Here I thought I knew what I was doing, when I was assigned to Highland Park.
Our project adviser, Tamara Abdollah, advised us that Highland Park is indisputably “the best neighborhood in Los Angeles,” which bodes pretty well, verdad?
She further characterized the neighborhood as an old-school barrio, but with all the expected issues of hipster incursion and gentrification. She was thorough and thoughtful in her warnings about a recent uptick in gang violence, as well.
These adminishments only inflated my Tejana Machisma; I’m bilingual in Spanish and never shut up in either language, I grew up in a “majority-minority” city, San Antonio, and I’ve been writing about arts and culture in San Antonio and South Texas for some years. This past winter, I even travelled through rural borderland Texas and spoke to artists about the rigors of border life, the fear of the narcowars and the absurd border policies, and how they play out in an art context. Latino, working class, primarily Catholic and with close ties to Mexico?
Girl, I thought, you’ve already been there.
More the fool I.
For starter, here are some girls from San Antonio, in a photograph taken by my father, a longtime photographic chronicler of his hometown:
Most of the San Antonio Tejanos I grew up with are third or fourth generation (most likely, the descendants of those who fled the Mexican Revolution), and identify strongly with the cowboy culture prevalent not just in South Texas, but in the Northern Mexican states of Chihuahua, Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon and Coahuila. Here these young woman are wearing their cowgirl hats slightly tongue-in-cheek, but the vaquero (cowboy) tradition is very much part of the cultural landscape.
When I first started lurking around Highland Park, I was struck by how different it looks and feels from Texas Borderlandia. The influence of Southern Mexico and Central America is strong; there are much fewer images of the conquista, Spain, and of ranching and cowboy culture. The fashion sidesteps vaquero chic absolutely, and a punk-influenced hip hop urbanism holds sway. Of the twenty or so people I spoke to, the majority were from interior Mexico. Not infrequently, people were reluctant to speak to me on-camera, explaining that they feared harassment by law enforcement and immigration. More than a few times, people were reluctant to tell where they were born, or grew up. When I did talk to them about their origins in Mexico, they mentioned hometowns in Morelos, Oaxaca, Yucatan and Sonora, as different from the Texas-adjacent Mexican states as Maine is from Louisiana.
It makes sense. Whereas San Antonio and South Texas are provincial and multigenerational, Highland Park is an immigrant community, and they’re in a different kind of liminal space. San Antonio has been accused of (and celebrated for) not knowing whether it’s the U.S. or Mexico, whereas Highland Park is an immigrant community laboring under the threat and wider culture of the United States. It’s a transient town which, while home to many multigenerational families, is constantly in a roiling process of assimilation.
L.A. just gets curiouser and curiouser.
I found Francisca plying her wares on her stoop. Funny, outgoing, and sharp, she’s raised a son in Highland Park and is in the process of raising another. Originally from the ‘old country,” she’s adapted rapidly to LA life, thanks to her keen ability to assess value, read people, and use her creativity to help her make a living. IN San Antonio and elsewhere, this aesthetic is known in colloquial Spanish as “rasquache,” the art of making something out of nothing. It’s as though Francisca has a curation degree in this highly specialized skillset.
But enough with the telling, let’s hang out with Francisca.
This video is some rough stuff, I know ; this bootcamp experience has been my introduction to HD filming, tripod use, sound, and Final Cut Pro. I hope you enjoyed my preliminary experimentation!
Francisca’s great on camera, no?
And now for a couple mini-retratos: “DVD Extras,” if you will.
My interview with a Highland Park local, Raul. Originally from El Paso, TX, he customarily lays low in an alley abutted by murals. He’s only been in Highland Park for three months. Here he discusses the noise, and the presence of law enforcement in his daily life.
Francisca’s pal, a former waitress and current bon vivant, Karla discusses what brought her to the neighborhood. She was of great help to the team, in attempting to aid Krista with HP arts contacts to discuss the area’s murals. When I get techie enough, I will replace the thumbnail.
In any case, both short interviews highlight the transience and traveling of Los Angeles. Also, fascinatingly, Karla’s super-active in local arts and entertainment scenes (comedy, etc). I’m hoping to tag along with her in future months, and to get a clearer and clearer picture of this new planet of Los Angeles.