I Heart LA

 Illustration by  Lemonade Pixel

Illustration by Lemonade Pixel

I’m moving to San Diego. Everybody around me is ecstatic. They say, “Congratulations,” “You’re so lucky, I want to move down there!,” and “The air is so much cleaner than LA.” Everybody around me is thrilled…except me.

It is something of a mystery to me exactly how and when I became so attached to LA. Growing up in a comfortable suburb at the very eastern edge of Los Angeles County didn’t exactly foster intimate knowledge of the city. Even now, I still live 10 miles outside of LA proper in the San Gabriel Valley, so I am surprised by my sudden fidelity to this place I have only orbited around. 

Perhaps this attachment began when I moved to an East Coast Ivy for graduate school and felt radically displaced as people discussed where they “summer” and the latest episode of “A Prairie Home Companion.” Don’t get me wrong. As a Korean American, I had encountered elitist white culture before but its prominence was somewhat suppressed by the diverse racial and cultural milieu of southern California. Until graduate school, I still didn’t know the “proper” way to place utensils for meals because my two childhood best friends were white and Indian so of course, we all set our tables differently. 

Perhaps it was when I brought my east-coast-native-boyfriend-now-husband back to Southern California after graduate school and we trotted all over this city devouring $1 tacos with tortillas made on the spot or $3 kimbab rolls or sometimes both in one evening because they’re right next door to one another with boba across the street to wash it all down. He was used to all kinds of white food: Italian, Irish, Maine lobster rolls. LA was something else and I relished the opportunity of showing him the ropes. 

Perhaps it was when I took an Upright Citizens Brigade improv class on Sunset just for kicks. Because I am a full-time minister with a young child, I was desperate to have moments of unadulterated fun without the constraints of being a mom, wife or professional. I would walk into the building with all the others in skinny jeans, military jackets and pulsating dreams and play in a way that I hadn’t since I was ten. It was only then I realized that there is real truth in the LA stereotype: people from all over the world do indeed move here to pursue their dreams in Hollywood. I had no aspirations beyond a relief from the wonderful but depleting drudgery of work and motherhood. My fellow students were anomalies to me as much as I was an anomaly to them. Who is actually native to this area, these transplants wondered. Their idealistic vibrancy was exhilarating, revealing a side of the city that is so widely known but at the same time hidden by its expansiveness.

Perhaps it was when I had my first child and looked around his preschool and saw that he looked as if he could be related to most of his peers as they are also mixed-race with more than one language spoken at home. We were the norm instead of the outlier — a reality I never encountered when I was younger and likely would not have if we were living somewhere else. I imagined him growing up with a stronger sense of self than I ever had because his early childhood experiences are one of belonging rather than alienation. 

Perhaps it was when my brother settled down in Little Tokyo with his wife and we would visit each other via the Gold Line, admiring the uniqueness of each neighborhood we passed on our way to one another and the eclectic assortment of people on their way somewhere — children, tired cooks, suited-up professionals, homeless men and women, new immigrants, striving artists. These are people who would likely never share a dinner table, yet are essential pieces of the interconnected web that make this city what it is.

Perhaps it was when they had their first baby and I visited them at the Good Samaritan Hospital and we laughed with giddy as they were given the option of being served Korean food in lieu of the standard hospital meals. I saw Korean nurses serving Mexican patients, black staff working alongside Korean staff, a black doctor laughing with a Mexican mother, whose child she had just delivered into this world. The staff and patients served and were served by one another with kindness and joy— a far cry from the race wars of 1992, which rampaged through the same neighborhood.

Perhaps it was when my husband got more intentional about bringing fun and romance into our relationship and bought us tickets to the Pantages, The Ice House in Pasadena and Disney Concert Hall, all of which draw the biggest names. We thought nothing of stopping for delicious Ethiopian, Thai, Mediterranean or Vietnamese food beforehand — all within a 5 mile radius of our home and under fifteen bucks a person. 

Perhaps it wasn’t any of these single moments that bred my attachment and fidelity. Affection was brewing within me all along, seeping into my skin and down into my heart while I was completely unaware. As we prepare to leave, I suddenly feel a deep sense of grief because my identity, and my family’s identity, is so tied to this place. We were formed here and we belong here. 

When I mention any of this, people say I will be able to find everything I have loved about LA in San Diego, with less traffic to boot. I’m not so sure. LA is a city that has been created by its unique blend of people, immigration history and the entertainment industry. They might be right in that I will fall for San Diego, but if I do, I think I will love it in a completely different way. It’s conceivable that say, in a decade or so of memories and experiences, I will be writing a similar sort of essay about the San Diego people and places I have come to cherish, along with its supposedly cleaner air. I’m certainly open to that possibility. But right now. Right now, my heart is so much, so head over heels, bound with LA.

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This essay was also published on Medium here.