Chances are that if you live anywhere outside of Southern California, you have the same idea about what living in Los Angeles is probably like. You picture the beautiful beaches and the crazy parties and you assume people here bump into celebrites every 15 minutes. Although the beaches are beautiful and celebrities do live in California in their gated communities, the truth about this city is very different. I grew up in Los Angeles and lived in the heart of the city up until half way through my freshman year of high school, when my parents were finally able to afford to live to a less dangerous area after saving up for years before I was even born. And yes, I said dangerous.
When you’re a young kid you never really understand how bad things are until you’re older and can understand things better. I grew up attending a middle school where certain colors were prohibited from clothing because of gang affiliations. I grew up having to take the long way home because the shorter way was too dangerous, especially for an 11 year old girl. I grew up with people getting shot on my block every two weeks. I grew up in a house where I once heard someone jump over our gate and onto the back of the house in an attempt to hide from the police. Helicopters would keep me up until late at night because the annoying noise never let me sleep. In my neighborhood, no one would take a second look at a teen mother. No one batted an eye if you dropped out of school at 16 years old, it was not anything new or out of the ordinary. In the area that I grew up, Los Angeles was anything but extravagant. Kids dropped out of school in order to work so that they could help with living expenses, teen girls were mothers, and gangs were something you just dealt with.
The “L.A. aesthetic” that the media has created excludes the harsh realities of living in a county where homeless people account for 23% of the population. The tumblr posts fail to talk about skid row, they don’t acknowledge the racial tension there is in a city that is dominated by minorities, gangs, and environmental problems are hardly ever discussed. Growing up here, I never saw college as an option. College was something that kids with money did. The University of Southern California (USC) was the only college I ever heard about simply because it was in South Central, the area I grew up in. Aside from that I never gave it much thought. I had to work and help my parents, THAT was the priorities I and every kid I ever met had.
Although Los Angeles is not all it is made out to be, that does not mean that I ever for a second, hate where I came from. The city is rich in culture. Growing up with so many other latinos in my community allowed me to embrace my culture and learn about it firsthand. The diversity you find here is what truly makes it beautiful. In L.A., you can be whoever you want to be. Even though this city has a tough history (think L.A. riots, gangs, and poverty), it is full of life. You will meet some of the most hard working and interesting people here. I am grateful for growing up where I did, it has taught me things that I carry with me even now that I am elsewhere. I constantly miss running for the ice cream truck passing down the block, taking the metro bus to any and every part of the city, and the sense of diversity you feel everywhere you go. Thank you Los Angeles, thank you for all the crazy stories I will carry with me forever.