Belonging

Poem by Sam Campbell, English 2600, Fall 2021

Belonging is still foreign to me 

For I was non-native and non-Mexican 

Attending a school where the walkouts are fondly remembered 

And the chants of “Si se puede!” still ring through the halls 

Of the second oldest high school in Los Angeles 

The Hispanic culture has a vice grip on a neighborhood

Which was once the stomping grounds of immigrant Italians 

Who frequented the long gone Ostrich and Alligator Farms 

The latter of which is now home to the Lincoln Heights Family Recovery Center

Right across the street from what was once called Eastlake Park

Where said Italians would boat across the lake now overrun by ducks

Drove on the dirt paths that local residents bike across 

Crossed the since demolished footbridge to see the long forgotten arboretum

And marvel at the exotic plants in its greenhouse as well as the cactus garden 

Children would ride a carousel featuring a menagerie of animals 

So revered it became Historical Monument 153 for a little while

Until vandals burnt it to the ground months later in 1976

Where it once stood is now nothing more than the tennis courts parking lot 

Children also played in the Aztec playground 

Sliding down the side of an artificial pyramid 

Knocked down to make way for a modern playset

The pyramid was probably more fun 

Current amenities include the decade old skatepark

And the Plaza de La Raza cultural center

Where children learn to play mariachi music and dance Folklorico 

It also serves as an ominous foreshadowing of my inability to belong 

Because even at eleven years old I knew 

This place was made for the Mexican kids 

The community it was in 1917, the very year it was named Lincoln Heights 

Exists in digital archives and dusty textbooks 

But is seldom talked about in the oldest suburb of Los Angeles 

Where mothers prepare menudo for dinner

As fathers drive to Downtown construction sites 

The elderly board the 45 bus to Chinatown 

As children speak fluent Spanish and Mandarin

In the dual language classrooms of Gates Elementary 

The Chinese have found home here too

Congregating at the Youngnak Church of LA 

Or grabbing a quick bite at Champion Donuts 

Though I wonder if they too feel lost in the shuffle 

Of a neighborhood that is dominated by the history of Chicanos 

Cesar Chavez himself once gave talks at Church of the Epiphany 

As the La Raza newspaper was printed in its basement 

A history so entrenching I know nothing about the impact of the Chinese 

Despite the fact that they have lived here for several decades 

Nor do any of the murals on Broadway reflect that 

Indirectly causing me to become the token black girl in high school 

When a school counselor asked me to appear on advertising posters  

All in the name of “black representation” in the community 

When I was neither Black nor living in Lincoln heights 

Where DIY venue HM157 can never be a true community gathering space 

Because no one trusts the optimistic White woman 

The automatic colonizer despite her inability to afford this city 

Backyard rock shows and art galleries are not welcome here 

Every attempt at inclusion has been shunted 

By people who believe this space has bad intentions

Resulting in visitors who travel from as far as Santa Monica 

Seldom from the place it was meant to serve 

My interest in this venue makes me the odd one out 

As did my excitement for the art gallery which never came to fruition  

And my pleasure for the renovated playground on Broadway and Daly 

All of which make me an outlier in a community of low-income families 

Because in this time of gentrification these amenities cannot exist here 

Where Lincoln/Cypress station is seen as the gentrifiers access point 

Despite servicing students like me since opening day on July 26th, 2003 

And passengers walk past the sculpture of a Tongva woman on the platform 

She pours water into a bronze basket a stone’s throw away from the L.A. River 

I sometimes wonder what it would have been like to board the O and 10 lines

Trolley cars that traveled through the streets of Lincoln Heights to Southland 

Back when neither neighborhood was synonymous with crime and gang violence 

Though I do not believe they will be for much longer 

The bougie restaurants have already rolled in 

Properties are being boosted on The Eastsider 

Activists took over the neighborhood council in May 

And I sit here wondering why change has to come like this 

In this neighborhood where residents kick and scream at the face of change 

My aspirations of a more economically and socially integrated neighborhood

Are not only frowned upon, but are viewed as downright colonization 

Change always seems to come with force and inevitable retaliation 

It comes with the chants of “Si se puede!”

As long term tenants fight illegal evictions 

It comes with the tense “Hello’s!” between new neighbors

Because no one trusts optimistic White people 

It comes with endless chatter at neighborhood council meetings 

As children and adults alike try to figure out their civil rights 

It comes with one of seven schools overcoming educational inequity  

Because White families feel more comfortable in droves 

Opinion pieces in The Lincoln Star begin to appear 

Titles like, “My neighborhood: The creative types paradise,” say it all 

The yearly carnival and trendy eateries are no longer the main draw 

And I see more racially integrated streets, but my friends don’t live here anymore 

As I walk down Broadway to the comfort of my apartment 

I am greeted to moving boxes perched outside my neighbors door 

As I settle in after a long day at my nonprofit job 

I ponder if this new sense of belonging is worth it 

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