Esperanza was quoted in an article that appears on the Neon Tommy, the voice of Annenberg Digital News, the online publication of the school of journalism.  The article was titled “Villaraigosa Putting Africa Before LA In Fighting Poverty?” (click to go to the article).  We definitely appreciate the fact that Chris Nelson, a USC graduate student, solicited our input on this story.  Chris and I had a long and free-ranging conversation.  I was quoted in the article and I wanted to put a few of the statements in context (this is why it’s so great to have our own blog!  We can clarify things on our own to make sure that we are represented accurately and create our OWN media!).  I wasn’t misquoted, it’s just that I either didn’t say exactly what I meant to say or I intended it in a different context.

First of all, the title implies that Villaraigosa is going to be putting the needs of the impoverished of Africa before the needs of the poor in Los Angeles.  Esperanza was not in attendance at the conference, so we cannot speak to the details of what was proposed.  However, the article quotes Villaraigosa as saying, “”The idea that poverty is just in the far reaches of the world is one we have to dispel.”  This is a statement we WHOLEHEARTEDLY agree with.  In fact, Esperanza is working actively with our collaborative partners, St. John’s Well Child and Family Center, SAJE, and LACAN to put forward a human rights framework to deal with poverty in south Los Angeles, in an explicit attempt to connect the struggles of the poor in Los Angeles with the poor throughout the world.  Esperanza DOES NOT think that addressing poverty in Africa and addressing poverty in Los Angeles are mutually exclusive or competing goals.  Esperanza firmly aligns itself in solidarity with sincere and effective global initiatives for poverty alleviation.

So although the quotes from Esperanza (actually just me as a representative of Esperanza) seem to be driving at the idea, “Hey don’t pay attention to Africa, pay attention to us in South Los Angeles,” that’ s not what we mean.  At all.

This was a lesson for me to always fully understand why my opinion is being solicited before I give a quote, because I think I misrepresented Esperanza’s position.  I want to give you some perspective on where I was coming from during the conversation.  As someone who has worked in the developing world and in the United States for human rights, it is often a frustration to me that these struggles are often put in opposition to one another.  I specifically worked for women’s empowerment in India, and when describing my work to people in the United States, I would often get the response, “Now THOSE women are REALLY oppressed,” as if to imply that the struggles against patriarchy in the United States are a more superficial thing — or a different thing at all.  I would get incredibly frustrated by the fact that the context-specific expression of patriarchy in the developing world would be cynically used to undermine the struggles against patriarchy in the United States.  To me, they are both part of the same struggle for justice.

So let’s get back to the matter at hand.  When I was given the summary of Villaraigosa’s partnership with ONE over the phone, this is what I heard: 1.  Villaraigosa had gotten into a partnership with an organization working for poverty in Africa, 2. He gave no specifics of how this would translate to specific measures in Los Angeles.  I reacted strongly — definitely too strongly, given the fact that I didn’t know the full context of the speech — and I assumed that Villaraigosa was highlighting poverty in Africa to distract from poverty right here in South Los Angeles.  From simply reading the quote by Villaraigosa, “The idea that poverty is just in the far reaches of the world is one we have to dispel,” it seems THE OPPOSITE of my assumption is true.  Villaraigosa is aligning himself with an organization that deals with poverty in Africa in what seems to be an attempt to actually HIGHLIGHT poverty in Los Angeles.  WE APPLAUD ANY EFFORT TO HIGHLIGHT POVERTY IN LOS ANGELES AND TO SINCERELY DEAL WITH IT.

So, if you don’t mind, I’d like to go through my quotes and clarify them with some expanded thoughts that just can’t fit into a short article (isn’t having a blog great?).

“We want Antonio Villaraigosa to look in his own backyard at his own health and housing policies and how he interacts with private developers like USC so he can innovate ways to really center-stage the most marginalized of Angelenos.”

Yes, this is TOTALLY true.  However, this is NOT IN OPPOSITION TO FIGHTING POVERTY IN AFRICA.  We can — and should — do BOTH.  From my understanding of the summary I received, it seemed that there was a lot of talk of building support for federal legislation or federal aid in order to deal with poverty.  The point that I was TRYING to make was that there is A LOT that Villaraigosa can do differently right here in Los Angeles right now without waiting for federal action.  Particularly he can put pressure on private developers — particularly USC, who has caused massive displacement in our neighborhood — and change city housing policies to address the largest contributor to poverty in Los Angeles: housing. Villaraigosa has the potential — within his powers as Mayor of Los Angeles and in his own jurisdiction — to make HUGE positive changes for hundreds of thousands of impoverished people RIGHT NOW.  We hope that Villaraigosa uses this new partnership as motivation to make specific, tangible, and do-able actions around more just health and housing policy right here in Los Angeles.  And of course we simultaneously hope that this contributes to the global fight against poverty in Africa and the rest of the world.

Sebastian said it does no good to say those who are working for menial wages to live 12 to a mold-infested studio with lead-based paint and cockroaches are better off than those in Africa living on less than $1 a day because poverty is “a contextual series of systemic deprivations.”

Yes, this is true, and gets to the point I was trying to make before — but from reading the quotes from Villaraigosa, it DOES NOT seem like he was trying to make qualitative comparisons (so my quote is kind of irrelevant).  Instead, it seems like he was trying to CONNECT poverty in Los Angeles to poverty around the world.

“We definitely support any initiative, but our people are specifically impoverished due to local policies, not global ones,” Sebastian continued.

“Villaraigosa has the power to make significant changes to housing and health policy at the city level to help hundreds of thousands of Los Angelenos right now.”

Obviouslywe  don’t support ANY initiative — we support any initiative that sincerely and effectively addresses poverty locally and globally.  Also, obviously the global economic crisis impacts our community, who is already struggling.  People are losing jobs and non-profits that serve our community are losing funding.  So global economic policies DO affect us, we are not immune.  It’s just that policies — particularly housing policies — that are local can have a MASSIVE impact on our community.

So thank you for reading along with me.  I really hope that my quotes in the article do not give a misleading representation of Esperanza’s position on global poverty and poverty in Los Angeles.  Hopefully this post clarifies our position.