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Hipsters and Homeboys: A Dramatized Conversation

"The Hipsters are coming," indeed. A pair of lifelong Arroyo residents say they're willing to accept change, but ask for a bit more respect of the Highland Park's past.

Rigo and Elias, lifelong Northeast LA residents, are walking down York Blvd in Highland Park. It’s the weekend and people are out. There are families with kids coming out of restaurants and youngsters huddled in groups, talking their private gossip. It’s dusk and Rigo and Elias are heading over to to get some huaraches. On the way, they pass the old Verdugo Pet Shop, which recently closed. Along the way they strike up a conversation with Norman, a self-described newcomer to the neighborhood. Norman talks about the possibilities of Highland Park, he’s excited about the new life he can make here. The following is a fictional conversation between Norman, Rigo and Elias.

Elias: Did you see Rigo?

Rigo: Yeah, Sam the chicken man died last December. His place was crazy, always had roosters crowing inside, everything was covered with thick layers of dust. Sam’s real name was Herv. He was a local fixture. Real old school.

Norman: Whatever it is, it’ll probably be better than that dirty old pet store.

R: Hey man, show some respect. That old pet store really served the community for years. My grandma used to buy her bird feed there. Plus we bought our first chicks from Sam.

N: Wow I didn't know how much people valued it. You've lived here a long time, then? You’ve seen a lot of changes huh?

R: My whole life. Yeah, I’ve seen lots. That place, The York. I remember it was The Dragon, this old dive bar that served Americanized Chinese food. It used to be my Tio Eddie’s favorite place when he lived down on Buchanan Street. Then it closed down sometime in the late '90s. They turned it into a hip bar, it was called The Wild Hare or something, but it never did too well. Now it’s called The York. It’s a gastropub and it’s really good. It’s part of the new “York Valley” scene, which we just used to call York back in the day. Some of the new shops, like The York, , and are cool. They sit up next to some old time shops like Do It Best Hardware, Zeppelin Music and bakery. It’s cool to see them coexist. Sometimes El Chapin will have an art show featuring local artists--there is lots of mixing of cultures on this block.

After their dinner at El Huarache, the three decide to walk the neighborhood. is open late today, Zeppelin Music’s giant model zeppelin is lit from inside...

N: Wow, those huaraches were great--there is such good food in this neighborhood! Actually, all these ethnic neighborhoods in L.A. have the best food. I try to tell my friends to come out here and have some authentic Mexican, but they all think it’s a sketchy neighborhood. It’s all good, though.

E: Mediated perception is usually biased...

N: Well, yeah, you just have to brave it out here, but the authentic experiences are worth it. I feel sorry for all my friends who are too scared to be out here. But it’ll get safer when more people move out here and make it better. I just feel like an urban pioneer, you know? This place used to be a wasteland, and now it’ll get better and safer!

R: C’mon Norman, I resent that. Your language is very disrespectful.

N: What do you mean, Rigo? Don't take it so seriously.

R: There's no other way to take it. It's not respectful to the existing community. I’ve heard the word “wasteland” used to describe pre-2000 Northeast L.A. often lately. That’s insulting to those of us that were born and raised here. My parents were raised in Northeast L.A. and my grandparents spent most of their adult lives here. This has been a great place to grow up in, with lots of culture and diversity. It was never a wasteland.

N: Oh yeah, the local culture is great, that’s why I wanted to move here. I’m just saying that there’s a lot of untapped resources here that new people could do something with.

R: Really? “Untapped resources?” This isn’t some virgin territory to come in and “improve.” This is a neighborhood where families have lived and worked for generations.

N: Ah, man, why does everything have to get so political? Why am I always having my freedom trampled when I’m just trying to live my own life?

E: Because living here without acknowledging who lived here before, without honoring their contributions and respecting their culture is offensive. Having a mentality where you come to a neighborhood only to “improve” it is disrespectful. Working on the assumption that there was nothing here before you came, or that the culture here is just here for you to decorate your life with is almost a colonialist mentality.

R: Yeah, my parents grew up during the Latinoization of Northeast LA. When they were young there were still lots of Italians, Jews, Germans and Scandinavians here. I never heard my parents say a single disparaging thing about any of those cultures or their communities. They acknowledged their presence and respected the fact that they were here before. They used to eat at Fosselman’s Ice cream in Highland Park. It’s run by the same German-American family today, but now they only have one store. It’s in Alhambra. My parents also have wonderful memories of going to church alongside Italian-Americans. They grew up with the San Antonio Winery family. When my sister and I were younger, they would take us to the Saint Joseph’s table every year at St. Peter’s Church on Broadway.

E: The one in Chinatown?

R: Yeah, but it was known as Little Italy before it was Chinatown. And Chinatown used to be by where the Metro building is now. Now Chinatown is northeast of Downtown and there is also Chinese culture in the San Gabriel valley.

E: Neighborhoods change with time, they ebb and flow. Each tide changes the face of the neighborhood but the past remains and should always be appreciated.

N: Yeah, I’m cool with all of that history. Man, I wish that Fosselman’s was still on Fig. I’d love to walk down there to get an ice cream right now. Plus we could use some good Italian food in HLP. It’s just the gang-bangers and thugs that live here that we need to throw out. That’s what we’re trying to improve.

R: Sure our neighborhood has its problems. There are some streets with strong gang presence, but some use that as an excuse to disregard the whole community. I was reading the Patch the other day, and I noticed a lot of respect for the early influx of white artists and musicians who lived in the area as well as the pre-white flight neighborhood, but when it came time to describe NELA between 1970-2000 all they could write were words like: Depressed, Gang-infested, Menacing and Wasteland.

E: Yeah, he forgot to mention the vibrant art scene of the time, including Mechicano Art Center and the great bookstores like Arroyo Books on Figueroa near Avenue 57, De-Center close to Figueroa and York and Flor y Canto by Fig and Pasadena. is a great spot made by the Latino community, where kids can play and take art workshops by great artists like Diane Gamboa. There are so many more, , run by comes to mind, also Rock Rose Gallery. All of these spots of great culture making were home-grown; they made and continue to make impact in the neighborhood and the city. It’s really terrible that they aren’t even acknowledged, like they don’t even exist, like every contribution made by Latinos in Highland Park was gang-related! We’re asking for respect and co-existence, a solidarity with others. Excuse us if we take offense to people calling our neighborhood a wasteland. And if you’re interested in making the neighborhood safer, try to get to know it better first. Support people who are already making changes.

N: I don’t know, sounds like you guys are just suffering from class-resentment. You’re jealous of the new comers because you don’t want change in your neighborhood; you want it to stay under-developed.

R: Don’t get us wrong, we’re not anti-change. But, displacement is always hard to deal with and tensions always flare. It’s that much harder when the newcomers act like the existing culture either needs saving or is somehow inherently violent or devious.

E: Rigo, there’s a story about newcomers to L.A. turning a deaf ear to the original inhabitants ...

Check back tomorrow for the conclusion of "Hipsters and Homeboys: A Dramatized Conversation"

Reies Flores November 04, 2011 at 12:38 AM
I think that we're all trying to build bridges and build a better community. I understand that what I love about the area attracted you to it as well. So why should we be enemies? As I said, I have played my part in it as have you. Our neighborhood has been changing rapidly and this is difficult for people to understand. Why not be empathetic to their feelings instead of defensive? And these people may not live on your street, but they do exist. I have met many families economically forced out of the commuinty they loved. Their struggle is more than hurt feelings and I was calling you on that. Do you think that this was unfair? I also wonder what you thought of this piece that we wrote. What did you feel the message of it was? Have you read both parts? I look forward to your response.
David O'Roscoe November 04, 2011 at 12:50 AM
I have to ask this question, it seems to bother at me, at my heart and mind, and if anyone can answer me, I'd appreciate it. Do we/the public/us/patch users/writers/blogers/readers have to have credentials to have or voice opinions? Do we have to have the right ethnicity/political identity/family history/length of residency/or fashion sense to have the right to our own opinions? And if there is even the slightest bit, the tiniest bit, even a hint of 'yes' to either of those questions, who gets to bestow that right? Not asking if the opinion is right/wrong/up/down/historically correct/pc/or even offensive. I'm asking if there needs to be credentials in order to voice an opinion.
Harvey November 04, 2011 at 01:31 AM
Yes David, how about the credential called: "subtle decorum"
dee-aych November 04, 2011 at 03:45 AM
Monte Vista & 52. http://www.flickr.com/photos/metrolibraryarchive/2950374561/
kdwegner November 04, 2011 at 03:16 PM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NcbzuQM0RIg
David O'Roscoe November 04, 2011 at 04:03 PM
Very good video. When I was a kid, the eastside was east of the river. Way before I was a kid, Western Ave and Eastern Ave where made equal distant from Main Street.
David O'Roscoe November 04, 2011 at 04:08 PM
Wonderful photos. Made me misty.
David O'Roscoe November 04, 2011 at 04:09 PM
When you look here, keep exploring the photos.
Milla Goldenberg November 04, 2011 at 04:17 PM
you're a class act, ida rose! (i'm kidding, of course.) pretty tacky to delete incendiary comments full of misdirected anger and accusations about my privilege. next time, try standing by your comments and offering an apology instead.
Milla Goldenberg November 04, 2011 at 05:24 PM
@Reies: thank you for your kind words. please accept my apology in the part i played in escalating this and being dismissive of your point of view. i agree that we shouldn't be enemies and that has been my central issue with this whole "hipsters vs. homeboys" debate. it pins one side against the other and instead of both sides being heard -- which i know was the purpose of this debate -- it deepens the divisions by highlighting our differences instead of focusing on our similarities. i was hoping for a more inclusive approach. admittedly, this approach calls for dismissing the existing tensions in favor of a unified front. i don't know of a better solution than this, but there certainly could be one and i'm very open to hearing it. i've read all the articles and comments related to this post, and know that the debate is complex and won't be resolved in this thread.
Milla Goldenberg November 04, 2011 at 05:27 PM
my understanding of the requirement was that the bloggers had to live in the area. if there were additional requirements, clearly i didn't get the memo. :-)
Lostangel November 04, 2011 at 05:52 PM
P1 Im trying to understand why this all becoming such an issue of race? I'm a white boy and grew up in Venice during the early 80's, much much different then what you see today. It was then, prominently latino and black and your scattered white folks. The gang violence was a weekly event. We lived just a few blocks of what was then called Ghost Town. We had latino neighbors, white neighbors and asian. Over the years more white people moved in, along with other nationalities, and you could see change happening around you, but it was for the better... Who doesn't want that ??
Lostangel November 04, 2011 at 05:53 PM
P2 My wife and I moved into Highland Park late last year. Does this make me a white hipster? I moved here because I love the culture, and it was affordable to finally buy a house in LA, where I was born in 1970 and raised. I love my latino neighbors. I would hate to see them move away. We shop at Super A, not Whole foods, I grab tacos off the little make shift stands along York, but at the same time, Id like to have a variety of other nice places to eat at as well. I don't want to see Highland Park change dramatically, but I don't see an issue in making some improvements along the way and making it a nice place for everyone to enjoy. Who likes seeing furniture piled up in the alley behind their home? who likes hearing gun shots right outside their door? Who likes seeing drug deals going down on your corner ? Who likes getting their house tagged by gangs ? Are these questions an issue of race or just wanting better surroundings ? If I answer yes to all these questions and this makes me a hipster... then I'll gladly except that
Lostangel November 04, 2011 at 05:53 PM
P3 To this day, with all the changes that have taken place in Venice, my favorite taco spot still sits on lincoln next to Whole Foods. La Cabana still sits on Rose, the little Mexican market is still on Rose and 5th where I'd buy my asada along side hip little eateries and boutiques, the Swap meet building still on lincoln across from hip restaurants and bars where I'd buy my chucks and dickies. Million dollar homes sitting next to apartment buildings with latino families. Change happens, but you can still keep the culture that it was known for. Embrace it people.. Enjoy Life and love your neighbors I'll step down from the soap box now
David O'Roscoe November 04, 2011 at 06:17 PM
Lostangel, (wonderful name), Very well said. Change is inevitable. We can label the change good/bad, desirable/undesirable, needed/intrusive, evil/saintly, but change will come no matter the label. But also, things always remain the same.
Milla Goldenberg November 04, 2011 at 08:14 PM
all excellent points. i think if more people viewed the changes happening in Highland Park as adding to the neighborhood's splendor instead of detracting from it, we could ease some of these tensions. a blend of cultures, races, classes and places to eat gives you the best of everything.
David Fonseca (Editor) November 04, 2011 at 11:28 PM
I am going to tentatively add my two cents to this conversation, with hops that you all recognize how grateful I am for everyone participating in this conversation and having the humility and intelligence to restore civility. Milla and Reies, in particular, have been subject to some unfair ad-homs, and they've handled them with grace. My fear is that the intent of Reies and Arturo's pieces may have been misinterpreted by some. I take full responsibility for that as editor. Here's how I interpret it though, and bear in mind this understanding is bolstered by numerous and increasingly instructive phone conversations with Reies. Here goes. Perhaps something that these generally sensible "embrace change" sentiments seem to gloss over is that there are potential harsh consequences to neighborhood changes of the type that Highland Park is currently undergoing. Los Angeles is a rent control city, but that doesn't mean hardworking families won't be taking a drive to Palmdale once the landlord decides to cash in on a suddenly desirable craftsman. Are Reies and Arturo asking newcomers to bear the emotional burden of this economic shift? I didn't read that anywhere in their piece. I suppose an awareness of the fact that newcomers will displace more than just drug dealers would probably be appreciated, though. (cont.)
David Fonseca (Editor) November 04, 2011 at 11:28 PM
(cont.) I think what this article aspired to be was a call for a some sensitivity for those who grew up in this neighborhood, poured into their sweat equity and artistic talents into it and rightfully feel a little burned when hearing it referred to as a wasteland. Hurt feelings? Perhaps, but it's also a warning that we can't embrace this bright future we're all so excited about with being realistic about the past. Here's an example of that. There seems to be this idea that the rising tide of commerce will wash away the gangs and drugs and ever so offensive sidewalk sofas. However, it's worth noting that Glassell Park's most infamous gang was not displaced by flippers or hipsters, but by a multi-agency law enforcement raid. Which is to say, as much as I love all the new shops in HLP, they had very little to do with the gangs going away. Highland Park's most infamous gang, by the way? Land owners and, as far as can tell, not intimidated by Chaichata. Suggesting that our economic boom displaced the gangsters may actually be a harmful statement, not because it necessarily hurts feelings, but because it's sort of incomplete and sets a misleading precedent for the future. LAPD/FBI/Sheriff's Dept. displaced the gangsters, thanks in large part to dedicated community members who grew up in the wasteland. Disregard that, and you might be disregarding a useful blueprint for the future--i.e. it may not be possible to buy into this community purely through commerce.
Diane Garcia November 04, 2011 at 11:35 PM
I have four generations of family history in Northeast Los Angeles, we're scattered in Highland Par, Lincoln Heights, El Sereno, and Echo Park in the 70s, a few of us "escaped" to South Pasadena. This conversation is all to familiar to me. Very true to life in my opinion. I've been thinking about it lately too, how growing up whenever we saw our neighborhood being filmed for movies or television shows it was used as the backdrop for the most destitute of situations. That can play a role on your psyche as a child. I only hope that my peers overcame it like this writer obviously did and not feel the need to flee the neighborhood.
Reies Flores November 05, 2011 at 07:15 AM
Dear Milla, Of course I accept your apology and I thank you for accepting mine. I feel dissapointed with myself, that I let my emotions take over. I guess I felt that Arturo and I were being attacked and it was a knee jerk reaction. Thank you for helping me to remember to not use the keyboard as a weapon but as a tool. I would like to continue our conversation but in person if possible. I think that we will find that we may have much more in common than it has seemed the last few days. I do want to note, however that the discussion Arturo and I framed is not "Hipsters vs. Homeboys" but "Hipsters AND Homeboys". Beyond that, the title was never intended to be read literally, but that's how it has been interpereted. I feel that our intent with the piece was to express the need for respect for the old and respect for the new. If we failed in our endeavour I can accept that, but very few of the comments have been about the piece. This has been a very negative experience for me and I am sorry that I played a part in making it a negative experience for you as well. Thank you very much for dialouging with me, Milla. We may not always agree on everything but I think that this is how real understanding starts.
Reies Flores November 05, 2011 at 07:37 AM
Hello everyone, Thank you all for commenting. I wish that the comments had been more about the piece, but Arturo and I are a bit responsible for that by trying to respond to everything possible. I did not realize how quickly things could get out of hand on the internet and was dismayed by some of the comments, including my own. I also let emotions get the better of me for a short time, and for that I want to apologize to all on this strand and especially to Milla. Also I want to say that I do not condone anyone telling anyone else to move away. That was mentioned twice, by Harvey and Ida Rose. I don't think there is room for that in this conversation, whether it is by someone who opposes or supports my view. And what is my view anyway? Well the intent of our dialogue, was merely this: 1) Respect for the old, respect for the new 2) Empathy for those who are new to the neighborhood and for those who may be/ feel displaced. I don't think that these are controversial ideas, but I feel that Arturo and I have been made out to be anti-change, extremist, cry-babies and now on the comment strand for part 2 racists and classists. I don't feel this is fair. And I don't feel that we have represented any of these views in our piece or in our comments, even in my hour of madness when I misplaced a bit of my civility. If we failed in our attempt, I'm sorry, but oddly most people did not comment on the piece itself so it's hard to dialogue about it. Thanks again for reading.
Reies Flores November 05, 2011 at 07:50 AM
One last thing. Many people seem to feel offended by the use of the word Hipster in the title. We do not condone using the word and I think if you read the second part, you'll see that we cover that there. The title "Hipsters AND Homeboys" (not "vs") was not meant to be taken literally. It was meant to poke fun of these simplistic and demeaning terms that sometimes seem to dominate the base level of this debate. The piece itself was supposed to dispel some of these myths: "Hipster" as newcomer, and "Homeboy" or gang member as the majority existing community members prior to 2000 (see David O'Roscoe's "The Hipsters are Coming" and so many conversations that I have had based on that assumption). We attempted in the piece to dispel both of these myths and delve far beyond this superficial level. Again, if you think we fell short of that, or you were offended by that, please comment and I'd be glad to talk about it. Otherwise, I have neglected my family for far too long and cannot continue to comment on other things. Thank you once more for reading and engaging in this debate.
Milla Goldenberg November 05, 2011 at 04:57 PM
@Reies: don't beat yourself up for any of this. you and Arturo did a good job of presenting both sides of the issue in a fair and balanced way. the comments took on a life of their own, as comments on a message board often do, but that speaks more to the nature of the internet than it does the nature of the debate. it's easy to say something offensive online that we would never say to someone's face, and with a hot-button issue like this one, it's no surprise that emotions flared. i think for some of us -- and i put myself squarely in this camp -- the biggest issue with the debate was that it was being had at all. certainly it's easier to ignore tension than address it, especially if you could be perceived as one of the people responsible for creating the tension. that can make one quite defensive (again, i include myself here). in any case, i see now that this dialogue was necessary, despite how touchy it became, because at the end of the day, we're sharing this wonderful neighborhood together that we all want great things for, and if it takes an argument or two to figure out how to co-exist, it's a small price to pay.
rewan November 07, 2011 at 06:16 AM
As a person of color my wife and I moved here for various reasons 9 years ago. One it was/is affordable the second is the diversity both architecturally and ethnically. We chose this area because of it's rich cultural diversity and the many amenities it has to over. But not on like Baltimore where I lived in a number years ago and not much dissimilar to Highland Park which was made up of the same social economic demographics it too feel victim to crime and neglect and was held hostage by those who prey on the community with social devient behavior. Now we can ague the larger socio economic and racial divisions in this nation which create such situations but that's not what is being discussed on this blog.
Jane Conway November 07, 2011 at 08:59 PM
very articulate. thank you. I can see how some would find this hard to read, but I think you bring up important issues.
kelly thompson January 19, 2012 at 11:25 PM
I think I posted this before but it seems to be gone now. I just wanted to restate that the term "Hipster" was a term given to a group by people outside of that group to describe them in a derogatory way. While the term "Homeboy" was created within a group to describe each other in a loving and respectful way. So this may be why the title alone of the thread can come off as racist. I don't think that was the intention but I do think this is part of the problem. Back to my family too. Peace!
emi April 01, 2013 at 09:42 AM
I moved out of l.a. as a Hispanic born and raised there and with a UCLA degree, strictly to get away from all the hipster types. Many of them had less education than I do, but just because they are whiter or trendier than me or whatever - would take the good paying jobs, drive up the rents, credit score requirements, etc., etc. I got priced out of los feliz back in the late 90s where I lived as a UCLA student at a time when a few artists and LACC students lived humbly along side Armenians and Mexicans. I moved to palms in west la where I raised my son and got priced out of there as soon as they decided to make downtown culver city accommodating to the annoying hipster crowd. The students, immigrants, single parents, seniors and Hari Krishnas coexisted fine and affordabaly until then. One day, I packed up my car and moved to another state that rocks brand new apartments with lush landscaping, lots of parking, olympic size pools and units with marble sinks and washer and dryers INSIDE. Recent Hispanic immigrants from places like Colombia and the Dominican Republic live there with unapologetic swag, rocking brand new cars, high quality watches and clothing, yet always respectful and helpful to their neighbors. There are plenty of things to do here, ethnic food galore, lots of fishing, jobs that pay the same or more as jobs in l.a., but not nearly as much violence, impossible traffic, smog or having to live in obscenely overpriced rat traps run by shameless SLUM LORDS.
El Cid April 01, 2013 at 03:16 PM
“Paradise is exactly like where you are right now... only much, much better.” Sounds like you found a new, unique place to find happiness. And, LA is our paradise. Diversity, tolerance, and acceptance of others makes LA our paradise.
emi April 01, 2013 at 08:48 PM
Well do be happy paying more than half a month's salary for run down ghetto apartments. I'll stick to paying just 7 bills for my place with new wood floors, marble sinks and brand new kenmore washer and dryer inside. Plus it's just steps from the little bay where I fish with my sons against clean blue skies. In the meantime, I can afford vacations a few times a year to places jamaica or brazil and a car note on a 2012 inifiniti. You see, me and Puerto Rican friends I have who now live here were dealing with similar god awful circumstances like l.a. when they were in new jersey. Like me, they wouldn't trade the swag of the good life we live here for anything...EVER! And we're really glad y'all (as we say here) choose to remain in places like l.a. and live stressed out lives. That means you don't end up here causing neo segregation through price gouging in housing and impossible credit score requirements.
El Cid April 01, 2013 at 10:59 PM
Emi - I kindly expressed that you are fortunate to have found your paradise. Yet, I can't help but wonder if you really found it? Maybe LA is all of what you say it is....but, for me it is not. LA rocks!

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