I grew up in a suburb of LA, marched in the Rose Parade in high school, learned to drive at 75 miles an hour on someone else's bumper, went to college in Claremont below the mountains, and lived through the blinding smog that covered the grand Tehachapis that rise next to the LA Basin from Ventura to San Bernardino. We saw the mountains in the winter and after a rainstorm back then; but once the temperature rose, they disappeared in the smog that blanketed LA for many years. I beat it out of LA as fast as I could. Northern California is home. I return to the LA area occasionally for family visits, but I try to go when the temperature is no higher than the 70s because of the smog. I don't dream of moving back.
|A watercolor I called "Nearsightedness"|
This last weekend opened my eyes to a new LA. I could see the mountains. It was 85 degrees out and I could still see the mountains, even as far inland as Claremont where we went for a memorial for my husband's college baseball coach, who died at 91, and had an auditorium filled with people who had been touched by him. We sat in front of 5 white-haired men who reminisced about their times together on the baseball field. We looked in the crowd for Bill's former teammates, but didn't recognize anyone until the reception when people tentatively came over and asked, "Hey, is that you, Bill?"
We drove to the memorial from Burbank on the old Arrow Highway, one of three ways (Arrow Highway, Route 66, and Baseline) to reach the Inland Empire before the freeways. The sites along the way had changed, but remained the same too: auto repair shops, fast food stops, and discount stores. We drove past the gravel pits, which were huge and deep when I was growing up, and continue as work sites. We drove past the Santa Fe Dam, Irwindale, San Dimas, Duarte, Azusa, LaVerne, finally reached Claremont, an oasis in the middle of what LA really is, a desert, which is evident as soon as you see the natural landscape of the area.
|One of the few buildings that hasn't changed|
We didn't have time to visit family or old friends after the memorial. We drove on Route 66 to Pasadena, returning through the same towns, but on the more upscale sides of them. Though the buildings had changed from my youth, the inner memories of these towns had not. Arcadia, where I am from, was a white upper middle class town. Now in Arcadia we saw signs in Chinese kanji displayed on many storefronts. I remember a time when Asians were discouraged from living there. Next to Arcadia, other towns, unofficially designated as African-American or Latino, clustered close to the main drags between San Bernardino and LA.
I realized once again how much my opinions about race and economic differences had developed from living in this area. When you talk of white privilege and prejudice, you are talking about living in one of the LA suburbs. Driving between Burbank and Claremont, the old distinctions between the towns aren't as obvious as they were then. I am sure they are still there, under the surface. I had scrutinized my own beliefs a long time ago, seeing the prejudices in myself that I didn't like. I worked on them, being mindful to question my erroneous assumptions. I hope that I come across as someone who is accepting of others.
As we drove back to the airport, I kept looking in wonder at the Tehachapi Mountains. They are desert mountains formed by an earthquake fault, sculpted by water run-off and covered in chaparral. Rugged, not like Mt. Diablo in the north, which is graced with soft grasses and oak trees. Last weekend the Tehachapis stood majestic and ever-present above the human-caused sprawl that lay around them from one end of the LA Basin to the other. They spoke of endurance and as a reminder that human concerns are small in comparison. I was glad I could see them clearly on an 85-degree day.