If y’all wouldn’t mind indulging me, I would like take a brief detour from discussing dating and friendship to comment on a topic I feel very strongly about: Gentrification.
Technically gentrification is the process of buying houses in an ethnic, low income area and fixing them up in order to increase property values so more white people will want to move in. As a result the area becomes less rough around the edges. According to Christian Lander, author of the blog and book Stuff White People Like, white people like me are supposed to love the idea of a neighborhood becoming more “white” and safer to hang out in. I must be in the minority because I believe gentrification has ruined one of my favorite bars in Los Angeles. I live in LA and for the past five years or so, I have seen some changes in the Silverlake, Eagle Rock, and Highland Park neighborhoods. Silverlake was a predominately multi ethnic minority neighborhood about 10-20 years ago. It was a bit run down and up and coming. Flash forward to 2007-2008: Silverlake is now the white hipster mecca of LA much like The Mish, or Mission District is in San Francisco. White people have moved in and changed the neighborhood. As a consequence, those changes started to infiltrate into nearby Eagle Rock. I remember the precise moment Eagle Rock morphed from a place that had a lot of gangs into a place white hipsters felt safe parking their cars on neighborhood streets after midnight. It was around 2008. My Filipino friend Dan told me he went to Tommy’s in Eagle Rock and was hassled by a Mexican gang member who asked him, “Where are you from, Ese?” Dan replied, “Nowhere,” and the gang member punched him in the face as he was sitting in his car. Six months later, my white boyfriend at the time told me he was living in Eagle Rock. I thought to myself, “Is that place safe?” Well what a difference just under a year makes. He took me to Tommy’s and I saw nothing but white hipsters eating at the outdoor tables. There were hipster kids walking up and down Colorado Blvd. I knew change was in the air. The bars were full of white guys with beards, black framed glasses, and flannel shirts. We were definitely not in Kansas anymore. I even went to the yearly Eagle Rock Music Festival by myself and walked back to my car after midnight without having to bust out my pepper spray.
So what is the problem, you ask? I used to go to a bar called The Little Cave in Highland Park with my Mexican friends about 2-3 years ago. For those of you who don’t know, Highland Park or “Highland Parque” is a predominately Mexican neighborhood right next to Eagle Rock. No sooner than we started going to The Little Cave did I think, “Eventually the white hipsters are going to start taking this neighborhood over just like they did in Eagle Rock.” Flash forward 3 years later to 2013: I paid a visit to The Little Cave and was saddened to see that it is no longer a goth and punk bar that plays Joy Division and is decorated with bat wallpaper, dimmed red lighting, and L.A. Mexican Dia De Los Muertos motifs. Now The Little Cave is full of white hipsters. It has been renovated into a faceless, run of the mill neighborhood lounge like one would find in nearby Silverlake. The bat wallpaper is now just a plain brick wall. Joy Division has given way to bro’d out ’90s rap and current top 40 because I guess that’s the kind of music white people like. The dimmed red lighting of this creepy cool dive bar has given way to a bright, “safe” bar completely stripped of all its personality and charm. A fellow reviewer on yelp put it best: “The photos of the Mexican Revolution on the walls of this bar feels condescending as working class Hispanic families are being priced out of their homes just a few blocks away.” This observation broke my heart because this reviewer was able to so eloquently put into words everything that I have been seeing with my own eyes over the past few years. I missed being able to go to the nearby taco stand La Estrella and having my friends ask me if I wanted them to order for me in Spanish (not necessary, I’m an elementary school teacher in Southern California) but I appreciate how I was on the outside looking in at this really hip neighborhood that had its own identity that I felt privileged to be a part of. Now “hip” has given way to “hipster” as I watched a plethora of beards, flannel, fedoras, cocktail dresses, and flats stumble through their broken Spanish to order tortas at La Estrella. What has happened to my beloved Highland Parque and what is LA going to become in the next 10 years as gentrification continues its stranglehold on all the local diversity?
Us at La Estrella in Highland Park in 2010.