Out with a bang

In their final issue, LA Youth's writers discuss what it means to be poor

For 25 years, LA Youth, a nonprofit newspaper written by and for teens in and around Los Angeles, helped kids learn to think critically and write with discipline and authority about their lives and the wider world. In January, it published its last issue, a casualty of the economic downturn and consequent chill in the philanthropic world. The final issue included a conversation between co-managing editors Mike Fricano and Amanda Riddle and some of the paper’s dozens of teen writers about what it means to be poor. The conversation grew out of a survey LA Youth ran last fall in which many of the respondents reported fundamental financial struggles—like paying rent or buying food—but few considered themselves poor. Here are some excerpts from the conversation:

Shivani Patel, 17, Whitney HS (Cerritos):I thought [my family would] more or less be able to get me through college. But that’s not the case. But I would never consider myself poor. I thought poor was your house is small and broken down; you have problems paying for stuff; you have problems getting Internet. As I’ve grown older, I realize that there are many versions of poor, even if you look well off on the outside.

Daisy Villegas, 17, Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies:I know for a fact that I am [poor], and I can’t talk about it ever. My mom is a single parent. I feel now that I pressured my mom to [let] me go to private school because that’s where all my friends were going, and later, when she said she couldn’t do it anymore, I understood. There is that huge stigma that you can’t talk about being poor because it’s looked down upon. Even some of my friends, they associate being poor with being ghetto and uneducated.

Jacqueline Uy, 15, Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies:I think being poor means you have to make a choice between education or graduating high school and getting a job immediately.

Miguel Molina, 18, East Los Angeles College:I was struggling to figure out why my parents didn’t have that much money. During the 12th grade, I moved in with my aunt and uncle and saw everything they had, and I’m like, ‘Why couldn’t my parents do it as well? Why couldn’t they make their own business like my aunt and uncle did?’ I felt frustration about them not being able to provide the same life that my cousins have, because their life seemed much easier than my life. My aunt and uncle get to go see their games when my cousins play. My dad . . . always had to work on Saturday. I guess it also tends to do with the age of my aunt and uncle when they got married. They got married at age 25. They already had this mentality of what they were going to do and this plan ahead of them. My mom got pregnant at a young age, and my dad didn’t get to get an education.

Chris Villalta, 16, S.E.A. North Hills:My mom’s a nurse. I’m always at the bank whenever my mom goes. And I’ll see the saving account and it’s $100. I never thought of me being poor. Thinking about it right now, it’s kind of bad because we recently lost the house. There’s a buyer that’s giving us a year there, but if he wants, he can kick us out, and we’re hoping that he doesn’t.

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The Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review.