South Central either. It was just an L.A. neighborhood where people settled in, planted gardens, raised families, lined white picket fences around their property and painted the houses soft, dreamy colors: pastel candies — pink, yellow, green and turquoise.

The turquoise house sent a message to my young soul — that someone who had that workaday job, who was trying to raise a family on a little bit of paycheck, still had a sense of hope and wonder. Home meant something special and beautiful — particularly in a desert that tried to pass for a tropical oasis. So what if much of the dream ended up being a mirage — the house was solid: a roof, four walls sining: “This is me. This is mine.”

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