The neighborhood we grow up in shapes who we are on many levels. We develop a sense of community with our family and neighbors around us that creates a nurturing environment and a true sense of belonging. For some people, however, the idea of neighborhood can evoke feelings of isolation or fear, and they seek refuge indoors or away from the streets, to avoid ill factors like gangs, violence, or crime.
As we begin each Youth Voices project, we ask students to think about where they are from and examine the spaces that are meaningful to them. Where do they hang out? What places do they stay away from? What spaces are their most treasured? This exploration provides insight into their interests and values and ultimately helps to identify who they are and how they relate to the world at large.
The idea of neighborhood, especially in Los Angeles' vast landscape, can often transcend geographical boundaries. Students may live in one neighborhood, go to school in another, and even hang out in one more. In order to identify these places, students are each asked to create a subjective map of their "neighborhood" using paper, and share observations in order to perhaps demystify for some the places that have been misrepresented through other media outlets.
Most of the students, like Brenda, Geovanni, Mike, Marcy, Sophia, and Angel live in the neighboring area of Lincoln Heights. Arthur and Chris live on the same block as the school, and when asked about their neighborhood they are aware of outsider's perceptions who don't live there. The 'word' out there, is that - "Ah, Lincoln Heights is the ghetto" or, "that's a dangerous neighborhood with serious gang problems." But as you peer into the details of these maps, you will notice that there is much more complexity and contradiction to the communities. Geovanni expresses how there is high crime in his neighborhood, but it is a place full of love.
There are others like Renee, Allan, and April who live a bit farther away in Atwater Village, East LA, or Koreatown, respectively. In these maps a larger geographical area is represented, yet the space of about a 10 mile radius gets compressed into a few blocks.
To see these amazing maps and read each student's description of his or her neighborhood, you can click on the names above, or you can check out the slideshow below. You can also look at previous maps from the Departures Youth Voices Venice installment.
Next week, the students will locate the places that are identified on their personal maps, and notate them on a collaborative Google Map. So stay tuned!