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Illustration by Anilu Bibiano, 15, Locke HS #3

Students in Jerica Coffey’s English classes at Locke High School #3 in Watts feel like people make assumptions about them because of where they live. Ms. Coffey gave them an assignment to write about growing up in South Central L.A. to show people what their lives are really like. L.A. Youth liked the idea of giving teens in South Central an opportunity to share their experiences since they don’t often get heard. Editors worked with these students to adapt what they’d written for L.A. Youth.

I’m a strong African-American woman with goals

Some people think that African-American women are loud, ghetto and disrespectful. One day last year I was walking near Martin Luther King Jr. and Avalon boulevards and I passed by some Asian people who told me that I was “ghetto” and that I needed to go back where I came from. Then they said that I needed to go eat some chicken. My first thought was to go off on them but that wouldn’t have gotten me anywhere so I just left it alone.
What they said made me feel useless but I had to get it through my head that I am a strong African-American woman and I can do and be anything I want.
    I get offended that there are people who think young African-American girls from South Central L.A. are all having babies and dropping out of school and have parents who don’t care about their education. That is not who I am.
    I am going to show people what I can do. I have stayed focused on school by sometimes shutting my cell phone off or giving up going out with my friends because I need to get homework done. It’s worth it because I get As and Bs. I’m not sure what college I want to go to, but I know that I am going.
    I want people to know what a great role model my mom is. Even though she didn’t go to college, she’s always encouraging me to go so I can do more than she did. When I was younger my momma always asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I would say “a doctor.” She would sit me down next to her and say, “Daughter, don’t ever give up. You can be that and don’t let nobody tell you different.” I still have that goal and I am planning to participate in a job shadow program at a local hospital this summer. I want to be an obstetrician/gynecologist or specialize in geriatrics to work with the elderly.
    If more people knew women like me and my mom, they would know that African-American women are accomplishing positive things.
Covette Jones, 15, Locke HS #3

The news doesn’t show the good things happening here

I never see stories on the news about successful Hispanics in South Central L.A. When I was in eighth grade about seven kids at my middle school overdosed on drugs. The news vans pulled up faster than you could say “stereotype.” To the news media we are drug-dealing and drug-using cholos. Had those same students been the first to go to college, I think the news stations would have ignored it. Two years ago there were riots here at Locke and the news stations labeled it a race riot and said that the black and Latino students don’t get along. But it wasn’t a racial riot. It was rival gangs that didn’t like each other. Almost all of the kids at my school get along, and I’ve never seen a problem between black or brown students specifically related to race. I’m Latino and I have a lot of black friends.
    Unfortunately, I can’t walk into a newsroom and say, “Here‘s my life story, please put it in one of your broadcasts.” And there are so many stories out there about teens like me—good students who actually want to graduate, go to college and live their lives as successful people.
    I want to go to college at Cal State Long Beach and study to be either a chemical or electrical engineer. I want to be able to buy my mother and father anything they want and put them in a nice house when they retire. In the future when I’m watching the news I hope to see stories of people in my neighborhood starting a charity or earning a scholarship—the kind of stories they ignore now.
Gabriel Saldaña, 16, Locke HS #3

I wish people would see that not all Latinos are cholos

Growing up in South Central L.A. I’ve had to deal with the stereotypes that we’re all cholos and cholas, that we smoke, steal, gang-bang or that we’re all just plain ignorant. But not everyone here fits these stereotypes. I am nothing like that. I get really good grades and plan to go to college and be someone.
    Once I was hanging out with my cousin at her job at a donut shop in Marina Del Rey, which is a wealthy community near the beach. There was a group of white guys gawking at me like I was an unknown species. I felt out of place. Later that day one of the guys came in and apologized. He introduced himself as Chris. After I told him I was from South Central, he asked me if I wanted to go smoke weed with him.
    “Of course not. I never have,” I responded. He looked confused.
    “I thought that you smoked. I thought that every Mexican in South Central smoked,” he said. I was hurt, but I just smiled and bit my tongue. I didn’t want to argue with a stranger. Besides, I wanted to be nice to him so that maybe I could change his mind about “Mexicans.” (I’m actually Salvadorian.)
    “So what school do you go to?” he asked.
    “I go to Locke High,” I said.
    “Oh, I’ve heard about that school. All the kids are bad aren’t they?”
    “Mmmm, well not really, some people just can’t stay on track,” I explained.
    “You’re one of them aren’t you?” he asked.
    “No, I pretty much have it good, I have straight As right now,” I replied. I was angry. This was the first time someone had assumed I was a bad kid. I knew that our community had a bad reputation, but I had never taken it seriously.
    He, like others, wasn’t able to realize that not everyone fits negative stereotypes. I have goals of graduating high school and going to UCLA. I want to become an amazing writer and be judged by my work and not by where I come from. And I am not the only one who thinks and acts like this.     There are many more people in my community who are working hard to prove themselves to the world, too.
Yesenia Reyes, 15, Locke HS #3

My immigrant parents work hard to provide a better life for my family

I typically hear people say bad things about Mexicans. One day a few years ago my mom and I went job hunting. A week later one of the places called us and said they wanted to talk to my mom about a job. We went to the office and there was a white lady behind us in line. The manager told us that my mom got the job. The lady behind us didn’t get the job. When she passed by us she said, “You Mexicans are job stealers.” I was shocked. I looked back at her and she rolled her eyes at me. My mom didn’t say anything because she didn’t understand English.
    My parents came to the United States in the 1980s illegally, but it was to give my family a better future. If they had stayed in Mexico my siblings and I would have been working at a young age because my parents wouldn’t have made enough money to send us to school. My parents, who are now legal residents, have done a good job. But they work so much I hardly see them. Their hard work has inspired me to become someone in life. I want them to feel proud of me.
    When I go to McDonald’s most of the people who work there are Latinos. People who aren’t from South Central L.A. might expect me to settle for working at McDonald’s. But I would never want to work there as an adult because it’s too much work for too little pay. I’ve always done well in school and stay after for extra credit work. I do my homework every day and have a 4.0 GPA. Hopefully I’ll go to UCLA and get a degree in math. I want people to see that Mexicans can succeed in school.
    My older sister, who used to get bad grades, became a nurse and her friends were shocked. They thought she would never go to college. I’m proud of her. Now I want to be a role model for my little brother, just like my sister and parents have been for me.
Maritza Carrillo, 15, Locke HS #3

I’m into school, I’m not into gangs

Growing up as an African American in South Central L.A. you’re never safe. I have to avoid the gangs but I also have to worry about getting harassed by police.
    In my neighborhood, you have to worry about what colors you wear. If a Blood gang member sees you wearing blue or if you’re wearing red and a Crip spots you, then you’re going to get asked “Where you from?” People ask this a lot to find out if you’re from a rival gang.
    A couple years ago, my friends and I were in a friend’s car driving home from the mall. When we got back some cops pulled up behind us and told us to get out of the car. They handcuffed us and had us sit on the curb.
    “All of you are suspects for attempted murder for a drive by that was committed half an hour ago,” the white officer said.
    I was trying not to get angry for getting pulled over for something that I knew we didn’t do. But I was also scared that we could end up in jail or even that the cops might beat us.
    Soon the other officer, who was black, got a call on his radio. He told us that the real suspects had been caught and that they would let us go. The white officer mumbled a totally insincere apology, rolled his eyes and they drove away.
    I was angry but I couldn’t get too angry because I knew that they were doing their job. My friends and I could have looked like suspects because the witnesses said that the actual shooters were four teen boys driving the same kind of car we were in and that at least three of them were African American.
    I want to walk past a police officer without getting judged as a criminal because of my skin color. And I want to be able to walk around my neighborhood and wear whatever colors I want without being stereotyped as a gang member or a drug dealer. I’m not either of those things. I want to go to college, I want to study to become a lawyer and someday, a judge.
Frank Reed, 16, Locke HS #3