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Becoming a Neighborhood Saver: Engaging the Community in Los Angeles
Unformatted Document Text:  14 who were only one or two generations removed from this world. Although many of the members were Latinos and came from poor backgrounds, they were also, for the most part, college educated and had stable jobs. They were middle-class, college educated and largely childless. To them, the world of community members was the world of their mothers and fathers, tios and tias, abuelas and abuelos. Although many were so close demographically to these working class people, there was a profound social distance between these members and the community members. As one participant said of a community member, “He’s very different from us.” Although possibly presumptuous of me, I often felt that I – a middle class, suburban white male from Missouri – had more in common with these members than they had with the community members they were organizing. As Monica brought up in a Winston St. meeting: “I think at first we felt that we didn’t want to overwhelm them [the community members]. That we have a lot of privilege to be at all of these meetings, and they have invested commitment and made changes. These people have kids, and some of them work two jobs and others get up at five am, and we are here at what? Eleven [pm]. We are privileged. I mean, they said we are going to have meetings on Fridays because many don’t have to get up early on Saturdays. They told us that, that ‘The meetings are on Fridays, can you make it?’ These families are invested in the [housing] commission.” Participants saw themselves as privileged and different from those in the community, yet they wanted to become a part of it. Thus activism was a political liability. Organizers perceived activists as impeding the integration of these organizations with “the community.” Participants at both groups frequently reported that community members felt alienated and unwelcome at both Winston St. and the Unity Center. Organizers thought that community members thought that activists were different for having strange political views . . . or even strange facial hair – as one example shows. Geraldo said at a Unity Center meeting, when speaking about the garden committee, which worked with “the community”:

Authors: Glass, Pepper.
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background image
who were only one or two  generations  removed from this world.   Although many of the 
members were Latinos and came from poor backgrounds, they were also, for the most part, 
college educated and had stable jobs.  They were middle-class, college educated and largely 
childless. To them, the world of community members was the world of their mothers and 
fathers, tios and tiasabuelas and abuelos.  Although many were so close demographically to 
these working class people, there was a profound social distance between these members and 
the   community   members.     As   one   participant   said   of   a   community   member,   “He’s   very 
different from us.”  Although possibly presumptuous of me, I often felt that I – a middle class, 
suburban white male from Missouri – had more in common with these members than they 
had with the community members they were organizing.  As Monica brought up in a Winston 
St. meeting:
“I think at first we felt that we didn’t want to overwhelm them [the community 
members].  That we have a lot of privilege to be at all of these meetings, and they have 
invested commitment and made changes.  These people have kids, and some of them 
work two jobs and others get up at five am, and we are here at what?  Eleven [pm].  We 
are privileged.   I mean, they said we are going to have meetings on Fridays because 
many don’t have to get up early on Saturdays.  They told us that, that ‘The meetings are 
on   Fridays,   can   you   make   it?’     These   families   are   invested   in   the   [housing] 
Participants saw themselves as privileged and different from those in the community, yet they 
wanted to become a part of it.
Thus activism was a political liability.  Organizers perceived activists as impeding the 
integration   of   these   organizations   with   “the   community.”     Participants   at   both   groups 
frequently reported that community members felt alienated and unwelcome at both Winston 
St. and the Unity Center.  Organizers thought that community members thought that activists 
were different for having strange political views . . . or even strange facial hair – as one 
example shows.   Geraldo said at a Unity Center meeting, when speaking about the garden 
committee, which worked with “the community”:

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