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
Elias: Rigo, there’s a story about newcomers to L.A. turning a deaf ear to the original inhabitants.
Norman: I thought that the white artists in the late 18th century were Highland Park's first inhabitants.
E: Actually, were the first Highland Park inhabitants. They arrived here 8,000 years ago.
Rijo: Yeah, and the first white residents of Northeast LA were Spanish: the Verdugo family who owned all of Northeast LA from the Arroyo Seco to Griffith Park and from the L.A. River to La Cañada. Back then all of this was called Rancho San Rafael.
N: Oh. So that's why there's that street in Mt. Washington. So what's this story anyway?
R: When the Spanish first arrived in Los Angeles, they were looking for a place to build the Mission San Gabriel. They found this site they assumed was perfect next to the Rio Santa Ana in present day Montebello. Well the Tongva told them that it was a floodplain and that they should avoid building there. The Spanish looked down at the dry riverbed and laughed. There were no watermarks that evidenced a floodplain. They went ahead and built the Mission anyway. The very next rainy season a flash flood came and washed away most of the Mission’s crops and destroyed the building. The Spanish then decided to listen and moved the mission five miles away, to its present site.
N: OK, I hear you, and I agree, we should respect the past and value the contributions of those who came before. But speaking of respecting other cultures, since when did it become OK to hate on us, call us hipsters?
R: It's not OK to hate on anyone, and I don't support calling people names.
E: Yeah. Respect goes both ways.
N: Well, thanks, guys, but I'm not sure most people in Highland Park agree with you. Since when did hipster become another way of saying “white person I don’t like”?
R: Since you just said it right now. I’ve never heard the word hipster equated with “white” before. George W. Bush is white, and I dislike him. Does that make him a hipster?
E: I don’t like John Wayne, is he a hipster?
N: Come on! You guys know what I mean.
R: Actually, I don’t, and I don’t think that white people have a monopoly on hipster. I’ve seen Latino hipsters, African-American hipsters, Filipino hipsters and indigenous hipsters.
E: Hipsters are their own thing ...
N: But, I heard that some guy was just minding his own business hanging out with his friends outside a bar one night when someone yelled at him from a passing car.
R: What did they say?
N: F--k You! Hipster!
R: Well, that's not cool.
N: Yeah, of course not, but that's what I'm saying. The guy was a white guy, just trying to live, minding his own business. Then this Latino guy comes along ...
E: Wait, so the guy in the passing car was Latino? Did you see him?
N: Well, no. But I’m sure he probably wasn’t white, why else would he yell that? I just think that young white people are being hated on because they’re new here and want to make changes to their new neighborhood. We just want to eat things we like, shop for fashion we like--why would Latinos hate us for that? What’s wrong with that? I’m not a hipster, either, so enough with the putdowns.
E: I think that hating a hipster is something that lots of people do--it’s too much to imply or assume that hipster related hatred in Highland Park is done by Latinos. There are too many people in this world who detest hipsters to reduce it to one race against another.
R: Yeah. Even hipsters hate hipsters! What is a hipster anyway, Elias? It seems like there are so many around, but no one admits to being one.
E: Douglas Haddow tried to explain this strange phenomenon in the magazine Adbusters a few years back. His idea was that hipsters were a kind of bankrupt counterculture that did nothing to challenge the status quo. He wrote that they were too busy in self-concern to be considered an authentic countercultural movement. He wrote that they were “less a subculture ...” than “a consumer group–using their capital to purchase empty authenticity and rebellion.” According to him, this is why no one wants to own up to being a hipster, and it’s probably the root of why people find them so wretched. They don’t stand courageously for anything outside themselves, they feel they can buy their authenticity and they feel no connection to the places they live in.
R: Wow, no wonder. So the young newcomers who've come into our area are not all hipsters. According to what you said, if they come here and respect all that has come before and have a real connection to the place, they aren't. Many young people that I've noticed in HLP aren't trying to "buy authenticity" either. I know they've helped bolster interest in the urban agriculture movement along with other front-yard farmers and I'm into that. Hey but even hipsters aren't all that bad, they got teenagers to stop wearing baggy pants.
N: Yeah. Check out all these Franklin kids with skinny jeans!
R: Plus they seem to like to eat at “authentic” places and hang out at neighborhood spots. I’ve even seen hipsters in old time Mexicano bars. And Norman just ate at El Huarache!
N: Hey! I’m not a hipster!
R: Just kidding, homeboy.
The three continue to walk down York Boulevard, hoping to gain a better understanding of each other and their neighborhood.