Boyle Heights


Last night I was at work until 11pm. Planning to take this morning off, I woke up at 7:30am to drag myself to the DMV in order to pick up my registration stickers. (It has be a miracle that I haven’t received a ticket yet. My tags expired in February. A miracle. Well, maybe not, considering I’m a White woman who drives a car only 6 years old.) I finally passed the smog test on Tuesday, and the guy who helped me out said that although they were sending in the paperwork electronically, I could pick my tags up sooner if I went to the DMV in person. Not wanting to press my luck, I did so. But not without stopping at my favorite local coffee shop, Primera Taza, on the way.

I spent the majority of my time studying for the NCLEX-RN last summer in this coffee shop. Newly arrived to Boyle Heights and under the stress of passing (what I hope will be) the biggest test of my life, I sought out the familiarity of a coffee shop.

The man who owns Primera Taza is a community organizer extraordinaire. Juan started the Boyle Heights Farmer’s Market last summer, is opening a second coffee shop in South LA, started a community center, and knows pretty much everyone in BH. He gave me a contact at White Memorial when I was applying for their New Grad Nursing Program. He gave my housemate and I free T-shirts. He has offered to help out my church’s high school youth group in any way possible. He is an amazing networker. Juan wasn’t working at the shop this morning, but I asked the girl who was if she had been to the Lincoln Heights DMV. She hadn’t.

Off I went, contemplating the variety of experiences I might be having in a matter of minutes. This would be my first trip to the DMV alone. I had done my research – if Yelp-ing the DMV was considered research. On the website plenty of people complained about the time they had to wait, but one of the most recent comments was that the attractive staff made this patron’s hour-long wait better. ‘Ugh’, I thought. So when I arrived I, of course, scouted out the staff to follow up on this stranger’s comment. No attractiveness out of the ordinary, it seemed.

I collected my ticket and plopped down next to a young man in his twenties who appeared to be of mixed race, wearing a black hat, ear buds in place, playing a game on his iPhone. Behind me and to the left was a Latina woman in her thirties keeping her 4 year-old son occupied by tickling him – the kid had a GREAT laugh. I only saw one other White person. The room was pretty full but I only waited half an hour, content reading The Connected Child for a book discussion group on adoption hosted by Project Hope at Grace EV Free. I have 3.5 more chapters to read by Monday.

After only a few minutes of waiting, I realized that I was having a pleasant feeling. ‘Okay, what is that…’ I’m trying to become better at reading my emotions. I almost laughed – I was enjoying my experience at the DMV! Wha?! I realized that I felt connected, a sense of community, with the other people who were waiting. We were all there with the same sort of purpose – get in, get out. We were all there waiting – stuck, powerless. We were all there with expectations – to wait a long time, to deal with rude and impatient people. I smiled to myself. It felt good to be able to relate, to be in the same boat with strangers. We all have to go through this.

My ticket was called and Patricia at window #5 informed me that my stickers had already been sent out and I wasn’t able to pick them up in person. She explained that if I were to be pulled over the cop would be able to see that I had paid for my tags. She was cordial and friendly, not the exhausted and emotionless worker I expected. I thanked her by name and left.

I wasn’t disappointed. I felt full in a way I hadn’t experienced before. I hadn’t expected to feel a sense of community in the DMV lobby, or to hear a child’s rich laugh, or to have someone nice help me. I love that the Holy Spirit meets me in unexpected places. And I feel as if I know a little more about what it means to be human.

Last night I had a friend from church over for dinner. We had a GREAT time and she introduced me to Banksy, a mysterious and elusive British street artist who was in LA in February during the Oscars (not actually ‘in person’ introduced me, of course). While he was here, he dropped in on Boyle Heights – literally less than 2 blocks from my house, to be exact.

I watched this clip of Exit Through the Giftshop, a documentary Banksy directed (and was nominated for) and my friend showed me the two spots.

Unfortunately, the spots in Boyle Heights we visited are already gone – defaced, cut out, painted over.

About this particular image: “Now synonymous with illegal immigration, the sign has been claimed by artists, immigration restrictionists and immigrant advocates, most recently by supporters of the Dream Act, some of whom have sported t-shirts and put up posters portraying the family as cap-and-gown wearing college graduates.” From here. It makes a huge political statement for the image to appear in Boyle Heights.

1st and Soto (photo by Ted Soqui):

Defaced and being cut out (stolen in broad daylight? – found here):

As I saw it:

Pleasant and Cesar Chavez (from here):

Apparently it was defaced with a “$” sign, and painted over. As I saw it:

Apparently, there is another one on Washington and Flower as well (from here):

These last two are speculated to be copy-cats, as only the first image appears on Banksy’s website.

This morning I went on a hunt to find other art pieces of Banksy’s.

First stop, Washington and Compton:

Next, Broadway and 9th:

I trekked out to Westwood (Westwood and Kinross) to see this piece, but it had been defaced and then painted over already (from here):

As I saw it:

Needless to say, I’m pretty excited to be more in tune to the street and graff art in LA from now on!

Check out this blog to find out what’s happening.

In late January Mark Driscoll tweeted:

“I will never understand why people think the carts at the grocery store are free like the bakery samples & just push them home?”

Now, Driscoll and I have our differences when it comes to our beliefs on men and women. But I still respect him and think he is an incredibly talented preacher.

BUT.

When I saw his tweet I felt as if I had shriveled up inside, suddenly aware and ashamed of the privilege¹ that I benefit from on a daily basis that keeps myself and others like me blind to the reality of others who are living alongside us.

Driscoll has never had to think about why someone would actually need to push his or her groceries home in cart.

It seems like a simple, black and white issue. Taking a grocery cart off store property is considered stealing. Stealing is wrong. So why would you ever do it?

Growing up as a White, upper-middle class, non-disabled woman, I never had to think about how to transport groceries without reliable transportation… because I always had reliable transportation. To this day, I’ve never had to walk or take a bus because it was my only means of getting somewhere. There was a year or two in college where I would ride my bike to the store and come back with bags swinging on my handlebars. But for the most part, someone has always been available to give me a ride, let me borrow their car, or I had my own vehicle.

Let me tell you about my 80 year-old neighbor, Rosa*. I’m not going to pretend to know anything about her life, but this has been my experience with her.

Rosa lives next door to me in a yellow stucco quadruplex with black wrought-iron bars across the windows. Her adult son also lives with her. When I moved to Boyle Heights last summer, the first place Larry and Niki (the owners of the house I live in) took me to eat was at Rosa’s restaurant. We went out to breakfast and, having taken French in high school and ASL in college, I learned how to order “dos huevos con jamon”. She also makes fresh juice… cantaloupe, pineapple, watermelon. And damn, the food is good.

Rosa’s restaurant is so small that you could easily pass it on the street without realizing it’s there; tucked between several other businesses on busy 1st Street, just 3 blocks away from my house. Inside, the restaurant has 3 booths and 2 small square tables; square feet-wise, the entire restaurant is probably smaller than my kitchen. Rosa has one other person help her, but she does all the cooking. We give our order to her and then she literally walks 5 feet and cooks it for us.

I often bump into Rosa leaving her home, pushing a grocery cart full of fresh food ready to be cooked, around the same time I leave for work in the morning. I greet her in Spanish and ask her how she is doing. Though she moves slowly, she is always cheery and happy to talk. Because of my delinquency in the Spanish language, our short conversations usually start in Spanish, morph into Spanish and English, and end in English. At night, around 9 or 10pm, if I’m in the living room, I’ll see Rosa coming back from her restaurant, pushing her empty grocery cart.

This is her work. This is how she supports herself. Her restaurant is open for all three meals of the day. This is a good time to remember how old she is. She’s 80.

I can see her grocery cart now, from where I’m sitting in my back yard. It’s a matte medium gray and doesn’t have any store markings on it, resting outside her doorstep. It sat through the hail and thunderstorm last night.

Not everyone takes or uses shopping carts for the same reason. But I wish that next time Mark Driscoll wonders why a person would push one home, he would picture someone like Rosa.

—–

*name has been changed to protect and respect identity.

¹Privilege: An advantage or immunity given to a certain group of people. This could be based on gender, race, socioeconomic status, able-bodiedness, sexuality, education, language and much more.

“Does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice? At the highest point along the way, where the paths meet, she takes her stand; beside the gate leading into the city, at the entrance, she cries aloud…” [Proverbs 8:1-3 NIV ©2010]

This last week I attended the English-speaking life group hosted by the part of the body of Christ I commune with on a weekly basis. I’ve been attending this church in Lincoln Heights since August and while I’m involved relationally and in serving, had decided that I would take another step to become more rooted in this community after the holidays. The above passage was what we spent the majority of our time meditating on and discussing in life group this week.

Wisdom stands in the middle of the busiest intersection in town to proclaim her message. One of the women in the life group related this to the corners of Soto and Cesar Chavez, an intersection long known for being the center of Boyle Heights. How fortunate that wisdom is present in the busy and bustling areas of life! No need to remove ourselves completely from community and responsibilities to meditate for sustained periods of time in order to gain wisdom [not to disqualify solitude as being beneficial]. The Holy Spirit pours out wisdom in the midst of stress and confusion.

In pairs, we shared what “intersection” we are at in life and how wisdom has or can meet us there. I’ve certainly been viewing the last 7 months of my life as a transition period, waiting for a nursing job to point me in the next direction I’m headed. The image that comes to mind is one in the book Girl with a Pearl Earring, when Griet stands in the center of an enormous compass in the middle of the marketplace. So how has wisdom met me in this place?

I’ve been fighting the idea that this time is a transition because I want to be able to be fully present and not fall prey to the idea that my life will begin when I start working as a nurse. The Holy Spirit has been feeding me wisdom regarding my identity; in the last 7 months I’ve wrestled a lot with what it means if I don’t pursue nursing, or if I don’t pursue it right away. I’ve come to embrace that this has been a period of healing from feeling burnt out from nursing school and rest from the responsibility one holds when working in a hospital setting.

During my lunch break on Friday I sat by the fountain at Biola with my feet up, reflecting on what I’ve been learning since graduation. I was appreciating the different kind of responsibility I hold working in Multi-Ethnic Programs instead of in a nursing position. And that’s when I had an epiphany.

Stay with me. This will make sense in the end.

As a woman who has been single for the last 5 years, I’ve spent a bit of time getting to know myself. I still feel like I’m acquaintances with myself, not even friends, but I take comfort in knowing that Someone knows me thoroughly and there is grace for what I don’t understand. Okay, but singleness. During this time, I’ve recognized in myself waves of desiring a significant relationship that ebb and flow, lasting a variety of durations for just as many reasons. Some reasons are incredibly selfish and other less so. I’ve come to:

– acknowledge the desires I’m having (selfish or not)
– embrace the fact that desires are a part of my humanity (selfish and not)
– learn from these desires (repent of self-centeredness or affirm pure motives)

Recently the desire for a relationship washed up on the beach of my life a little farther than I anticipated. So as I was reflecting last Friday lunch on the relief I felt from hearing back that I was not chosen for a nursing position because I didn’t feel ready to handle the responsibility yet, I almost choked on my turkey sandwich.

And I realized my heart’s motives behind desiring a relationship this time.

1. I feel slightly overwhelmed that I am ‘alone’ during a period of significant change in my life, and if I were in a relationship I would not be ‘alone’.
2. I am uncomfortable with the responsibility of making decisions all by myself that will considerably impact the direction of my life, and if I were in a relationship I would not have to bear the weight of the responsibility by myself.
3. If I were in a purposeful, serious relationship that was moving towards marriage it would be considered ‘successful’ and would be a distraction from me feeling as if I’ve failed for not finding a nursing job.

Basically, the theme is abdication of responsibility.

There is nothing wrong with seeking wisdom in the advice and input of others. But I don’t think it’s healthy for me to want someone else to share responsibility with me because I’m afraid of ‘failing’.

Dr. Ron Pierce, my Theology of Gender professor, once related a story to my class of a female student who told him that she couldn’t wait to get married so that she wouldn’t have to make any decisions and would just do whatever her husband wanted. At the time, I thought this girl was out of her mind – why would you want someone else to make all decisions for you? But now I can relate to her motives of not wanting to take responsibility more than I wish I did.

As humans, we must take responsibility for ourselves and the decisions we make. And no ‘failure’ is greater than the grace that is waiting.

This afternoon I was reading on my porch, conveniently located just a few blocks south of the intersection of Soto and Cesar Chavez.

“Christian vocation is not so much about career as about a call to the fullness of life – an invitation not to leave the world, but to embrace it. John Neafsey writes that vocation has to do with“the quality of our personhood, the values and attitudes we embody, the integrity and authenticity of our lives.” For Christians, vocation is the invitation to follow Jesus. “Come after me,” he said in Mark (1:17), an invitation to discipleship that – “more than an assent of the heart” – demands, as Ched Myers put it, “an uncompromising break with ‘business as usual.’” We all bring to our vocations experiences, gifts, and relationships. We bring the obstacles and distractions that clutter our lives. We bring who we are and who we are willing to become. We bring the context in which we live and a particular time in history. Vocation is about the totality of how we live the gospel in these times.” -Marie Dennis, Toward the Fullness of Life in Sojourners, February 2011

Wisdom made herself known to me in a momentous way in the current intersection of my life. She called out to me in the midst of struggling with the role my career and my relationship status play in my identity. And she proclaimed the truth that there is fullness of life right now, for who I am, and where I’m at. My vocation is to live out the grace I’ve been given as I grapple with learning about my humanity.