Born in East LA?

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As many of you out there are already well aware, my friend Haily and I throw a monthly-ish event here in LA called de LaB, or design east of La Brea (and if you haven’t signed up yet for our emails, please do). We wanted to start something that celebrated all the cool stuff we knew that was happening on this side of town, and to us, “this” side of town could have meant pretty much anything. The only reason we picked the name and any kind of demarcation line at all was because we knew it would piss some people off. And sure enough, right after we sent out the very first email, we were bombarded with queries: Why La Brea? Why not La Cienega? What about Culver City? What do you have against Westsiders?

We smiled and assured them it was nothing personal. Except for all the millions of things we have against Westsiders.

See, the thing about living in a city without a center, its major population nodes sprinkled across this wide hazy basin like In-N-Out locations, is people get awfully territorial about where they think they live, and what that says about them. It’s not so much a conversation about where the east side of LA ends and where the west side of LA begins, it’s more about what it means to be Eastside or Westside (and then of course you give your address and you’re ideologically relocated by an angry mob from Atwater Village). The battle rages across the city every day; in newspapers, on blogs (and on blogs, and on blogs), in bars, outside bars, in hospitals, and eventually in the county lockup.

This is exactly the kind of inspired debate that Mike Kelley, proprietor of Junc Gallery here in Silver Lake, was asking for when he named last weekend’s art show East of Eden at Barnsdall Park. And knowing de LaB’s affinity for all that is “east,” he asked us to participate.

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Our project was simple. We splayed a huge Thomas Guide map of Los Angeles on a table and asked people to draw a line where they thought the “east side of LA” began. And then we ran and hid. We also asked people to place stars near their houses or places of work; their personal center of gravity. Some findings, first from the west, er, left side of the map (you can see all these maps larger here):

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As you can see, there were a few people who live in those unquestionably-west neighborhoods of Santa Monica and Venice, who chose the 405 as the line between east and west (yes, I can hear the sound of Boyle Heights residents screaming from here). They even helpfully added a N/S line over the 10. The blue vertical line to the right is La Brea, added by us for reference, and the curly blue line about mid-map was a disgruntled Santa Monica resident who said “that’s what eastside means to me because that’s how long it took me to get here tonight.” See, what did we say about Westsiders?

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Moving to the east, you can see that someone else decided everything west of Highland was west, while everything east of Western was east, with some kind of demilitarized zone in the middle. Western and Vermont were often used as partial boundaries, with their lines curving down 1st or 3rd Street to include downtown. You might also be able to pick out a kind of aura around the Silver Lake Reservoir drawn by an obviously pretentious Silver Laker who thinks Silver Lake is the center of the universe.
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Moving in closer, it becomes really easy to see that most people chose the LA River, at least through downtown, as their line, but while some agreed taking Broadway north out of downtown would keep you on the W/E line, a “born-and-raised Eastsider” defiantly stopped at Mission Road. He and a few others agreed Washington Boulevard was a good southern boundary, but some included Vernon. Many agreed the east ends at Monterey Park, Alhambra and South Pasadena. Others thought certain places like Dodger Stadium should be considered east, even if the line didn’t include it. And there’s a very interesting line running down Main Street, but we’ll come back to that later.

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Here are some of the most compelling arguments we heard for where the line should be:

• Western Avenue was named as such because it was once the western boundary for the city, and since it gets really confusing to explain that “east of Western” would still be west, it should just remain east.

• La Brea does cut a nice clean line through the middle of the map, and seems to divide the landmasses evenly.

• Bert Green of Bert Green Fine Art made his case with Main Street: Near his gallery downtown, everything on the right of Main Street had addresses beginning in E., and everything to the left was W. The post office wins.

• The river is certainly a nice physical boundary, and one that many seemed to identify with. Especially any of the people who told us they were born, raised or lived on the east side of it were adamant about this point.

• More than one person pointed out that the place we were that very moment (Barnsdall Park) was considered East Hollywood, so how could that possibly be west?

• There was an actual “East Los Angeles” on the map, just above Commerce, which people told us was just an unincorporated part of the city and didn’t actually mean anything. (South Los Angeles, the new name for South Central was on the map, and West Los Angeles was about where we thought it should be, but no sign of NELA, what we supposedly call Northeast Los Angeles now.)

As for our conclusions…well, there are no conclusions for this experiment, just a great night of screaming between friends, marker paths carved in anger and, in the end, an agreement to disagree. And apologies to everyone we’ve offended, but especially to everyone who lives in the Valley, because according to the Thomas Guide map of Los Angeles, you don’t live in Los Angeles at all.

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  • http://www.laeastside.com chimatli

    See the thing is, before you moved to LA, being from the “Eastside” did mean something. It meant something for my grandparents, my parents and me, three generations of Boyle Heights folks. Then sometime in the late 90s some people unfamiliar with Los Angeles and it’s history, started calling Silver Lake the Eastside. As you can imagine, this is quite insulting and offensive to the millions of folks who really lived in a part of town known for a hundred years as the “Eastside.” Worse, it also smacked of racism because most of us original Eastside dwellers happen to be Mexican and Mexican-American. It reinforces the idea that newbie Angelenos and the aloof Westsiders disregard not only a whole geographic area of the city that they can’t be bothered to familiarize themselves with, but are also shitting on the decades old culture my neighbors, my family and myself have created. Check our website http://www.laeastside.com for examples of Eastside culture. I hope this explains why it is such an important issue to many of us. For myself, the stealing of our neighborhood name and culture is a modern day example of colonialism.

  • http://nra.org anonymouse

    [Gelato] you. The Eastside is east of the L.A. River.

    [I had to edit the first part of this comment because this is a family blog but I’d like to I’d leave it to point out the sheer creativity showcased by this commenter in choosing the NRA as their URL. However, according to the Whois database their actual IP address actually ends something like this: student.harvard.edu. I’d expect so much more from such an educated “mouse.” -A]

  • Alissa

    chimatli, thanks so much for your comment. I think education (not linking to the NRA) is exactly what is needed here to understand the magnitude of relocating an entire culture with one not-so-carefully considered phrase. Your blog is a great place for people to start. It’s excellent. Here it is again: http://laeastside.com/

    And I’ve seen this sign in my neighborhood, too, so I think you could say the message is getting out: http://laeastside.com/2008/09/eastside-my-ass/

  • http://militantangeleno.blogspot.com militant angeleno

    The proper and correct Eastside is east of the Los Angeles River yes, but why do people limit their sphere of thought by insisting there is a singular line dividing “Westside” and “Eastside”?

    Is there a singular line that divides “West Coast” and “East Coast”?

  • http://soledadenmasa.wordpress.com soledadenmasa

    So you have two readers over at Harvard. Nice.

    As Chimatli said, East L.A. does mean something and has meant something. To dismiss a location and place, trying to appropriate its name for your silly little view of the world, is not going to cut and you WILL BE CALLED OUT FOR IT.

    There is no singular line dividing east and west because Downtown L.A. in in the center. Do we really have to link to M.A.’s map again?

  • sopasesos

    City without a center? Where? Sure Los Angeles has various “nodes” here and there, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a center. Downtown is the nucleus, but the central part of the city also includes places like Los Feliz, and Korea Town… and these are neither east nor west… they’re centrally located… in the center.

  • alienation

    The designation of “East Los Angeles” is formal, and there are signs identifying where the City of Los Angeles ends and East Los Angeles begins. It’s unincorporated, but has a real place name, just like Avocado Heights, Hacienda Heights, South San Gabriel and places I don’t know.

  • mike

    I’ve lived my whole life (most of anyway) in what is now referred to by some as the Eastside. There is no official designation as the “Eastside” There is an official East Los Angeles but no official Eastside There is an East Hollywood with a city funded neighborhood council is that not east because because its west of the river. Some people east of the river refer to anything west of it as the Westside are those people racist because they don’t recognize the west side is actually further west? No. “East” “West” is purely the the vernacular of the group speaking to their peers and there is plenty of logical arguments for any number of geographical divides. It is an important debate because of the issues it raises (racism being one) but anyone who tries to take the fluidity of the city, ways in which terminology evolves and any number of factors out of the debate in favor of calling people racist is bullshit and will also be called out.

  • http://www.alguerrero.com Al Desmadre

    “fluidity of the city”
    mike, if you can actually hang your argument on terminology as nebulous as “fluidity of the city” while denying that this typical marginalizing of a historic Mexican-American community is taking place as you speak, then I can only thank you for giving me such an clear insight into the mindsets of those who think like you and what we are actually up against here.
    This self-excusing explanation of yours seems to conveniently eliminate any need for any sense of personal responsibility or guilt while basically disrespecting the history of any entire segment and culture of this city.
    What you are pretty much saying here is:
    “Hey, we like the name, you weren’t REALLY using it anyway, and besides it’s not like it’s your OFFICIAL name, so no need to respect it, not like you paid for the copyrights or anything, so were just going to continue to use it guilt-free because of something I’ll call “fluidity of the city”.
    BTW, this issue is not about Racism, it’s about callous, insensitive and self-centered individuals who only want to acknowledge a selective world where they can be closer-to-the-center, and where they can seem more important, meaningful and entitled, especially to other peers. They come in all colors.
    BTW, I’ve lived here my whole life too. I grew up in East L.A. And it never occured to me to to say we lived on the Westside, even though ELA is west of City of Whittier, LA Habra, Rowland Hts. and La Puente. Why is that?

  • outineastlos

    “East Los Angeles” = the unincorporated region (read *not* part of the City of LA) bounded by Los Angeles, Commerce, Vernon, Monterey Park, and Montebello.
    Do you realize how ridiculous you sound when say that East LA is “an unincorporated part of the city”? Understand, being unincorporated is the *opposite* of being in a city. This makes no sense on its face, so I’d hardly appoint you as the arbiter of who’s East and who’s not.
    Al Desmadre’s right, appropriation of the “Eastside” label for its “edgy” connations is callous, insensitive, and most of all self-centered. But what else would we expect from Echo Park hipsters who moved emmigrated from Ohio with nothing but a graphic design degree and willingness to reinvent themselves?

  • http://www.deepglamour.net Virginia Postrel

    There are two separate questions being answered here: 1) Where does the Westside end? 2) Where does the Eastside begin? La Brea is a good answer to the first question, but much too far west for the second. There’s such a thing as central L.A. You’re essentially trying to argue that Chicago is on the East Coast, because it doesn’t border the Pacific.

  • mike

    Al Desmadre I cant answer most of your post simply because it assumes things that just are based on your own idiosyncratic assumptions, like I feel the need to justify anything because of some guilt complex or people use the term to feel important. Most newcomers just use the term because they believe they live in a cool newly gentrified area and want differentiate themselves from those living on the Westside. Not out of spite. You would probably do well to understand most people using that term in a way you disagree with have absolutely know idea that there is a debate. It would make you less presumptuous and your arguments more effective.

    To answer your question about the term fluidity of the city it measns that the term “Eastside” that you are talking about is historically a recent incarnation that evolved because it made sense to the population living there. before that term there was an east/west division of streets and before that there was a small town along the river “El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles. The Name Los Angeles itself is a product of Spanish Colonization and I’m sure there was a term for the area by native people. Those previous monikers where relevant to those using them. It means that some people call Atwater the Eastside and some don’t. It also means that there are interpretations about the exact nature of the so called Eastside border from all sides and differing opinions within each group and you are not the ultimate authority or that anyone who disagrees with you is callous.

    Except that I find your self righteous attitude obnoxious I don’t think I disagree with what I understand your point to be which is how do we preserve the character and acknowledge the history in the face of gentrification.

  • http://www.laeastside.com chimatli

    Mike, I think it’s interesting you say:
    “You would probably do well to understand most people using that term in a way you disagree with have absolutely know idea that there is a debate.”

    Hmmm, well that’s exactly why folks like Al and myself are trying to bring attention to this error. Your version of the Eastside was a mistake. A mistake that’s been repeated by newcomers who did not know that the other half of the city was right across the river. And the reason they didn’t know about the other half of the city was cause they probably didn’t know anyone there. And the reason they probably didn’t know anyone there is cause it’s a working class neighborhood filled with lots of Brown people. And the reason it’s a Brown working class neighborhood is because of the not-so-in-the-past racial housing covenants for non-White people in the city. And the reason those covenants existed is cause White people only wanted to live with other White people…And because they only lived with other people like themselves, they forgot that the other half of the city, The Eastside still existed.

    I’m sorry I had to break it down this way. I usually don’t like to bring issues of race into this argument but it’s the historical white elephant in the room (or should I say neighborhood?)

  • Alissa

    I’m sure most of you have seen this, but here’s a new story that may explain (or further confuse) many of the arguments here: “East L.A seeks to become a city of its own.” Thanks, Spencer.

  • http://www.westcentralla.blogspot.com/ Robert90033

    Alissa,

    The only ones confused are the “transplants” who come to our City and live exclusively in one area and then begin to rearrange the City’s boundaries, rename areas of the City that already have traditional community names then make boastful ignorant statements such as “living in a city without a center”, “supposedly called Northeast Los Angeles” and “was just an unincorporated part of the city”. For people like myself, who have lived here for generations, it’s very frustrating. Especially when these very same transplants have the power of the media, printed or otherwise, on their side and are therefore able to spread their ignorance to a larger population. The arrogance of some of these transplants is very annoying and their refusal to hear out and respect the views and opinions of Native Angelenos makes it all the more hurtful. So please before you make another statement such as “piss people off” and “awfully territorial” try and read up on the history of your adapted city and who knows perhaps you too will find yourself correcting transplants.

  • Alissa

    Here’s an LABJ article that Robert90033 sent me that gives some Westside perspective. According to the piece, because “Westside” is supposedly more desirable to homebuyers, the definition can stretch all the way east to Hoover and Hyperion! And there’s even “West Westside” and “East Westside”: “LA’s Westside: wherever you want it to be.”

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  • http://www.laeastside.com/ chimatli

    See the thing is, before you moved to LA, being from the “Eastside” did mean something. It meant something for my grandparents, my parents and me, three generations of Boyle Heights folks. Then sometime in the late 90s some people unfamiliar with Los Angeles and it's history, started calling Silver Lake the Eastside. As you can imagine, this is quite insulting and offensive to the millions of folks who really lived in a part of town known for a hundred years as the “Eastside.” Worse, it also smacked of racism because most of us original Eastside dwellers happen to be Mexican and Mexican-American. It reinforces the idea that newbie Angelenos and the aloof Westsiders disregard not only a whole geographic area of the city that they can't be bothered to familiarize themselves with, but are also shitting on the decades old culture my neighbors, my family and myself have created. Check our website http://www.laeastside.com for examples of Eastside culture. I hope this explains why it is such an important issue to many of us. For myself, the stealing of our neighborhood name and culture is a modern day example of colonialism.

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