A true Los Angeles native knows that life without a car is no life at all. This L.A. transplant of 20 years whose coming of age happened in the great City of Angels couldn’t agree more. She would also learn that life without Los Angeles is hard to imagine.
To love L.A. is to drive it. Even when you can’t get a license, an undocumented Angelino/a finds a way. We were certainly forced to find one after 1994 when licenses stopped being issued for folks without papers (although that has recently changed with legislation granting California Driver’s Licenses for Undocumented Residents).
Oh, yes! I remember the first car I drove. This car was what we call a carcacha, it definitely looked like a clunker; but on my last year of college it spared me the agony of the daily commute from my home in South Central L.A. to the San Fernando Valley, and back. On a good day I would spent four hours hopping on three buses and a metro. With that kind of commute I was certainly no friend of the Los Angeles public transportation system, but I was determined to get a college education and 30 miles were not going to get in my way. No way! Besides, the long rides gave me time to do my homework or take a nap, my antidote to a normalized sleep deprived life style.
When my dad had enough savings to buy me a car, it didn’t matter it was a vehicle that looked as it was ready to head to the car graveyard. In its past life, it had survived an accident that left a dent on the door on the driver’s side, but any repairs done to it didn’t remove the evidence that it was a survivor, like me. It had a missing window that was usurped by a type of plastic that was good enough to look like a glass window, but it distorted the driver’s view, giving it a blurred vision effect that made driving it either bit interesting or hazardous, depending on the type of driver you are. As long as I never had to take it any place where valet parking was required, I was good to go!
This minivan made me fall in love with Los Angeles, its multiculturalism, diversity, gentrification and segregation, all for the price of one. It took me everywhere I needed to go and become the car that made me a happy and fearless driver on the 101/405 FWYs. In my post-college years, so much of my life was dependent on my car. Going to work meetings, road trip to Las Vegas with my family to spend the holidays, rushing to meet my friends for happy hour, even grocery shopping.
After graduation, I upgraded by purchasing my first car, a red Camry Toyota that allowed me to continue my driving relationship with LA. This one survived a Freeway accident and an immigration persecution. Yeah, the one where I was stopped on my way to work. I’m sure my car will never forgive the officers for forcing me to leave it stranded in the middle of the street to be towed away. The bloody bastards!
In Tijuana, I have kept my Angelina way of life – as the saying goes “you can take the girl out of Los Angeles, but you can’t take Los Angeles out of the girl.” You will hear me complain about the unevenly patched roads that I have to maneuver around and the “crazy” (AKA normal) drivers that never follow traffic regulations. But the worst thing is the view I can’t get away from on my daily driving route – the U.S-Mexico border fence. Only after a while is it possible to just drive ahead and forget it is there, although it is hard thing to do when you see people walking on the roadside who are looking for a spot along the fence that will give them an opportunity to cross into the U.S. A drive down to Rosarito or Valle de Guadalupe are my only places where I can mentally escape from the constant wishful thinking of being en el otro lado, on the other side.
The Tijuana roads will never measure up, and in fact, they are part of the reason why I am giving up my Angelina driving lifestyle, so that I can carry on with my search to find a place to belong in the world outside of Los Angeles.
Since I been in Mexico, between travel and moving for school or work, I have lived in four cities and three different countries since 2013. In places like Mexico City, London and Bonn, I coped surprisingly well with a carless life and their efficient transportation systems. But I have been incapable of rooting myself anywhere. The only thing that brings me back to Tijuana is my family, but I know this is not my home. Sometimes I doubt I will ever find a connection to a city like the one I had in Los Angeles. I have wondered if the feeling is similar to that of someone who has experienced the loss of a loved one. The indescribable sadness that always lingers, the anger of knowing you were robbed of their presence.
I have been grieving a loss for some time now, the loss of that part of me that will never be recovered. However, I must continue on with reconstructing my life, finding a way to put it all the past so that the memory of my L.A. life doesn’t get in the way of building a future home. My work in migrant rights makes it almost impossible to do so (especially when I have to challenge the romanticized view of the homeland many have), but I can’t get rid of an sort of activism that has become part of me.
What I am sure about is that Tijuana is not the city I would stay for the long-term. It is too close to the pain and to the border that lays like tombstone, which if it had a dedication for me it would read:
“Departed – Nancy Landa, beloved Angelina. From 1990 to 2009”.
It’s because of this that I leave Tijuana again. A job opportunity is taking to the other side of the country, closer to southern border, one that I can cross. Will I feel like home there? Who knows (and please folks, reserve your “home is where the heart is” B.S. comments). I know where home is (or was) for me, a place that I can only visit when I drive through memory lane. My hopeful self is still looking to belong… to find a home away from home.