Tag Archives: immigrants

My High School Reunion: Claremont

My 40th high school reunion is this Saturday. I’m going.

I’ve been to all my high school reunions. They’re fun. Kind of weird, awkward at times, but fun. I like to think of them as great social experiments. Seeing where people landed who started more or less in the same spot. Not quite like those 7 Up movies from Britain, but something like that.

I grew up in Claremont, a small college town 35 miles east of Los Angeles. It was a great place to grow up, if you overlooked the milk-chocolate smog covering the huge mountains nearby.

As years passed, I noted that I kept in far greater touch with friends from high school than folks whom I met later in life had kept in touch with theirs. John Kennedy, David Fissel, Scott Edwards, Sara Kaviar, Norman Gee, Paul Rohrer, Arthur Cain, Alison Cain, and a few others. I’ll see a few of these folks, though probably not all. They’re all doing well, scattered about.

With John, I went to my first rock concert: Mountain and Canned Heat at the Long Beach Civic Auditorium. 1974. That was a loud show, and Leslie West and the guys from Canned Heat sure were fat. Canned Heat’s singer wore big blue overalls with the word “Boogie” in rhinestones across the chest.

Around that time I was forming fierce, highly convincing arguments that Leslie West was the world’s greatest guitar player. I had a lot of those kinds of arguments back then. I also argued that Kiss would be a “where are they now” story by the time we graduated.

Years later, I spent a lot of time traveling around Europe playing guitar in the streets and plazas for money with Arthur Cain. That was a lot of fun. Good thing to do.

A few of my high school chums have died. Steve Arena and Phil Cornell passed not long after high school. I wish I could see them again.

One guy I haven’t seen almost since before graduation is Robert O’Conner. We were Buddhists together in a group called Nichirenshoshu Sokagakkai of America (NSA), where we chanted Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.

It’s from Japan but was pretty big in the states back in the 1970s when a lot of California suburban kids assumed that any eastern religion was cool and worth checking out. Herbie Hancock and Tina Turner were members.

I started when I had pretty long hair.

For NSA, I cut my hair. For a while I even tried to learn the bagpipes. I was also in a couple pageants – on the outfield of Angel Stadium and once at Dodger Stadium – that looked something like Up With People.

As a Buddhist organization, NSA was wary of appearing too eastern and mystical and weird, so it went the other way, wanting to assimilate into the squarest of American culture. Hence these pageants – dancing to show tunes on the Dodger outfield. For NSA during the USA Bicentennial, I literally marched in a nighttime parade up 6th Avenue in New York City dressed as a Minuteman with a three-corner hat and a suit lined with lights that were battery-powered and lit up in 4/4 time. No lie.

I was a Buddhist from end of my freshman year at CHS to my sophomore year in college, then I quit. I was happy to be in it when I was – helped me weather adolescence — and happy to leave it when I did.

Through Facebook, Robert tells me he’s got a nice husband and career as an artist in Hawaii, all of which makes me feel good. Looks like he’ll be at the reunion, so that’ll be nice.

I played basketball in high school, though not well. I didn’t improve the way I should have. Senior year was a tough one. Had a falling out with the coach, who never could pronounce my last name, but that wasn’t why we had a falling out. He resigned a year or two later, though not because of me. He went on to coach a college team that holds the distinction of being the only team to lose to the Cal Tech basketball team in the last 30 years or so.

Oh well. I still love the smell of wood-floor gyms. I still play basketball and I’m teaching my daughter, who’s 10.

Unlike most folks at the reunion, whom I suspect are close to grandparenthood, I’m just getting started in the fatherhood game. I’m liking it, though.

When I was young, Claremont was a guitar mecca. This was due to the influence of the 1960s/1970s, the five colleges in town, and a local music store: Claremont Folk Music Center, where I took my first guitar lessons (folk music, “Michael Row the Boat Ashore”) from Dorothy Chase, who owned it with her husband, Charles. Ben Harper is their grandson.

(Claremont also had one of the first In-N-Outs, which taught us all what good fast food is.)

Claremont had(s) David Lindley and one of Emmylou Harris’s lead guitar players, whose brother was my guitar teacher later, after I learned to bend notes, which changed my life entirely. After I was taught that bending guitar notes was possible (Jimmy Reed, “Bright Lights Big City”), it seemed to suggest all kinds of things might be bent as well.

It wasn’t long before I was listening to Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality on our family’s old record player over and over. And from there, many years later, to George Jones and Sun Ra. Guitar-note bending will do that.

I think I probably knew 20 people who played guitar. I kept playing, though not well. Three chords, maybe a minor 6th. Enough to play Rolling Stones songs. (Never a major seventh, though. I can’t stand that chord. Ever heard “Color My World” by Chicago? That starts with a major seventh.)

Anyway, the best guitar player in my class was a guy named Pebber Brown. Maybe I’ll see Pebber this reunion. When I want to, I can watch him teaching and  shredding away on Youtube.

Another guy, Martin Maudal, played some wicked drums in a band with Pebber, but now he makes guitars: Maudal Musical Machines. I think I’ll see Martin. Also, a guy from my class named Robert Elhai is a composer and writes soundtracks, last I heard anyway. Jim Earl and Barry Lank once had a pretty hip comedy duo. They were in my class – that’s Claremont High School, 1977.

Sid Robinson is a city councilman in Upland. We’re about that age now where some of us are city councilmen, or supervisors, or principals, or something in charge.

All in all, not a bad production for one high school class – and I’m leaving out a lot of folks.

I’ll be interested to see whether any of the girls I had crushes on show up. I remember, though, that that was a tormentingly large group, so probably some of them won’t. Not sure if my old girlfriend will or won’t.

Actually, I don’t know who’ll show up. Of course no one wants to go to a high school reunion on parole or something. A guy from the CHS year before mine aimed high and ripped off a Brinks Armored Car of $1 million. Very successful at his chosen trade, he was never seen again. So reunions tend to be kind of self-selecting. But then the really successful folks often have moved far away, so there’s that balancing it all out. Karen Huffman, our homecoming queen, ended up, last I saw her many years ago, as a curator at the Getty Museum. How many schools’ homecoming queens that you know ended up curating exhibits at major museums?

My grandfather, an illegitimate kid abandoned by his mother and thus an outcast in his Spanish village, always wanted to go home to show all the folks who’d treated him poorly that he’d made it in America, all by himself.

But the Depression, World War II, and the distance from Pennsylvania to Spain kept him from doing it. He (on the right in the photo) died in the 1950s, never having gone back.

I know that family reunions are huge business in Appalachia. That’s because so many have left the region, gone in search of work, yet don’t lose the connections to back home. Many go home every year, sometimes for months. West Virginia’s family-reunion business is massive, I was reading someplace. Same with Kentucky’s. Literally people do not lose touch with the place they left 50-60 years before.

So I have something in common with them.

Same with Mexican immigrants.

Years after high school, I lived in Mexico for a long time where I learned that they have their own version of these reunions – realizing yearly what my grandfather wanted to do just once but never could. They would return to their home villages for the annual fiesta, and throw huge parties, come dressed in fancy clothes. Usually it was the migrants who could afford to spend a lot of money who would go home. You didn’t want to go home poor-mouthing it. I remember they didn’t tell too many people back home about how hard they had to work to earn that money. (Mexican cops got used to shaking these folks down as they drove home. Highway 15 along Mexico’s Pacific Coast was a treasure-trove for cops.)

All that makes me think that the urge to go home and see everyone you grew up with is pretty universal – particularly if life’s been good.

ONE FINAL NOTE: That urge is a big reason why poor guys in Mexico get into drug trafficking. The kind of money you can make and the rep you develop are great ways of showing others back at the local fiesta how really well you’ve done, and of having other guys envy you, and of getting all the girls to want to talk to you. Especially if you’re buying beer for everyone in the plaza.

So maybe a high school reunion is really just like some get-together of local Mexican drug traffickers or an Appalachian family reunion.

I kind of like that way of thinking about it.

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Filed under California, Southern California

True Tales From Another Mexico – at 15

Fifteen years ago this week, my first book, True Tales from Another Mexico, was released, just as George Bush was about to make his first trip abroad – to Mexico, governed by its new, duly elected president, Vicente Fox.
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I remember not really being able to absorb the idea that I’d actually written a book. Over the years, it sold only well enough to be known as a “cult classic” – a description I like.
I think it remains relevant, largely because of the stories in it: A colony of drag queens, a lynching, Oaxacan indian basketball players, the section of the Mexican Congress then known as “The Bronx,” pistoleros, telenovela queens, the Paleteria La Michoacana popsicle makers, the slum boss known as La Loba and her Chippendale dancers, and Chalino Sanchez, the late, great narcocorrido singer.
 
It’s still for sale, and is now on Kindle. … Hope you like it…. 🙂

 

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As a legend passes, a Walmart in Compton?

A legendary Compton indoor swap meet is closing this week, and vendors say they believe it will be replaced by a Walmart.

Snapseed Compton Fashion Center Dresses BWThe Compton Fashion Center, 2100 N. Long Beach Blvd., closes Thursday after 32 years, during which time it revolutionized immigrant business formation in Southern California.

In a tersely worded December 1 letter to vendors, some of whom had been in the CFC since it opened, the owner, Soo Lee, told them they had 30 days to get out.  That deadline was later extended another two weeks – leaving this Thursday as the day when the lights go out.

Shortly before Christmas, the center put up large signs announcing a “Close Out Sale” – and thanking customers for years of patronage – that vendors had not agreed to. Vendors say this left them with little time or opportunity reduce inventory and find a new location.

Of several CFC merchants I spoke with, all said they believe the space will be occupied by a Walmart, though the owner, Soo Lee, has said nothing about his plans for the enormous space. So this may be rumor as much as anything.

Walmart did not confirm a new store at the Compton swap meet. But the company didn’t quite deny one in the future, either. Here’s the statement a spokeswoman emailed me:

“While we are always looking for ways to better serve our Compton customers, we don’t have any new projects to announce.”

Okay. Still leaves the question of what will go into the center that was making the owner push the vendors out so abruptly after so many years in business.

Walmart last summer put a store in the new azalea Shopping Center in South Gate, four milIMG_1919es away, and traffic was so heavy the store wasn’t able to keep its shelves stocked for the first few weeks, according to a shopping center spokeswoman.

Of course, Walmart has also had problems locating inner-city stores in Southern California. Inglewood famously turned away the giant retailer, fearing it would lay waste to numerous mom-and-pop merchants.

“If Walmart comes, all the merchants on Long Beach Boulevard and around here will be wiped out,” said Kirk Kim, owner of Cycadelic Records, which has rented space near a swap meet entrance since CFC opened.

Compton Fashion Center opened in the space of what had been a Sears in 1983. It was the first large Korean-owned indoor swap meet in Southern California.

With that, in a region then becoming a magnet for immigrants from across the world, the indoor swap meet idea took off. Swap meets became a safe place for immigrants, speaking little English and without much capital, to wedge into a cranny of the American Dream.

Compton Fashion Center, in particular, drew people from all over with, in its heyday, 300 vendors selling jewelry, Photo Jan 12, 1 18 21 PMmakeup, music, cellphones, groceries and clothe.

“The holy grail of the hood,” one Yelp customer called it.

At Cycadelic Records in the 1980s, Kirk Kim’s father, the late Wan Joon Kim, and mother, Boo Ja  — Korean immigrants who spoke little English – became the first to sell and promote the gangster rap then emerging from Compton garages. The couple, known as Pops and Mama, sold the first records by NWA frontman Eazy E, and dozens of other rappers that grew to chronicle the city’s crack-and-gang nightmare, as West Coast gangster rap became an international phenomenon. His shop and the center have been in numerous rap music videos.

But a lot has changed since then. National retailers have discovered the hood. Whether the indoor swap meet is slowly fading away is an open question.

Kirk Kirk believe the CFC owners have been keeping vendors out with an eye to attracting to a big-box retailer. Whatever the case, he said, foot traffic has dropped along with the number of vendors.

Last week, the center was slowly emptying. Stalls sat abandoned. Owners were boxing product and sweeping the floors.

“It’s sad. These folks are like my family,” he said. “I see these people more than I see my sister.”

Photos: Kirk Kim; t-shirts and dresses in booths at Compton Fashion Center.

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Filed under Business, California, Los Angeles, Migrants, Southern California

El Super workers are demanding…now that illegal immigration has slowed

Workers at the Southern California supermarket chain, El Super, are protesting conditions there — in what could be the beginning of an upheaval in the Southern California grocery industry.

Up to now, nonunion immigrant supermarkets have been a low-cost place to shop for food — with prices based at least partly, I’ve always suspected, on an especially compliant workforce.

I shop often at El Super, Northgate Gonzalez, El Tapatio, and many others — far more than I go to Ralph’s. I find the produce especially good quality and cheap.

All are owned by immigrants (or folks in Mexico, in El Super’s case). They are staffed by Latino immigrants and target the Latino immigrant consumer. They see cactus leaves (nopales), tortillas, dried black beans, chorizo and often feel just like supermarkets in Mexico.

Many are in spaces once occupied by Ralph’s, Von’s, Alpha Beta and other non-immigrant supermarket chains — buildings many of them moved into after the other businesses were burned out during the 1992 Rodney King riots.

For consumers who’ve known where to go and what to buy, these markets I’ve long thought were a benefit of living in Southern California — same as cheap flooring installation.

I’ve never heard of any of them being struck. But that was then — during years of seemingly unending flow of illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America into the region.

I suspect the El Super protests have something to do with the dramatic slowing in the flow of illegal Mexican immigrants into the US in the last few years. Not to mention, the record numbers of  deportations in the last few years.

A smaller supply of workers means those who have jobs gain confidence in their ability to demand better treatment.

The gravest threat to an illegal immigrant without much education or English is a lot of immigrants with the same limited skill set.

That’s why so many Latino immigrants have left L.A. over the years for places like Kentucky, Tennessee, Minnesota, etc etc. They weren’t escaping the migra. They were escaping others just like themselves, who bid down wages and forced up rents.

Now there are fewer of them.

So … might we see immigrant workers at more companies objecting to their treatment by their immigrant owners? Perhaps in other industries — home improvement, for example?

I’d say chances are good.

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Filed under California, Global Economy, Los Angeles, Migrants, Southern California

MIGRANTS: The Handy Clan of Vermont – a Lebanese immigrant story

Tonight, as I was writing, I was looking for a term that connoted “a wandering peddler” — hopefully from some foreign culture. Wandering myself through the Internet, I came upon a wondrous piece of journalism.

It’s the story of the Handy Clan of Vermont — a vast group of now politically powerful extended families who descend from two Lebanese immigrants, Maronite Christians, a century ago who became “back peddlers,” selling what they could carry on their backs through what had to be some forbidding geographic and cultural landscape.

That morphed into an ice company, then several ice companies. More people arrived. The families expanded and intermarried.

“By the 1930s, Peter Handy was known as “the ice king of Vermont,” says the writer, Ken Picard, of Seven Days. (Hats off to him and the newspaper.)

Eventually, the Handys transitioned and by the 1950s owned a bunch of drive-in movie theaters across Vermont. (I love this story!)

Now they’re in all kinds of businesses: hotels, motels, Burger Kings, car repair. Their descendants have names like Larry, Floyd and Earl.

(Btw, Handy may have originally been El Hindi or some version of that.)

Along the way, the Clan learned valuable lessons that almost any immigrant group learns. First: get into politics.

Apparently, the Handy Clan is now a central part in any Vermont political campaign.

As they should be.

Photo: Rev. Elias ElHindi and Solomon Hindi 

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LOS ANGELES: A&E Biography documentary on Drew Street and the Leon-Real family

Tonight at 10pm (9 pmCentral), A&E/Biography is showing a documentary on the Leon-Real family and the Drew Street gang, part of its (perhaps hyperbolically named) series on gangs: Gangsters: America’s Most Evil.

Anyway, I helped make this doc, interviewing with them etc. Check it out and let me know how I did. I don’t have cable….

Whatever the tone it takes, the story of Drew Street and the Leon-Real family, which I did for the LAT, was one of the most fascinating I’ve done in LA. I was totally engrossed. A saga of immigration and the underside of the American Dream. How the immigrant enclave can turn toxic.

Most of the folks on that street come from one small town in Mexico: Tlalchapa, Guerrero, which is in the Tierra Caliente, long one of that country’s most violent regions. They congregated on tiny Drew Street and the street became known back home as “El Barrio Bajo.” (The Low Neighborhood).

As one immigrant told me, “Anyone with aspirations left the street.” Most moved to Dalton, Georgia, America’s carpet capital. Those who remained turned Drew into a hive of drug and gang activity — one of the scariest in Los Angeles, with Maria Leon, a tiny woman who once sold popsicles and babysat for immigrant mothers, as the matriarch of 13 children.

Several gang sweeps and a federal prosecution have changed Drew Street.

I was just over on Drew Street and it looks better than it has in probably a couple decades at least. People can actually sell their houses there now, which wasn’t the case in 2008, at the height of the housing boom. The city seized the family’s house and tore it down, in a kind of municipal exorcism. It’s now a community garden. So that’s nice.

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Filed under Culture, Gangs, Los Angeles, Mexico, Migrants, Prison

LOS ANGLES: A guy with a great idea, 99 Cent Store founder dies

Dave Gold, the founder of one of my favorite stores anywhere, has died of a heart attack at age 80, in the middle-class home he lived in for decades, despite his millionaire net worth.

His 99 Cents Stores, which he began right here in Los Angeles, spread to finally include some 300 outlets.

More than that, it opened a concept that immigrants have copied ever since: the __-Cents store — could be 98, 97, 1.29, whatever. They’re all over L.A.

All of it was made possible by globalization, particularly the entry of China into world manufacturing.

I love going to 99 Cents Stores. You can buy duct tape, radishes, cat food, Halloween candy, canned beans, and books that never sold by folks like Charles Osgood or some football player.

Every store has a million things that can be used for kids’ art projects. And you never have to ask anyone how much something costs, saving you time as well as money….

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LOS ANGELES: 3rd & Vermont Photo exhibit and Oaxacan Basketball — events not to miss

3vermont_photo

The next few days have a couple very hip events taking place west of downtown that you don’t want to miss.

On Thursday, The Perfect Exposure Gallery holds an opening of photographs by Michael Cannon, centering around the 3rd and Vermont area. That ‘s one packed section of town, and one of my favorites, with folks from Korea, Bangladesh, Oaxaca, Salvador, and probably elsewhere as well.

It was there that I grew to love the strip mall — the immigrant’s blackboard. But that’s for another blog post.

Cannon, one of whose photos is above, has been living in and shooting the area for 15 years and his images will be on display at the gallery beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday.

By the way, The Perfect Exposure (3519 W. 6th St.) is fantastic photo gallery, exhibiting some of the best photographers from Los Angeles and elsewhere. Really worth a visit.

Then on Sunday, the 2013 Oaxacan basketball season gets underway, with a tournament at Toberman Park. The ohoop1inauguration, which is as cool to behold as the games, begins at noon.

Oaxacan basketball tournaments usually involve 20+ teams and bring together folks from all over Southern California.

(I wrote about them in my first book, True Tales from Another Mexico: The Lynch Mob, the Popsicle Kings, Chalino and the Bronx — which you should also not miss.)

They used to be held at Normandie Park, a few blocks away. Normandie Park is in fact a bi-nationally famous little park due to the role it played in maintaining the Oaxacan community, mostly folks from the Sierra Juarez mountains, for many years beginning in the 1970s by hosting hundreds, probably thousands, of tournament games by now.

But tournament size and disputes with park management meant that organizers switched the events to Toberman.

Either way, a fun way to see another part of LA on a Sunday.

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Filed under California, Culture, Los Angeles, Migrants, Photography, Streets, Uncategorized

LOS ANGELES: The Tubas have left the building … again

Los Angeles Tuba

So yet another school has lost its sousaphones to thieves who apparently will spare no effort, and overlook many other valuable items, to make off only with the tubas.

San Fernando High School’s marching band had its only two tubas stolen last month. The thieves broke into one band room, stole nothing, then broke into another and stole nothing but the tubas — overlooking guitars, violins, trumpets, drums, etc.

It’s all about banda music and the tuba’s newfound popularity here in LA, where it’s really the emblematic instrument of the era, much like the guitar was in the 1970s.

 

 

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LOS ANGELES: The Plaster Vendor, or how I spent my Sunday morning

TJ Plaster -- the Naked Woman

What’s nice about the Los Angeles of today is that you can go out a meet folks with worthwhile stories almost without trying.

I was in the area once called South Central L.A. (now South L.A.) and came upon a guy named Rogelio in a truck selling plaster statues to passers-by on Vermont Street: Snow White, bulldogs, snakes, Mickey Mouse, and this naked lady pictured here, among other things.

He buys them in Tijuana and brings them in.

I stopped to chat. He didn’t let me take his photo, but I shot other stuff.

He said sales of plaster was weak. “Enough to eat, but not well,” he said. “No meat.”

Rogelio is from Apatzingan, Michoacan. He was 16 in 1970 when he arrived in LA about 1 pm one day. He had a job by midnight.

Apatzingan is in Mexico’s Tierra Caliente, a particularly violent place, even before the latest nastiness. He went home a Plaster bulldog with furmonth ago to visit family. The police refer all problems to the local drug cartel — a pseudo-Catholic group of drug traffickers called the Knights Templar. Wonder how anyone would want to remain a cop under such conditions — or join the force at all.

At one corner, he said, there were two groups of headless bodies.

Still, he said he wants to return. This apparently has something to do with the fact that after 42 years in the country, he’s unable to find work that feeds anybody.

This, seems to me, is what LA is right now. If a Mexican immigrant has spent his time here learning new skills — English, welding, painting — he has a better chance of rolling with the economic bad times. But many people did not, assuming that the few skills they always had would be enough, as work had always been so plentiful that you could find a job in a few hours.

Those are the folks who are more likely to be leaving LA — some for other parts of the US, but mostly for Mexico, as it’s cheaper to be poor in Mexico, particularly if you have a place to live.

I told him about Craigslist as a place to put advertise his statues, and told him to give me a call if he needed help.

He said his daughter has a computer, but that maybe he’d call.

Hats

 

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MEXICO: Oaxacan Hoops and the photographer Jorge Santiago

Tlahuitotepec's first female mayor, Sofia Robles, takes the opening shot at the basketball tournament.

Tlahuitotepec’s first female mayor, Sofia Robles, takes the opening shot at the basketball tournament.

Pittsburgh-based photographer Jorge Santiago has put up stunning images of Oaxacan village basketball tournaments at his website.

Santiago it appears spent much of 2012 wandering in the Sierra Juarez mountains from tournament to tournament and has grasped the essence of the basketball world up there — that basketball, the most urban hip-hop 21st Century sport, has become an integral part of Oaxacan Indian culture and tradition.

Check them out. They’re great!

My admiration for the photos, of course, is only enhanced by the fact that Santiago partly drew his inspiration for the project from the story on Oaxacan basketball in my first book (True Tales from Another Mexico: The Lynch Mob, the Popsicle Kings, Chalino and the Bronx).

But the images do make me envious. He’s traveled far into this culture and tradition and captured some beautiful shots. I’m looking forward to see what he can do with the Oaxacan basketball world here in Los Angeles, which is deep.

One thing I always found interesting about this topic: Though Oaxacan Indians are some of the most anthropologically studied of any group in Mexico, I could find no academic researcher who had even a superficial knowledge of basketball and its importance in the cultural, social, and traditional life of Oaxacan villages — or for that matter the enormous importance it plays in the lives of Oaxacan immigrants in Los Angeles, where my story (Zeus and the Oaxaca Hoops) took place.

How many dissertations have been written on pelota Mixteca — an almost extinct sport played 500 years ago? And nothing on basketball, a sport that tens of thousands of Oaxacan young men and women play with a passion bordering on obsession. I find that remarkable. Any thoughts as to why that would be? Please chime in…..

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Filed under Los Angeles, Mexico, Migrants, Photography

MIGRANTS: Remittances worldwide increasing

Migrant remittances to their native countries worldwide are on the upswing, with $399 billion expected to be sent home this year, up from $372 billion last year.

 

 

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LOS ANGELES: A sauna that’s my favorite place in Hollywood

Check out a column in today’s LA Times about the sauna in Hollywood, in the club now owned by LA Fitness, where I love to spend time in and which is well worth visiting for all it can tell you about Los Angeles, I think.

I always liked the idea of the region as a place where people come and live with their own, more or less oblivious to others from elsewhere who live nearby. This, too, is on display in the sauna.

It’s a raw place; you may hear things that offend a PC sensibility, but L.A.’s geography of multiculturalism can be messy, which makes it so interesting.

Don’t pay attention to the commenter who says the only language you hear in there is Spanish. That’s nonsense.

 

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LOS ANGELES: Who was that masked man?

Yesterday, the May Day march was the smallest it’s been since it began in Los Angeles in 2006. (Here’s the LA Times story.)

Absent are the vast numbers of immigrants and their families — the region’s working class essentially — who populated the first marches and gave them an organic energy.

Nowadays, a much higher percentage of marchers is made up of youths with masks and bandanas covering their faces, and often with anarchist slogans, such as “Abolish Wage Slavery,” and calling for an end to the Federal Reserve.

 

 

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MIGRANTS: “We’re like cockroaches. We’re surviving.”

 

Roberto Chavez

Over the weekend, I spent time at Westmoreland and Francis avenues, a few blocks west of MacArthur Park, where on Saturday and Sunday a kind of street-vendor mall spontaneously pops up.

On a couple blocks, vendors crowd together, looking for all the world like some street in Mexico City, and selling toothbrushes, electric hair curlers, bleach, boots, DVDs, tools, laptops, cellphones, clothes of all kinds. Each vendor has  a little space – first come, first served, I take it.

I met Roberto Chavez, from Honduras, who owned a hardware store at 6th and Union for 10 years until Home Depot and 99-cents stores moved in and crushed him.

“Since then, I’ve been on the streets” selling wallets and ladies purses lately at the Roadium Open Air Market swap meet.

Chavez said his father was a journalist and died when Chavez was 5. His mother cooked at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, he said. Chavez said he came here more than 30 years ago.

Street vending is part of the economy that L.A. cannot do without, he said, because it helps keep its cheap labor force here.

“People just try to survive here,” he said, looking at the vendors that surrounded us. “Nobody’s making money.” Most folks have full-time jobs and come here to sell on weekends to make ends meet. Otherwise, he said, they’d have to return home. It’s too expensive to be poor here, with cars, rent ($700 for a miserable single apartment that he has to share to afford, he said).

“You can measure the economy here,” he said. “We’re like cockroaches. We’re surviving.”

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