January 2010: The Impact of the Economic Crisis on Youth, Communities in East L.A.
Team CRISIS/East LA Group. UCLA IDEA Council of Youth Research. August 2009. Gregorio Arenas, Erick Palacios, Emily Ramos, Rebecca Torres.
The economic crisis has affected everyone, but most importantly the youth. As students, we are concerned that this crisis will cause overcrowded classes, a lack of materials, and a weak connection between teachers and students. People should worry because everyone says we are the future, but we continue to receive a low-quality education. Without education we won’t be the big and brilliant people in our society forthe future. To better understand the economic situation, this summer students from the Los Angeles Unified School District came together to research how communities are being affected. We are called the UCLA Council of Youth Research. The council consists of 25 students from Wilson, Crenshaw, Roosevelt, Locke, and Manual Arts high schools. We spent five weeks studying this issue by reading education articles, learning ethnographic research methods and investigating this critical issue throughout the City of Los Angeles. Other groups researched areas in South Central, Watts, the Valley and the Westside, but our group was in charge of looking at the East Los Angeles community. In East Los Angeles, the economic crisis is not only forcing students to sacrifice in their daily lives, it is threatening their dreams for the future and putting the hope for a better life that their families struggled for in jeopardy.
Our group used different methods to gather our information. We captured over 11 hours of video, took field notes and did student focus groups. We also took surveys and did a community walk around Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights. For some of us it was our first time to visit the East Los Angeles Community and its three big schools,Roosevelt, Wilson and Garfield. We talked to students and teachers about how school was changing for them. Every person we interviewed reacted emotionally. They were very aware of what was going on. We also met with LAUSD district administrators, school board members, and Superintendant Ramon Cortines on what they were doing to help out the students and communities. We went to organizations, such as a homeless shelter; and it was very touching for us to hear the struggles and sacrifices of the people there because of the crisis. In addition, we met with local artists, parents, and small-business owners. Being able to talk to many people and organizations helped us get a better understanding of how the community was being affected by the economic crisis.
One finding that stood out to us was that the economic crisis is breaking down critical foundations of society in East LA, such as health, housing, education, and employment. In our survey, over 75% of students “Strongly Agree/Agree” that they are concerned that the budget crisis will affect their family’s housing. One student we spoke to, Veronica, a Wilson student, said, “I’ve seen a foreclosed home. That was like right in your face. I’ve never been close to seeing that before. And just to know that a family could’ve been living there. Like, where are they now?” We also spoke to Kris, the Director of a Homeless Shelter, who stated, “It’s definitely affected our waiting list. We’re seeing families that may have otherwise not have entered the system. People that have lost their jobs. Unemployment is not enough. CalWorks or welfare will not kick in because a lot of these families that had things, material goods, cars, etc. do not qualify for CalWorks. They’re not even getting the benefit assistance they need that may help them increase their income until employment is found.” This data shows that students are afraid they might lose their homes and what happens to those families. If students lose their homes they may not care about anything else. A home is very important because by having one you feel you have shelter and safety. Kids who are worried about not having a home might make be unfocused in class, which could lower their performance in school.
Our second finding was that East Los Angeles residents have a deep mistrust and lack of faith in public officials and how they are handling the economic crisis. Our surveys showed that about half of the students surveyed (51%) selected Arnold Schwarzenegger, governor of California, as the person who bears the most responsibility for the economic crisis is Arnold Schwarzenegger. Next 33% of students blame the federal government for the economic crisis. In another survey question we found that a large majority of students (81%) believe that education should be a bigger priority for lawmakers than law enforcement. These survey responses show that students don’t trust the individuals at the highest levels of our state and federal governments and feel that money isn’t being spent appropriately. During our research we found out that California is number one in prison spending. This fact made us angry because why couldn’t we turn this around and be number one in education? We feel students are being left out and viewed as less of a priority.
Our third finding is that there is a strong sense of fear and uncertainty about the future, especially for many immigrant youth and their families; students are scaling back their dreams. This relates to the American Dream. For example, Lupe, a City Terrace parent, stated, “While I was living in Tijuana, I was looking forward to coming to the United States, to get to know the place and see what jobs they had for a better future and to just move forward.” Another Wilson student, Vanessa, said, “I guess my dad came because he wanted to give us a better life, a better education. Right now he’s struggling with his job, so how’s he going to pay for my college? It’s overwhelming because that’s my number one priority.” One of our survey statements confirmed that over 80% of the students are worried that their education is going to suffer as a result of the cuts being made in their schools and communities. Parents, such as those in our East LA community, have come from other countries just to give their children a better future. But now because of the crisis, those dreams of helping them go on to college are being broken.
Despite the immensity of the current economic crisis, the East Los Angeles community has a strong spirit and remains committed to transformative social action. We found that about half of the students (51%) we surveyed know someone who has participated in a protest against the budget cuts. In addition 75% of students have faith that their community can come together to organize for change during these difficult times. These statistics show that the students from East Los Angeles see their community very united and feel they would stand up and fight for what they believe in. However the community needs help and everyone is responsible for the crisis. These problems can’t be solved by a single community—everyone has to take action.
We have some demands for policy makers, federal and state governments, the mayor, and communities all over Los Angeles. First, we want people in power to step into our shoes, so they can know and feel what we are going through in these difficult times. These powerful people need to have a better understanding of how people are struggling every day. Second, we demand radical truth-telling, which means to be honest and not lie. This is important because by not telling the truth, people aren’t being informed, making them unaware. People in the East LA community already felt left out because of the lack of information being spread around to say what’s wrong.
We also have more specific action plans for students, parents/families, teachers, and policy makers. For students we would like for them to learn about their school-site councils and maybe become a student representative. In this position, students can share the information they learn with other students and adults. We want parents and families to educate themselves about the platforms of politicians running for office in 2010. The election for local offices is quickly approaching, so parents can encourage others to exercise their right to vote. For policymakers, we recommend streamlining communication between school district and city officials to develop a comprehensive plan to help homeless youth and families. Recently we learned that the East LA schools now have the highest number of homeless youth in the entire LAUSD district. Lastly, teachers need to create lesson plans that connect the subject to the economic crisis, so students can address their concerns about the crisis in the classroom.
If communities and people in all levels of power took action and helped out during these tough times, the “American Dream” might not be fading away. Instead, that dream could continue and help families succeed in the future.