Having befriended a local activist from the Boyle Heights, East LA area, I have had many opportunities to immerse myself into the everyday life Los Angelenos enjoy. Since I had never visited this city before college and did not have any relatives or friends to divulge the realities of LA life, I came with an open mind and eagerness to explore. However, never did I expect to find what I can only describe as an underground community of artists, cumbia musicians, activists, and grassroots community supporters- and I say underground, not because they are unknown, but simply because they deviate from mainstream popular culture.
Last weekend, friends and I rode our bikes over LA’s challenging hills to the Salon De La Plaza for the three year anniversary of Corazon Del Pueblo– a volunteer-based, non-profit community center promoting peace and social justice through the arts, education, and social action. Even though I have only been in Los Angeles for approximately three months, I’ve had the privilege of meeting several of the volunteers in Corazon Del Pueblo. Every single one greeted me with genuine warmth and friendliness, encouraging me to become active in the community. During the event, poets, musicians, and community leaders explained how community members managed to keep their doors open without outside funding, grants, or private money. Offering free classes of yoga, jiu-jitsu, self defense, dance, and music, Corazon Del Pueblo thrives on the donations and work of its volunteers.
One member of the community, who was honored at the event, told his story of how he had been arrested and detained for an alleged crime even though he was later declared innocent. Hauntingly echoing the story of the Sleepy Lagoon, he exclaimed to the mostly Mexican and Chicano/a immigrant community, “I realized at that moment how media, how discrimination, and how lies can become real and have real effects on people. They will try to convince us we are criminals, they will try to convince us we are worthless and what we truly are, but we are here to remind everyone of their value, to remind youth of the tremendous contributions they can provide to society.”
While the audience responded with applause, I was again reminded of the power social stereotypes can have on people and the importance community organizations can play in the shaping of immigrant youth and peoples. Just as Filipino associations have provided community support in Los Angeles, and Korean hagwon provides Asian Americans with after-school activities and language classes, Corazon Del Pueblo caters to the Latino/a immigrants in surrounding LA neighborhoods. Having observed and learned how our public education system structures failure into the lives of so many immigrant youth, I am ecstatic to see so many grassroots organizations helping youth. Resisting labels that stereotypes Mexican immigrants as individuals who depend on welfare and consume tax-dollar money, Corazon del Pueblo creates safe havens for immigrants and youth who want to find a supportive home away from home, and family that encourages and challenges them to do their best and succeed. I will certainly be going back soon, and I urge anyone in Los Angeles to find their way too!