Tuesday, June 7, 2016

My Perspective - Christopher Alcala

I never saw clotheslines in Riverside. I figure most people had the same idea my parents had when they moved here in 1987: to find a slice of suburbia that was affordable. Before Riverside, my family lived near my father’s work in Santa Ana, Orange County, but with a family my size, we needed space, and space in Orange County is expensive. Very expensive. With their budget, my parent’s only options were rundown fixer uppers, usually 2 bedrooms, and almost always in neighborhoods not well suited for raising children. There was another option, though: take a 40 minute drive down the 91 and look there, in Riverside. For the same price as a 1 bedroom in Orange County, my family could afford a 4 bedroom, with a jacuzzi and pool to boot. My family took up this offer, and soon became part of a new boom of commuters working in Los Angeles/Orange County. We were struggling working class in Orange County, but found the American Dream in Riverside. Low property taxes, big yards, and quiet neighborhoods. There were no laundromats or clotheslines here, we were in the peace, safety, and convenience of the suburbs.
I was born in 1991, shortly after my family had settled in. My home was situated between dirt hills and orange groves, in a neighborhood composed of cul-de-sac after cul-de-sac. As a child the open spaces and farmland made for great play areas, but as I grew into a more angsty teen, what made my parents love Riverside made me resent it. Without a car you were crushed by the sprawl, and nightlife and excitement were virtually nonexistent. All the concerts and events were in LA or Orange County, and no one wanted to drive in traffic to get there. The opportunities and fun were all seemingly outside, away from here. Riverside felt like a trap, like a poor imitation of a real city. This wasn’t where things were happening, it was where you watched things happen.
My parents, however, were vindicated. Riverside grew and grew, and their 100k 4 bedroom home had suddenly become extremely valuable. Morning door to door proselytizers were now real estate agents and appraisers encouraging you to move or refinance. My parent’s home was now worth close to 500 thousand dollars, almost 5 times my parent’s mortgage. Until it wasn’t.
Just like that, what drew so many working class people to Riverside was virtually gone. When the financial crisis hit, almost all of Riverside’s money was tied to real estate. The dream was gone, and what we woke up to was terrifying. The most common architectural feature of Riverside were the wood frames of halted development. Every pristine suburban neighborhood was now littered with empty homes, distinguishable by their dead grass and foreclosure notices. Riverside soon became popular for topping lists created by publications like Forbes or The Economist detailing the cities most adversely affected by the recession.
And then with the city, I too collapsed. Literally collapsed, just from getting up from bed, and my pale complexion and constant illness could no longer be ignored. I checked into the hospital shortly after my 19th birthday on September 3rd, 2010, and by September 15th I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. Now this area, Riverside, the Inland Empire, which I resented for most of my life, would get to work saving my life.
I responded to treatment well (as “well” as someone can respond to 3 years of chemotherapy, radiation, and steroid treatment) and by 2014 I had mostly recovered. Amazingly, it seemed Riverside had begun to recover as well. Development had started back up again, new, exciting areas of nightlife had emerged, and we as a city were getting more attention than ever. University of California, Riverside was expanding and impressing more and more people around the country, and I was accepted to study my passion of Anthropology there. I couldn’t help but feel so very alive in my city.
On the Line, as a result, symbolized all the growing I have done alongside this city. Before I don’t think anyone would have associated Riverside with art, collaboration, and education. Here I was in a city I once felt symbolized the sterile, monotonous modern suburb was now hosting an exhibit created by the collaboration of scholars and artist. It had created a site that was filled with life; that inspired me.
           When I offered the opportunity to win the laundry supplies, the discussions I had about laundry and the experience it offered showed me that we weren’t a city of commuters looking for the quickest, most convenient way. People were interested in being connected to their neighbors, their experiences, and their home. In a way, the discussions surrounding our laundry and the way we do it, whether it be managing the annoyance of public laundromats, seeking help from our parents and peers, or planning an outdoor clothesline, made me feel and witness the variety and life of Riverside. To me, it felt like together we were creating a new Riverside culture from the ashes of its brief collapse, all inspired by the discussion created by an area where ideas, discussion, and art converged. Right here in Riverside.