Thursday, February 11, 2010

The 'hood as a tourist attraction

The 'hood as a tourist attraction

Let’s say an individual, employer, or group is interested in doing something that will positively influence another individual or the community, is the input of the party being effected not vital in order to have their best interest in mind? The issue then becomes, how much control will the ones being utilized or effected actually have of the project, plan, or even outcomes?

Alfred Lomas, a former Florencia 13 gang member, is now the front man of tours that will take people around South Los Angeles and give them a first hand look on what the inner city lifestyle and gang life is like, the first of which took place in January. The plan is to reinvest the revenues from these tours into the South Central community in order to foster economic growth, job training, and other opportunities for those living in the community.

If the driving force of this project is to create profit for the community to increase their opportunities to succeed, why is the first sentence of the projects mission “…to provide an unforgettable historical experience for our customers with a customized high-end specialty tour” ? Yes, in the following paragraph they explain the objective, which is to reinvest the money into the community, but what I am stuck on is why cater to your “tourist” audience in your first sentence and mention the community after?

The ceasefire agreement that is said to have been made between rival gangs so that the tour buses are allowed to go through the community at a certain time safely also paints an extremely dramatic picture of the gangs in South Los Angeles. When I hear such thing, I picture British Grenadier Guards standing at the each side of the street just waiting to draw their rifles or I think of the ceasefire agreement that was drawn between North and South Korea after the Korean War, and both of these examples are completely different from the life of gangs in South Central.

As I read more and this topic I find myself becoming more confused and frustrated. I keep trying to remain objective and write this blog from that space in our head we are lead to believe that exist; that place where one can be neutral and detach ourselves from our history and experiences and look at the larger picture, but the more I try the more I miserably fail. I guess I wanted this blog to be one which simply talked about the tours and remained impartial but the voice of an old professor at UCLA keeps playing in me head telling me “The personal is political.” For people who are invested in improving our system and creating a better reality for those around us it is impossible to not think about the things that have brought us to where we are at. Coming from a low-income neighborhood where many of my classmates and childhood friends are either part of a gang, in prison, or even dead, it is extremely trying to not get frustrated when our people are in a sense becoming a commodity for entertainment and their lives are being popularized in the name of “good.”

I am really trying to see how these tours will benefit the South Central community but I keep coming across red flags which make me question the efficacy of their project. Not only are the community and gang members being treated like sideshow freaks but a mockery of our culture is also being created. The fact that the people behind this project considered having kids from the community shoot the tourist with water guns and later have t-shirts that read “I Got Shot in South-Central” is absurd! I mean if they really want to make some people angry then, yes, that is a great idea but if they want to be conscious of the stereotypes they will be perpetuating with such actions then they should definitely lay off the water guns.

If I could talk to Alfred Lomas I would ask him how much input did he and his team actually get from the community before they drafted this project, did they try and use the communities input for potential money making ideas that did not involve tours, and once they decided that the tours were going to be the game plan did they create a space for the community to go in and voice what their thoughts and concerns?

The trick is to not just sit 50 tourists a month down, give them a tour of South Central and a brief history of racist housing laws and practices that created such communities and lead to gangs, it is to truly spread the word and educate the masses. What is a tourist from Australia really going to do to help change the situation of our communities? NOTHING! We need to invest our energy in the people who are not only the most effected by it but who can truly create the change needed. Also, if one of the objectives of the tours is to educate people on the history of racially discriminating laws that created a lot of the injustices our communities face today then why not increase awareness of literature or documentaries that do just that? There is plenty of information out there that can enlighten people on the governmental and societal practices that lead to our current situations; people just need better access and awareness on how to reach those resources.

My thoughts are so convoluted and in some ways I feel that I said so much but at the same time said nothing in this blog but I guess that directly reflects how I feel about these “Hood Tours.”

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