It was after reading the recent LA Times piece, A Dream Displaced Part 2 – As Gentrification closes in, immigrants in Lincoln Heights find their American dream slipping away in the Los Angeles, I recognized feeling a profound sense of sorrow for the residents that are being essentially priced out of their homes. It was shocking to learn 73% of residents are renters in Lincoln Heights, partially explaining the sense of powerlessness this population must be experiencing under the tide of socio-economic change gentrification brings with it.
The sorrow I harbor for Lincoln Height residents is rooted in my own family’s history. My immigrant parents first moved into the neighborhood of Lincoln Heights due to its close proximity to the Chinatown community and the affordable rent. They found an upstairs unit in a back house on Workman Street, located right across from the beautifully historic Lincoln Heights Branch Library on one corner and a Thrifty’s drugstore on the other. I also remember there was a video store, Star Video, directly across from Thrifty’s mixed in with a number of small businesses. The neighborhood was a melting pot of cultures, the neighborhood’s diverse population reflected through the various local businesses that lined the main commercial district across Broadway.
Historically, Lincoln Heights was Los Angeles’s first suburb and home to a succession of immigrants representing our city’s history of diversity. The English, Irish, French, Chinese, Mexican, and the Italian all claimed Lincoln Heights as their home at one time or another, each successive wave of immigrants leaving their imprint, with many still writing their history.
As I reminisce about my childhood, memories come flooding back about the neighborhood’s past: picking out a movie with my dad at the video store, walking to the baseball card store after school, or even buying pet food on Broadway for my pet turtle. My memories remind me of a very walkable neighborhood with services available for residents all within a few minutes distance. The walkability of Lincoln Heights almost made it feel like I lived within a bubble separate from the rest of car-centric Los Angeles. And even though I belonged to the demographic labeled a minority, it never felt that way in Lincoln Heights…it was just home to me.
Our family was eventually forced out of our apartment by our landlord. We were unable to find affordable rent in the neighborhood, so we ended up moving further east to El Sereno when I was in 8th grade. Now as an adult looking back, I realize there were a lot of up and downs living in Lincoln Heights. It must have been different than what my parents imagined their life would be working towards the American Dream. But back then as a child, Lincoln Heights felt perfect.