Los Angeles is known for its immense amount of idling cars, the bourgeoise, and of course it’s weather. Sunny Southern California may make a name for itself by the pastel colored beach sunsets, or the incandescent neon specks of light that blanket Downtown. And while the original length of its name is debated(LA Time), we can readily assume that a city melted down into two letters is quite an impressive feat. Just two letters, the same letters that make up “the” in French (la in french denotes the feminine the), can be assigned to 3 and a half million plus individuals. I think that the significance of this fact cannot be overstated. Something as foundational in one language can be the hub of population for another.
LA is a name so ubiquitous that it is the American West Coast city. It contains an assortment of races, religions, classes, abilities, talents, and views that show the diversity that America holds so dearly to its ideals. Los Angeles is the place where people who’ve “Made It” go. Movie stars, artists, musicians, academics, and athletes all find their home in the City of Angels. We like to assume that LA is a city that is the home of the unreachable, of the people so successful that we have no chance of ever living in such a place. At least, that is what I thought before living here for the past 5 months.
I find that with every wish granted with a shooting star, another opportunity is taken away from the less fortunate. What I mean is that I live close by to communities where tents and parks become their beds. I live close by to such poverty that a one mile drive away from campus reveals the ramshackle community beyond with their anxiety riddled faces, and a shopping cart to their name. The campus of USC is north of Compton, but only just so, that we see the edges of a world that is just trying to get by.
We can blame the desperation of such communities to White Flight, but that is not what defines them. What defines them is the fact that they’re still holding on. I think that because USC seems so much like a bubble, that I forget that LA is not a collection of maintained red brick buildings. There are things that we forget because we don’t want to remember them. We don’t want to remember poverty, and so we block it out. We don’t want to remember our horrendous past, so we formulate a different history. We want to believe that LA is a city that contains all the great parts of the country, and so we stop talking about the world beyond the glamour. Even if the world beyond is the one thing we need to talk about.
And when people bring up the fact that we have a homeless problem, I would like to correct them by saying that we have a housing problem. We have an inability to take care of our most in need individuals. But I see this as an opportunity to create lasting relationships between community members. The Dalai Lama is quoted saying, “When our focus is on others, on our wish to free them from their misery-this is compassion(The Dalai Lama 38).” We need to be compassionate to the people living within the same limits as ourselves. I am not impervious to looking a different direction when I confront these types of situations. And I feel so guilty for doing such things, because I had the ability to alleviate some misery, but I didn’t. In some cases, I ask to be ignorant because knowing the truth only makes me feel worse. But LA has forced me to confront the truth, not with a slow transition, but with a sharp and painful realization. I have been fortunate. And by some dumb luck, I am in such a position that my basic needs have seemed trivial.
I know that LA is my city. It is a place that I have become accustomed to and grown to enjoy. But for LA to be a city greater than what it is, it must confront the problems of its less fortunate citizens.
Bstan-ʼdzin-rgya-mtsho, and Nicholas Vreeland. An open heart: practicing compassion in everyday life. Boston: Little, Brown, 2002. Print.