My university boasted this year that soon it would be 50% ethnic. If by progress you mean half the students are white and half the Hispanic population of 20% looks white anyway, I’m dubious. Apparently they wanted to make the school look more like the demographics of “Southern California,” which could be anything from San Diego to Orange County. The implication however, seeing that my school was, and still is, within the Los Angeles County is that they are trying to replicate an image of that. Yet if that’s the case, there is a long way to go before it looks anything like a school in the heart of LA. To make a comparison, the non-Hispanic white population of UCLA is 27% and the Asian population is higher than that. If they wanted to drive out the WASPs and replace them with “ethnic people,” they are welcome to try.
But apparently, some people feared that’s what my school actually wanted to do, and one student wrote a letter warning them that accepting more minorities would be “tainting the reputation of the school.” While of course, everyone from the deans to his own friends balked at his statements, there was some truth in the fear of chasing out the white majority in a bubble-like sanctuary in Malibu, separated by the PCH from the rest of gritty, multicolored LA.
Because my school doesn’t understand what that diversity looks like. Nor do they understand the full complexity of Los Angeles or Southern California and how diversity is more complex than just race and is also made up of socioeconomic, cultural, religious, and gender/sexual orientation-related factors. The school will never look like Los Angeles or even understand what Los Angeles itself is about.
Los Angeles is realizing how large the world is, that people of any and every origin can congregate in one place without being questioned for their existence. It is a vastly-spread out concrete jungle filled with bad air and even worse traffic, and the only place that accepts how insane, narcissistic or busy its citizens are.
Los Angeles is signs written in foreign languages in Koreatown. Los Angeles is Orthodox Jews coexisting with gay men in West Hollywood. Los Angeles is going from destitute poverty to gentrified upper-class in two minutes in Culver City. Los Angeles is the New Age guru, the hijab-wearing Muslim, the atheist Jew, and the Scientologist. Los Angeles is seeing every location you ever saw in a film and realizing how ordinary and littered it is. Los Angeles is extravagance and poverty holding hands, standing side by side.
Los Angeles is the businessmen that sidestep homeless people in Downtown. It is the East LA women who ride the bus for hours, trying to raise kids with tips and minimum wage. It’s inner city kids in South Central struggling to avoid being stopped and frisked long enough to get an education.
It is Rodney King and the policemen that beat him.
It is minority white. And it is minorities struggling to fight against that power.
It is the Los Angeles campus that was later abandoned for the Malibu campus in the 70s, which was 6% black rather than 22%, to the relief of then president, William Banowsky. “No more race riots and trouble makers demanding equality!” It is them glossing over the details during student orientation, hoping their non-white students never find out.
And finally, it is realizing you can’t call yourself a true resident if you can love one part of the city and vilify the other. Nor can you ever forget its history.
It is nothing this school would ever want to become. At least again.
And it is where I am leaving for, and will stay, in the unsheltered, harsh and roughly polished canvas of three million people, all with a different story.
All pictures from the Los Angeles Times.