East of La Brea

May 16, 2014

I’ve known for years that the social and economic elite of Los Angeles was heavily biased towards the westside of town. But two things in recent weeks brought into sharp focus for me, and pointed out how willfully uninformed people can be.

First was the fallout of the Donald Sterling controversy, when his archivist/assistant/girlfriend appeared before prying TV cameras wearing a full-face visor. Local TV reporters (and presumably the people who supervise them) were perplexed: they had never seen such unusual headgear. Had these journalists ever ventured towards the parts of town where Asian immigrants lived, they would have known that these visors are common place in Los Angeles, that many Asian Angelenos do everything in their power to avoid the sun. Go outside in the San Gabriel Valley and you will see many Asian people covered head-to-toe, even in the middle of the summer, to avoid getting darker skin. But then the white people on the westside aren’t interested in staying pale, so that wouldn’t be relevant to the local media.

The second instance of eastside-phobia occurred on an episode of the Nerdist podcast, where guest Jennifer Morrison made the common (and socially accepted mistake) of referring to downtown Los Angeles as being “east.” When informed that downtown is actually a very central part of Los Angeles, she held firm to her opinion and asked what could possibly be east of downtown that would make it central. Answer: East Los Angeles, Northeast Los Angeles (including Pasadena, heard of it?), and the San Gabriel Valley (Alhambra, Monterey Park, San Gabriel, Temple City, Rosemead, Covina, West Covina, etc.). Not to belabor the point, but both the 37th and 45th presidents of the United States attended college east of downtown Los Angeles.

As Jonah Ray said in the podcast, “Just because you don’t go there doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.” None of us are required (or even encouraged) to be knowledgeable of the people who lead lifestyles different from our own, but it would makes sense to acknowledge that those gaps in our personal experience exist, at least before we broadcast them to the world.