I drive to school/work through wealthy neighborhoods such as Cheviot Hills and Holmby Hills to avoid the freeways and main streets. The route isn’t much shorter, but avoiding the 405 freeway makes it worth it.
I’ve been taking this route for years. I’m used to the magnificent $1 to $3 million dollar homes. The gardens are equally lovely and they have nice cars in the drive way. I think to myself that I’ll probably never live in such a neighborhood beside other professionals. I’m on track to become a professional and have the kind of income where I’ll be able to buy a nice home in a nice neighborhood. I just can’t see myself ever living a neighborhood where the only brown people I see are the nannies and gardeners.
Sometime in my first year at UCLA, my siblings came along with my parents to drop me off at my residence hall after a weekend with them. They stared awestruck at the homes as we drove through Sunset. At the intersection of Bellagio and Sunset, they noticed a gated entrance and sign.
“Bel Aire? As in Fresh Prince?” my sister asked.
“Yeah, the only Mexicans who enter there are the gardeners, nannies, and housekeepers.” They laughed in a knowing way. We all knew that my grandfather used to tend lawns for rich families. There was nothing wrong with such work to us, but it was clear that people who looked like us probably didn’t live in the area.
A few months later, I argued with a woman who accused me of lying about being a student. I was on a bus in Downtown LA headed toward the stop where I would transfer to a Foothill Transit bus and return to my home in the San Gabriel Valley. I don’t know how the conversation began or why I even spoke to someone on the bus who looked quite unstable.
She insisted that I was not a student at UCLA and that I was too ashamed to admit that I was really a domÈstica (housekeeper) or nanny. She asked me to prove that I was a student by showing her my school ID. I didn’t bother, I didn’t need to prove myself to her.
At the time, she angered me with her ignorance and closemindedness. But now that I think of it, I realize that most Latinas on the MTA 2 bus through Sunset were going to work in homes and not go to school. Still, it should not be unheard of or ridiculous for Chicanas and Latinas to be attending a university.
Those two experiences have shaped me in some way. I know that the men I see tending the gardens and the women walking babies in strollers are not much different than me. I may have greater opportunities for upward mobility, but I still can’t see myself living in such an area. I need to be in a community with people who look like me, speak my first language, and share similar experiences.