Here Are The Angelenos We're Most Thankful For This Year
Many of us are heading to Thanksgiving with heavy hearts and feelings of dread. It's been a long few weeks, even here in California. But as we put the finishing details on our pumpkin pies and stare into the abyss, we'd like to remind you how much is already Great. There is a hell of a lot to be thankful for, even in Trump's America. We're especially thankful for all the incredible people who make our city the thriving, electric, exhausting, eclectic, dream-filled, deeply connected place that it is. Here are some of the still-living Angelenos we are most thankful for this year, in no particular order.
(Photo by Alan Levine via the Creative Commons on Flickr)
Jose Antonio Vargas
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Filmmaker, Founder of #EmergingUS
When he was 16, four years after leaving the Philippines to live with his grandparents in California, Jose Antonio Vargas went to the DMV to apply for his driver’s permit, only to find out that his green card was fake. Over the next fourteen years, Vargas became a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, writing for publications including The Washington Post, Huffington Post, The New Yorker. In 2011, Jose publicly outed himself as an undocumented American. Since then, he has become a champion for shifting the conversation around immigration and identity in an increasingly diverse America, founding the non-profit Define American, and making two films, White People (MTV) and Documented (CNN). Most recently, Vargas launched #EmergingUs, a digital platform to talk about the new America—one where for the first time in American history, white people are an emerging racial minority. #EmergingUS is the first-ever media property owned by an undocumented immigrant.
(Photo courtesy of Tim Kornegay)
Community Organizer, Activist for the Formerly Incarcerated
Tim Kornegay believes that those who are closest to the problem should be closest to the solution. The South L.A. native jumped headlong into community organizing work after completing a 21-and-a-half year prison sentence in August 2015, and works primarily around issues of reentry and organizing other formerly incarcerated individuals. In the months before the election, Kornegay, who works as a community organizer at LA Voice, led a team of 30 individuals—all of whom were either formerly incarcerated or family members of incarcerated individuals—campaigning for progressive state and local ballot measures here in L.A and making more than 30,000 phone calls. Kornegay has also been deeply involved in L.A.'s campaign to "ban the box," and other efforts to ensure employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals.
Sometimes being too far ahead of your time almost relegates you to being a footnote in history. Julie Dash (an alumna of UCLA's L.A. Rebellion film movement) made waves with 1991's Daughters of the Dust, a poetic, dreamlike look at three generations of Gullah women at the turn of the 20th century. It was the first film directed by a black woman to receive wide distribution in the United States and should have made Dash a household name. Instead, her career since has been stuck in TV movie hell (she teaches at Morehouse now). In the ensuing years since, she has been cited as an inspiration on artists like Ava DuVernay (if you're looking for something to watch this weekend, DuVernay's The 13th is on Netflix) and Beyoncé, who's visual album Lemonade is a direct descendant of Daughters. Daughters of the Dust, by the way, is in theaters tomorrow in Los Angeles.
Vinny. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/ Getty Images)
The Voice of the Dodgers
With the Dodgers having failed to reach the promised land in 28 seasons and counting, a whole generation of fans have spent their lives in futility. Yes, the team now is great (and Clayton Kershaw is destined to be one of baseball's immortals), but it's not exactly the heyday of the Boys of Summer or that legendary infield that your parents and grandparents experienced through in their younger days. The bond that brings these generations together, instead, is the rich, golden tone of Vin Scully's voice. The same voice that reassured you through a heartbreaking loss and didn't get overly excited at a clutch home run. Next season will be the first without Scully—after 67 amazing years in the booth—and with spring training not too far away we miss him already.
(Photo courtesy of Dulce Ramirez)
The High School Kids Leading The Anti-Trump Walkouts
Like we said, these are dark times... but few things make us feel more hopeful than watching young activists come into their own. In the weeks since Donald Trump's election, L.A's finest teenagers have led a series of large-scale walkouts, drawing major media attention. And these aren't just punk 16-year-olds trying to get out class—the walkouts have been thoughtful and organized, and particularly designed to make noise around Trump's immigration policies. I've spoken to student leaders at high schools around the city and heard their fears about how the city will protect LAUSD's large undocumented population, and their own undocumented friends and family. They are deeply engaged, passionate, brave, and ready to fight. Our country may be in the shitter, but the kids, it seems, are definitely alright.
(Photo via MLA Green)
Landscape Architect, Urbanist
One could argue that no contemporary Angeleno has done more to shape Los Angeles' current physical environment than Mia Lehrer. The Salvadoran-born landscape architect counts the Silver Lake Reservoir meadow and pedestrian path, the Hollywood Roosevelt pool, the Natural History Museum gardens and the Annenberg Community Beach House among her many, varied credits, and her firm is currently helming the Hollywood Park redesign and the forthcoming FAB Park downtown. Lehrer was an early advocate for the Los Angeles River and has been deeply involved in its revitalization, including creating the city's 2007 L.A. River Master Plan. But her mark extends far beyond the spaces her firm has designed; her drought-tolerant ethos and emphasis on respecting the California landscape have influenced other projects around the city for decades.
(Photo via LA2024/Vimeo)
A pioneer, innovator, entrepreneur, humanitarian and L.A. son. Starting with his Mexi-Korean taco truck Kogi, Roy Choi revolutionized the restaurant industry and did it while showcasing the alchemic melting pot of our city's cultures. Eight years later, he has since expanded his culinary empire into a half-dozen restaurants and earlier this year launched his "revolutionary fast food" chain LocoL in Watts, bringing healthier and more affordable dining options to underserved communities and giving back by hiring locally. Choi and his food are the best of Los Angeles—constantly innovating and serving the greater good.
(Photo by Gage Skidmore via the Creative Commons on Flickr)
Labor Leader And Civil Rights Activist
Dolores Huerta is as close to a living legend as it gets. The 86-year-old co-founder of the National Farmworkers Association (later United Farm Workers) has been at the forefront of American civil rights movements for more than half a century. With Cesar Chavez, she directed the UFW's 1965 national boycott during the Delano grape strike, and helped define union organizing as we know it today. The octogenarian feminist and civil rights pioneer hasn't come close to slowing down in recent years. She was a vocal surrogate for Hillary Clinton in the last election, and in the past two weeks alone, she has traveled to Standing Rock to rally against the Dakota Pipeline, joined El Super grocery workers at a union protest in South Los Angeles, and stood with L.A. civic leaders to support a county plan to protect Angelenos from hate crimes. Talk about Sí, se puede.
Chef Tal Ronnen runs one of L.A.'s best restaurants—and certainly the best vegan one. The interior isn't stark white and minimalist like so many "healthy" spots, it looks more like a classy old Italian joint, with dim lighting, a wooden bar, and red booths. Ronnen was a vegetarian until his father's lactose intolerant diet influenced him to become full-on vegan. The benefits of a plant-based diet, according to Ronnen (who you can learn more about through his cookbook, The Conscious Cook), include “lower cholesterol, reduced risk of heart disease, reduced risk of cancer and stroke, and doing right by the environment.” He serves his creations with a lot of love, and the creativity that goes into his menu is endless—if you ever see the seasonal seafood tower on the menu, order it. Thank you Chef, for serving Angelenos (and even the U.S. Senate) such ingenious plant-based options.
Paul Beatty. (Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images)
The Man Booker Prize, one of the most prestigious literary awards in existence, used to exclude writers who didn’t hail from the British Empire. By 2013, however, the rules were expanded to include all English-language writers. This October, writer Paul Beatty, who grew up in L.A., became the first American to win the award. Prizes aside, there’s much to be said about his winning novel, The Sellout, which centers around a black protagonist who, among other things, tries to reinstate segregation. The novel is satirical, absurd, and sometimes devastating in how accurately it portrays the chaos that our world has descended into. In this age of talking heads and pithy Tweets, Beatty raises questions that cut to the heart of the matter. Does race shape our fate? How low is the ceiling in a free America? Both hilarious and horrifying, The Sellout broadcast a message that, while we may not want to hear it, is imperative to our understanding of ourselves. This is not to mention that Beatty has raised awareness of L.A. in the literary scene. Who was our last great author? Joan Didion? It’s been too long.