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Personal Essay

You Don’t Get to Hate Los Angeles, Unless You Love It

[dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap]’m leaving L.A. 

A little piece of Lynwood is going to the Bay Area, your boy got hired as the associate restaurant critic for SF Chronicle!  

When I received the call that I got the job, suddenly every moment I spent in this beautiful city was infused with appreciation. I was at a backyard house party for  Halloween when the news started to sink in. The crowd was almost entirely Black, Brown, and Asian. A hazy vision of foos dressed in last-minute store-bought costumes, men and women alike dressed in sexy versions of costumes flaunting their hot bodies as the sounds of music possess them to dance, or perform for a camera, with blunts and joints in one hand and a cup of something terrible in the other. I hear a constant hiss of NOS tanks filling up balloons with the occasional loud POP of them bursting. The folks at this backyard party collectively agreed to ignore the world outside, if only for a night. 

Some drunk dude asked me what I’m supposed to be, I told him I’m Tony Soprano. He asked which season, I said, in a white bathrobe and a bald cap, “all of em.” I’m taking in the scene trying to etch every detail into my skull, remembering the feeling of being at an LA house party because it’ll probably be my last for a while.

Like it was imbued with hidden meaning, even the interaction with the drunken idiot felt substantial.

For as long as I could remember, I always wanted to be a writer. Not really, but I thought it would be cool to do the Goodfellas thing. 

Maybe I didn’t always know I wanted to be a writer but writing is the only job I’ve found fulfilling. I’m incredibly privileged to be able to write these stories that expand the idea of L.A. It was because of the amazing folks at L.A. TACO that I even have the honor of becoming a food critic, so I want to start with a huge thanks to them. Additional thanks to the fine folks at LAist and Thrillist for helping me expand and refine my writing.

Writing isn’t easy. Food writing, specifically, is a tireless and tedious job that isn’t glamorous, it takes real passion. Any freelance writer will tell you that even if you follow all of the hustle culture infographics or inspirational videos about grinding, you’ll still barely earn a liveable wage. My biggest piece of advice to anyone looking to join this field is that you have to invest yourself into it; time, MONEY, sanity, blood, tears, and any other bodily fluids you might be willing to sacrifice. The only way to speak with authority on the city’s (constantly) evolving dining scene is to try it for yourself. Stop for that taco. Or try that new pop-up that’s taking risks just to express themselves through food.

As far as I’m concerned, L.A. TACO continues to be the voice of the streets. The only reason I even wanted to be a part of this talented group was because they wrote about where I’m from, Lynwood. My L.A. Not the L.A. from the movies, not the L.A. transplants like to complain about, not the trendy parts, not the vapid ideas of the city. At L.A. TACO it felt like my world was seen and I wanted to be a part of that.

When I was a kid, certain parts of L.A. were like a different planet. This city is huge and made up of different realities. Because of this job, I’ve been able to explore every corner of this beautiful city. And that fills my lil' heart with joy. But now I have to leave the city where I started, and it is because I love L.A., and will always love L.A., that I must leave it. [Dramatic stage exit.]

I’ll miss you Los Angeles, more than you’ll ever know. And don’t forget, you don’t get to hate L.A. unless you love it. And even then if you do, keep that shit to yourself.

As I’m writing this, I’m wiping the tears from my face thinking of all the beautiful people that helped me along the way and believed in my voice. I can’t thank them enough. And thank you, if you read any of my work. Thank you to all the people who trusted me to tell their stories. 

In episode 2 of Walter Thompson-Hernandez’s podcast California Love about graffiti artists, there’s a key piece of wisdom from artist Sight. “There’s a human need to express yourself. Unfortunately, the lower classes and the impoverished don't have the spaces and the walls to just be creative,” he says.

It’s not lost on me that I’m a kid from the 'hood whose first real food experience was pizza parlors and burger joints, and now I get to write about food for a living. I don't take this privilege lightly and I’m immensely grateful to even have my foot in the door. Yo, I’m a food critic now, that’s surreal. 

There’s this poignant scene in The Last Black Man in San Francisco that I think is a good place to end. The lead character Jimmie is on the bus, after the emotional climax of the flick, and overhears two women saying that they hate San Francisco. “Do you love it?” Jimmie asks reflexively, "you don’t get to hate it, unless you love it.” 

That’s the same way I feel about L.A. 

My project in L.A. was to represent the communities that I grew up in so that they’re viewed with humanity and significance.

That’s the same attitude and ethos I will bring to the Bay Area, treating it with the same compassion while finding great food and stories. I’m excited to learn from the super talented folks at the Chronicle. Special thanks to Senior Food and Wine Editor Serena Dai and Food Critic Soleil Ho for believing that I could do this job.

I’ll miss you Los Angeles, more than you’ll ever know. And don’t forget, you don’t get to hate L.A. unless you love it. And even then if you do, keep that shit to yourself.

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