Dear South Central,
The extreme amounts of stress we experience have become a normalized part of our lives. Living in communities such as South Central, Vernon, Huntington Park, and South Gate, stress is natural to us. We often deal with it in any way we can, whether it is through healthy or maladaptive means. The truth is the amount of stress we face is not normal, and we do not have to accept it as such. Numerous low-income communities in Los Angeles experience distinct types of stressors that are affected by their job, transportation, living conditions, and health. The stressors this community faces are not something that can be easily escaped when living in a low-income community. There is a nonstop pressure to deal with discrimination or living in a dangerous neighborhood. Many of you reading this are born and raised in South Central so I want to start my first blog by talking about how our living spaces affect who we are, not only in terms of personality but also our health. Part of my inspiration for this first blog comes from my mentor. He recently told me, trying to thrive in a world where you are barely surviving is not living, so why is it normalized for vulnerable populations? Additionally, as a 22-year-old bilingual Latina I would also like to recognize that I have certain advantages in my life, but still desire to remain conscious of this community’s struggles. I want to use my privilege to elevate community voices and bring awareness to the levels of stress we experience in vulnerable communities.
I grew up and lived in the same apartment for most of my life, it holds a special place in my heart. However, now that I am older, I realize that the environment was not the healthiest when growing up. Hearing the screams of my next-door neighbors as they argued, persistent police sirens, seeing people get arrested, and military explosives being found in homes are not acceptable in affluent neighborhoods. So why did I encounter it as a child? One vivid memory from my childhood is having to call 911 for the first time at my grandparents' house. A homeless person who is a known drug addict in the neighborhood was trespassing, intending to break into the house. As the only English speaker all the pressure of translating fell into my lap. Break-ins and robberies are common in my neighborhood yet facing it at an early age taught me I did not want this to be a part of my normal life, I was terrified. I will always remember having to explain to the white police officers what was happening at 9 years old. All individuals, regardless of socioeconomic background, do not deserve to encounter brain-altering and traumatic events as a child or adult.
Growing up in Hawthorne quite frankly is potentially the root of my stress. It became clear to me when making the transition between my hometown and the UCLA neighborhood of Westwood, CA how different neighborhood incomes affect communities. Culture shock played a significant role as to why I received horrible grades in my first quarter in college. Instead of studying, I was acclimating to an unfamiliar environment where I was surrounded by rich, non-people of color. The individuals in my classes lived in mansions, had never worked a day in their lives and still owned expensive sports cars. To put it in simple terms, I was not used to people having such large amounts of money to spend on luxury. My body quickly started feeling the effects of being a first-generation student. I began experiencing many health issues apart from tackling culture shock, home sickness, and academic stress. After ten weeks of nonstop testing when finals rolled around, I somehow always got sick; sniffles, cough, and sore throat. Many of my friends had similar experiences, and together we concluded that we were the ones making ourselves sick. Finals in college were extremely stressful for me, but aside from the typical stress and anxiety every college student feels, I was not prepared to experience that much pressure coming from an under resourced high school. This feeling was mutual for many of my friends who are first generation students. Consequently, as a community I want us to continue exploring the differences between the stress of coming from different socioeconomic communities and scrutinize situations by bringing them into a new light.
When I first began as a fellow approximately three weeks ago, driving closer to South Central Family Health Center, I noticed an increase in police cars and potholes covering the streets. Within a span of 5 minutes during my morning drive there were a minimum of three police cars, one being undercover. It comes as no surprise that low-income communities are being over policed. However, it is disappointing that those who are supposed to protect our community are harming it by designating more police cars. “El que busca encuentra,” meaning when you assign more police cars to a specific area, there is bound to be more tickets and people being pulled over. Moreover, coming down Slauson off the 110 freeway I religiously avoid the right lane; my tires feel like they are going to deflate every time I go over a pothole. As someone who lives paycheck to paycheck and recently replaced my $300 tire due to a nail, I cannot afford replacing another tire because of a pothole. Yet, regardless of how many cars get damaged the city has yet to fix them. The potholes that remain throughout South Central serve as a reminder of the unequal allocation of resources in low-income communities. This never-ending street filled with potholes is just one example of how systems have been put into place where vulnerable populations are continually being oppressed and left without a voice. Potholes are everywhere but due to South Central’s high-density population they are much more common and detrimental amongst this community. South Central natives are so used to them that they have become desensitized; they are unknowingly accepting these circumstances. I want us to challenge the systems because we want and deserve change. Police cars and potholes are just two very minor examples of the living conditions of South Central. The purpose of bringing up my living experiences and observations of South Central is to build context about stressors that are no longer noticeable because they are so common in our communities. We may not be able to bring change right away but simply talking about these issues and bringing awareness gives more power to the community. That is the purpose of the blog, creating agency for South Central community members and addressing the stress each person feels.
Overall, there is so much stress beyond the living conditions that affect this community and sometimes it feels like there is nowhere to turn to. I never want others to experience the same toxic levels of stress that have physically and mentally made me sick. I want each reader to know that we can change our health outcomes for the better and together we will be able to discover what the term “toxic levels of stress” entail for all of us throughout this blog.
P.S. Please leave a comment below. I would love to hear your thoughts!