Poverty Tourism?

Ξ December 14th, 2009 | → Comments Off | ∇ 90065, Beyond Northeast, Glassell Park, Politics, Press |

An article in the LA Times last week has been sitting uncomfortably in my inbox, and while it isn’t specifically related to Northeast Los Angeles, I’m troubled at the precedent it sets for our neighborhood. LA Gang Tours, a nonprofit, will lead bus tours beginning in January from the Los Angeles River through South Los Angeles for tourists or locals interested in the exact opposite of the Hollywood-based stars’ homes tours.  Led by a reformed Florencia 13 member, the tour has brokered an understanding with local gangs and plans to showcase the areas criminal history. (Crips, Bloods, and 18th Street oh my!)  While the tour’s backers seem to have the best of intentions, I’m personally very uncomfortable with turning the inner-city into a zoo where the bourgeois and foreigners can project their romanticized images of Colors, Boyz n the Hood, and Training Day.  In Rio de Janeiro, tourists can pay to take a bus ride through the favelas, exoticized in 2002′s City of God.  While no neighborhood in Los Angeles approaches that level of crime and poverty, the spirit of gawking at the poor goes back at least to tours of London’s Eastenders at the beginning of the 19th century, and I worry that the motivation for those who would pay for these tours is not born of philanthropy or education.  Instead, I imagine customers signing up for a sense of adventure and urban exploration that ends regaling his or her friends with stories of surviving the ‘hood over PBRs that night.  (Don’t believe me?  Just read any post about going to East Los Angeles on Yelp.)  LA Gang Tours is reportedly already looking to expand their trips to include Westlake, which leads to my concern that Highland Park, Glassell Park, and Cypress Park won’t be far behind.  If the residents of South L.A. think that these tours will bring an influx of jobs, money, and knowledge into their community, then it’s not my business to tell them what is in their best interest.  However, I will be justifiably furious if open-topped vans start cruising down my street oohing and aahing over murder scenes and gang tags.  (“HxP means Highland Park!”)

Fortunately, I have a suggestion for those who want to help those in need without exploiting or stigmatizing the poor as something “other”.  This Wednesday, a bevy of charity groups are hosting a Glassell Park Neighborhood Posada from 4-6 PM at Juntos Park, 3145 Drew Street.  Traditionally, a Posada involves viewing nativity scenes but since the flyer wishes us “Happy Holidays”, and various city departments are sponsoring the event, I’m not sure how much religious imagery to expect in a public park.  Still, kids can get free piñatas, adults can drink free champurrado, and if you’re so inclined, you can find a way to get involved in gang-prevention and social work without stigmatizing the poor.  You’re even allowed to get a little thrill from being in the barrio.

How quaint... (Courtesty franklinhills.org)

How quaint... (Courtesty franklinhills.org)


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