I’m a native. My Dad grew up in Houston, Texas and my Mom in Samut Songkhram, Thailand. They met in Thailand when my Dad was on R and R from Vietnam. When Dad finally got permission to bring Mom stateside, they landed in Houston, but set off for California to chase Dad’s dreams of making it big in movies. He acted. He wrote screenplays. He still writes. I was born at Cedars shortly after they moved from the blue Scientology Building in Hollywood.
Last night was another beautiful beach sunset for me. I spent the morning at the mercy of a headache and doing housework. By the end of the day, my escape hatch became a craving. I watched the sunset and smiled at text messages from a handsome skater boy. I took the advice of another man with beautiful greenish hazel eyes and a gift for finding healthy and good food and walked to the Promenade to pick up dinner. On my way back to the pier, I pointed at my ear buds and said, “I can’t hear you,” to the two men trying to talk to me. I kept walking and a block later while waiting for a light to change, they caught up to to me to tell me how much they appreciated my walk. It’s more of a strut. One foot in front of the other. They walked another block with me, and we chatted a bit and once again I was struck by the awe of people who think being a native is a big deal. I suppose we are.
Growing up we weren’t well off, but we weren’t poor either. I had two parents that always made sure I had what I needed and often the frivolous things I wanted as well. We lived in East Hollywood until we moved to Echo Park right next to Dodger’s Stadium. My next home was in North Hollywood and I’m now in Lincoln Heights. I’ve never left my county. I don’t want to.
We live in one place but visit every other area because we can.
Los Angeles spreads out pretty far. From the time we were kids, it was normal to live in one area but get into shenanigans elsewhere. When we were little we went into Hollywood a lot. My sisters would take me to Westwood. We would take the bus to Santa Monica. When I was with the youth group in church, we were often in Glendale or Burbank. I got older and Pasadena was where we would end up. Being a native means we’re less likely to want to stick to places that are walking distance. We’ll do it, but why? We can go to the mountains to be knee deep in winter snow and be at the beach for a bonfire in the same day.
Hollywood is a right of passage.
We have decent weather most of the year, so filming a summer or fall scene in February isn’t a big deal. Set dressers make that magic happen. We’ve grown up with film crews in our neighborhoods and on our streets. My highschool is a fairly popular setting for television and film. Modeling or acting schools pitched our dreams to us in school and yes, my Mom shelled out tuition to John Robert Powers for me. (That’s where I learned my strut.) I spent a few months being an extra or background artist. I was acting behind the actors in my favorite television shows and loving the free food and dating scene. Eventually you will know someone that is successful in their career behind the scenes and you went to school with at least one actor that has a regular gig that lands them on television. We have friends that get paid to work in local theaters. We know that going to movies means we will get approached by someone trying to get a screening filled for a free movie and unpaid focus group. People in the industry are idealists and a bit neurotic, but they feel like home.
We trust street vendors.
Most of us trust street food. We had ice cream and produce trucks drive through our neighborhoods, playing a warbling tune on bad speakers or a fancy horn to let us know they were outside. We walked through parks with men selling cotton candy on wood trees. We wanted elotes, and tamales, and freshly cut fruit with pico de gallo, lime and salt. We know how good a bacon wrapped hot dog tastes with grilled onions and peppers.
Growing up with LA Nightlife was a navigation.
We knew where to get the fake ID near MacArthur Park, but mainly we knew that getting into a club when underage was more about walking in with the attitude of someone that belonged there. Our clubs were either empty warehouses painted black with a few go-go boxes, or plush couches, artwork to perch on and psychedelic paint jobs. I was also into flyer parties and raves with happy balloons, and dollar beers. We knew which homeless men were willing to buy our beer at the cost of a 40 ounce. We knew which clubs would let ladies in free before 10. At the end of the night, we always had Tommy’s. It tastes like nostalgia and makes a satisfying cold breakfast when you’re fighting a hang over.
We know our weather.
We know our weather shifts but not by much. There’s rainy days where I wear flip flops. Wet feet dry faster than wet socks, and it’s warm enough that wet feet won’t really suffer. We know the warm caress of the Santa Anas and that she is dangerous during fire season and will make you suffer with allergies. We know fire season scorches the hills before raining season and that’s why there is flooding and landslides. It’s on the news but we’re still shocked every year. Typically we won’t need more than a sweater. A hot day gives way to frigid temperatures when that day is spent at parks and beaches. A hot day in Los Angeles means it will be comfortable in the local mountains but there’s a good chance you’ll end up in a summer mountain thunder storm in Big Bear, and if you head to the beach, expect it to be much cooler. We also know our water quality will make you sick, but we venture into the water anyway, knowing to dive beneath an approaching wave and to swim parallel to the shoreline when you notice a riptide is trying to take you away. You learn that jellyfish stings are quickly soothed by human pee and it’s really not a fetish at that point.
Our freeways are not very free.
Growing up, we didn’t have many toll roads. There were carpool lanes and you just needed a travel buddy or two. When travelling by freeway, expect certain times of day to be a parking lot and the 405 is good at making a short commute feel like 4 or 5 hours. This is when it comes in handy to know the many streets that will get you to your destination. Sometimes there are feeder streets along freeways and other times there are long streets and side streets. I used to keep a Thomas Guide in my car and pull over for a quick alternate route, but Waze has replaced that in recent months.
Gangs were a reality.
Junior high was more than first periods and a new set of boobs. Gangs were actively recruiting kids to join them because you were vulnerable during school and on the way to the house you had to let yourself into. Kids were killed while we were supposed to be going to school dances and having first kisses.
We had a few neighbors that we were able to call family because they came from other cities, but eventually having neighbors meant you didn’t get to know them. They wouldn’t be neighbors for too long anyway. People in Los Angeles often get sucked into the glitter and glam and spend through nest eggs to enjoy the sparkly bits until they have to go back home.
We have earthquakes. The first one can be terrifying, but eventually you get used to the idea that the earth will shake and you just need to ride it out. You will feel the ground rumble with trucks, but eventually you will look up to lights and anything hanging. When chandeliers sway, you’ve just been through an earthquake. Eventually you will try to guess the magnitude before the newscaster tells you.
Melting Pot or Bouillabaisse?
When my parents arrived, interracial couples were still taboo. Even in church. They were asked to not return to a church once. Being mixed meant there really wasn’t a cultural niche. We lived in an area with Hispanic people from all over Central and South America. We had black and white neighbors. There are areas that have now become Koreatown, Little Armenia and Thai Town, but when I was a kid there was just the old and new Chinatown. My hair and word choice made it hard to fit in with the black kids and my skin and lack of language made it hard to fit in with Thai kids. I don’t blame Mom for not teaching us Thai at birth. She came here when it wasn’t okay to be who she is, and her adaptability made our family the international bunch we are. (One day I’ll wow you with my family composition.) I have a hard time stomaching bigotry because it was never normalized for me. I’ve been to quinceaneras where I learned to salsa and punta. I’ve been to bar mitzvahs and been lulled by the song of an ancient language. I’ve tried to stomach chitterlings and menudo.
Love with a Native
I realize most of us are unique in our loving styles, but there is something about being from a big city full of people vying for that special snowflake attention. We tend to see everyone as eye candy. It’s a geographical hazard. Love becomes what we can feel from others, rather than what we can contribute to the lives of others. Southern manners are desirable because we just don’t function that way for the most part. Relationships are fleeting. Family and friends don’t care unless it gets serious because we’re used to it not getting serious. Everyone will chime in because we can see the step down you just took and we know you deserve better because we are vapid and better is on the next corner. We can see what you are too busy feeling. But when you find it and it’s real, you hold on for dear life. We all crave more but rarely look past what we would look like together. A nephew from Alabama just introduced Facebook to his girlfriend, and all the southern family has greeted and introduced themselves to her in a comment. In Los Angeles, we haven’t met her and we’re not holding our breath. She’ll come around eventually if it lasts.
We love our gays.
I didn’t grow up with friends getting beat up because of their skin, but because they were into people that shared their sex. When I was young, Sunset Junction was the only place to find an annual “Fag Fair.” That’s what we called it and where we would enjoy carnival rides, eat great food off of trucks and watch men wearing chaps and a thong while holding hands. Some of my favorite men would talk about boys with me and we understood the fun and heartache of horny teenaged boys. My curious phase was met with acceptance and encouraged. Deciding that I was curious and then really don’t like women was never about rebellion. It was something to try and no one cared either way so there was no pressure for me in letting go then letting it go.