Six Months Of Race In LA (And More To Come!): Listen To A Few Of Our Contributors

(Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Over the next year, we're hoping to hear your stories about how race and ethnicity shape your life and, hopefully, publish as many of these stories as we can, so that we can all keep on talking. We're calling this effort Race in LA. Click here for more information and details on how to participate.


It's been six months since we began publishing the Race in LA series, and the stories we've been able to share from the community have surpassed our wildest expectations.

This week, KPCC's Take Two highlighted Race in LA in a special segment. For the past few months, Take Two has been recording and airing contributors' essays, and on Tuesday the show featured a few of the voices that have made Race in LA a success.

And what a success it's been: Since we launched in June, dozens of Angelenos have shared deeply personal stories with us. Contributors have shared their experiences with racism and the hurts they've lived with for years, whether it happened in the workplace, at the park playing with the kids, or on a dark street long ago, illuminated by the lights of a squad car.

Contributors have written about their family histories and shared their immigrant stories. They've written about raising their children, about being multiracial and multiethnic, about how appearances can be deceiving, about their families living here for generations yet never being perceived as "American" enough. The stories are rich, real, and necessary for these times.

Several KPCC staffers have shared their personal stories, among them Austin Cross, Dana Amihere, Erick Galindo, Marina Peña and Brian Frank.

The seed for Race in LA was planted well over a year ago, in the days that followed the tragic Aug. 3, 2019 mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, when a gunman entered a Walmart specifically to kill Latinos; the shooter later told authorities he was targeting "Mexicans." Twenty-three people lost their lives.

That following Monday, we here at KPCC/LAist gathered in our newsroom to talk and grieve. During an emotional conversation, many of us shared stories about how our own race and/or ethnicity affects how the world interacts with us. People talked about being profiled, about passing, about the "what are you?" question, about having no neat "box" to fit into, about being scared.

We decided to open up this conversation to our audience, and Race in LA was born.

We launched the callout for entries in early June, just as Los Angeles and the nation were protesting the police killing of George Floyd and countless other Black men and women. The time was right, and the rest is history.

In case you didn't catch this week's Take Two segment, click on the audio links and meet a few of the Angelenos who've shared their stories so far:

SHIRLEE SMITH

Shirlee Smith, pictured in 1955. (Courtesy of Shirlee Smith)

Back in the mid-1950s, Smith worked as a long-distance telephone operator. She applied for a job at Cedars of Lebanon hospital in 1956 and was hired over the phone. All was well until she went there in person — and her new employer realized for the first time that Shirlee is Black. Shirlee, who is now in her 80s, recalls that long-ago experience and how it shaped her.

TRACY PARK

From Tracy Park's "Dear Racist" illustrated letter. (Courtesy of Tracy Park)

Artist and animator Tracy Park reached out to Race in LA with an illustrated letter she called "Dear Racist." In her powerful graphic essay, Park, who is Korean American, speaks directly to people who since the beginning of the pandemic have scapegoated Asian Americans and directed hatred toward them in verbal and physical attacks. Park's own family has endured abuse.

AUSTIN CROSS

KPCC's Austin Cross conducting an interview in the field. (KPCC/LAist)

In his first of three essays, KPCC's Austin Cross explores his rude awakening to entrenched racism at age 11, when his family moved from Westwood to the Inland Empire and, after a series of incidents, he "became hyperaware of my Blackness."

Austin hosts KPCC's early edition of All Things Considered and the Consider This podcast, and is a former Take Two producer. He wrote this essay as the news became personal, with the nation erupting in protest after George Floyd was killed.

Austin joined Take Two to talk about his essay, and shared one of his goals in becoming a journalist: "I thought maybe, if I could just help people understand this construct that we call race, the history, the struggle, and let people hear from Black voices they might not ordinarily meet in their lives, maybe it would save lives."

JAMES ROJAS

James Rojas, an urban planner, leading one of his Place IT! workshops that use model-building and on-site interactive models to help engage the public in the planning and design process. (Courtesy of James Rojas)

Urban planner James Rojas grew up Chicano on the Eastside in the 1960s and '70s and grew to love L.A.'s shared spaces of color, tangible and intangible spaces in which Black and Brown Angelenos coexisted and learned from one another. It was in these spaces where friendships were formed and he felt safe. As he writes in his essay, one was the RTD bus to Hollywood that took LGBTQ youths from around city to the clubs: "This was my Black and Brown community, and we owned the city from the back of the bus."

MORE FROM OUR RACE IN LA SERIES

These are just a handful of the more than 30 powerful personal essays we've published so far, and we're deeply grateful for all of them. The essays are archived on the Race in LA page.

And here's the good news: The Race in LA series runs for a year! We plan to keep going until next June. So if you have a story to share, there's still plenty of time.

Is there an experience that stands out about how your race and/or ethnicity shapes your life, your perspective? We want to hear it!

You can click on "How To Participate" on the Race in LA Page, or use the questionnaire below.

Thanks for reading, and happy holidays!