15 Aug Finding “Home” in South L.A.
Immigrants Share Stories of Belonging, Hardship
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By Shara Stewart
South Los Angeles is home to many different people from all over the country and all over the world. We asked several residents to share their experiences of being an immigrant in South L.A.
Alberto Rivas*, 30
“Coming to America [from Mexico] when I was eight years old, I feel so spoiled to have found places in Los Angeles that feel so much like home. When I came here as a boy, my English wasn’t very good, I dressed differently, even my hair was different, so going to private school I felt marginalized. But then you come to a place like South L.A., and there are people who look like you. I think that is the strength of South L.A.—Mexicans, Central Americans, African Americans—we all coexist here.”
Carol Blackwell, 40s
“I came here when I was pregnant with my daughter in 1986. Coming from a third-world country [Jamaica], you expect to find all of the advantages and opportunities that you just didn’t have access to. For me, with immigration came a major culture shock. South L.A. is a place in which many different types of people live. I am used to something very different. I felt alone in the beginning and missed my home and family, all of which stayed in Jamaica. I have lived here almost twenty-five years, but it wasn’t until I began to embrace my church family and seek out friends and restaurants that remind me of where I came from that I thought of this place as home.”
Juvencio Gomez, 28
“My father came here before we did. He worked hard to earn the money to bring my family here. I was five years old. We slept in bushes and crossed rivers to be here. We had to live in a one-bedroom apartment with four other families when we first came [to South L.A.] My father was the only one working in a family of seven, and he did it even without knowing much English. Eventually, he was able to earn enough to move our family into our own one-bedroom apartment, which seemed like heaven. I wanted to do well in school to help my father and also be an example for my brothers. I did do well, well enough to get into college, but being an immigrant with no papers, how could I go? I still want to finish school, get a degree and become an architect. I’ve worked a lot in construction, but I don’t want to be a laborer, I want something different, more.”
Marissa Escobar*, 17
“I was six months old when my family came here from Mexico. So many people from South L.A. grew up with hardships, but the ones who made it to college and actually came back to the community have inspired me. Being an immigrant means I had to work harder and get better grades than my friends even for the chance to go to college. It means that scholarships and financial aid might not be available to me, even with my family’s need. But if you really want something, you can achieve it. I am an example of that—I am going to university in the fall, and am the first in my family to do it.”
*Names have been changed to protect their identity.
Shara Stewart is an intern at Community Coalition.