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December 18, 2004



Hey...I go to that Vons, too. It is in a sorta not-so-great area, but I think that center (and the new Sav-On across the street) are definitely little islands of newer niceness. I've never really noticed any stares or anything, everyone has always been really nice there...but you've an interesting point, I'll definitely be thinking about that the next time I go shopping...


And of course, there's an interesting story about how long it took to get them built. It's called "renaissance plaza" for a reason -- it was black developer Danny Bakewell's pet project in the aftermath of the '92 riots to get more grocery stores into poor neighborhoods to serve folks of color. It's been a remarkable success -- but an astonishing number of white friends of mine are amazed that I shop there.


Interesting, I hadn't about the history bit.

May I ask why your white friends are amazed? To me, it's a decent plaza with stores that I like and use that's conveniently located fairly close to my home. It's not like it's really dangerous or scruffy or anything there-- not like you're going to get mugged or catch cooties or anything. I think that if I can go there at 10:15 pm by myself to pick up some contact lens solution and not be afraid, it can't be that bad, can it?

It's a good store. They have good prices. It's nearby, clean, and safe. It's a *supermarket*. I don't see why anyone should be "surprised"...but if they are, it makes me wonder...


I live in a racially diverse neighborhood, and I have to admit, I'm mostly just amused at white people who ask me why I live there. You know, it's supposedly "dangerous". It's odd how unconscious people's racism can be--someone like me is under a much more grave threat at a frat party than hanging out on my front porch.


...not to bash Gelson's or anything. Shopping there is fine, but I often get this vague wince-y feeling that I'm paying too much for stuff I could (for the most part) get somewhere else for less. I like getting my cheeses and other imported yummies from Trader Joe's, which, among other things, strikes me as being a tad less pretentious.


Amanda: I wholeheartedly agree. Silly people.


I'm so glad you do feel so comfortable there, Miranda! Most of my white friends do not live in the Northwest of Pasadena; they live in far whiter neighborhoods and shop in "whiter" stores.

No question that the Northwest is, statistically, the most dangerous part of Pasadena. The plaza is actually in gang territory. But -- and this is a huge BUT -- my experience has been that gang violence tends to be directed towards other gang members rather than towards folks who look nothing like gang members. In some ways, I think non-black and Latino folks are SAFER as a result. I have no evidence to back that up, mind you.

Oh, and I prefer Gelson's because it is unionized. Trader Joe's (which has many nice things) stubbornly isn't. I will always pay a few pennies more for a union shop.


And then there's the matter of being the only white face shopping because *all* of the stores where you live are patronized by your neighbors, almost all of whom are Latino.

Texas cities being pretty spread out, shopping in my neighborhood means being the minority. Just being in my neighborhood is being the minority. It goes for schools, the restaurants, the Blockbuster, and so on. The interesting thing is that the places where you shop always know their demographics, so lots of tortillas and queso fresco for us, but no stinky cheeses!

It has started to feel weird when I venture out of the hood and see a lot of white people...;-)


"Most lower-income people of color can't afford Gelsons -- where they shop is less a matter of choice than of necessity."

Well this is interesting. I really don't think these lower income people see it that way--unless they are a tofu-organic vegetable-free range-eating yuppie. For example, Mexicans in El Monte don’t prefer to shop for meat in Arcadia (Pavilions) or Pasadena (Whole Foods) because it is a nicer neighborhood or because they have better quality meats. It is quite the opposite for them. First, the butchers usually only speak Spanish in El Monte where as in the other towns the butchers speak only English. Second, as I have found shopping in both neighborhoods, the butchers are friendlier in El Monte—being less “troubled” to be of service to customers. Lastly and most importantly, these so called preferred shopping centers don’t sell the cuts that Mexicans eat. When they do, the ignorant white folks don’t cut it right and sell it for at least a $1.00 more per pound. I’m white and my wife is Mexican, for the life of me, I cannot get her to eat a rib eye or t-bone steak—unless it is a 1/8 inch thick. Yes they have grown accustom to what affluent folks deem less then worthy, but they still prefer what they are accustomed to verses what is affordable and available to them( the t-bones etc.) Hell, I paid $30. for a t-bone meal in arcadia recently that left me appalled compared to a $10. flat steak meal in El Monte. I don’t feel privileged to have paid so much, stupid yes.

Maybe I’ve misunderstood this post, wouldn’t be the first. I shop for utilitarian purposes which means I shop below my means and you will find me in El Monte buying lemons at a $1 or less per pound verses a $1 a piece. I will be at Monrovia’s Wal Mart buying Faded Glory jeans for $15 verses a $50 name your brand jeans. Choices made are not always out of necessity—even if one is poor. I cannot afford a $30,000 or $40,000 car, yet folks I work with, that make half as much as I do, can afford them. So go figure!

With this racial bit, I think you are just patting yourself on the back—penitential. That’s funny; to think many of these non affluent folks think, justifiably, that “privileged” shoppers are just plain stupid for the places they shop. In all my shopping in El Monte, where I am the only white person in the store, not one Hispanic has ever walked up to me and thanked me for shopping in his neighborhood. This serious issue needs being addressed. They must be wondering why not all the white folks that like Mexican foods come shop in El Monte when it is obvious that the foods are better and less expensive. For the Mexicans I guess it wouldn’t be as much a racial issue as an intelligence issue with regards to segregation in shopping habits.

Hugo, your concept of privilege lurks through many a posts. I probably misunderstand, but it seems you project your perceived privileges on others where it may be inappropriate. It is a privilege for you that you went to Berkley or shop at Glesons, where others may want but don’t get accepted or can’t afford it. There is nothing that could entice me to ever go to that school, short of it becoming a safe haven for conservatives, and as for Glesons, I'm simply for paying less for more. People don't always want what others have. There is a lot to be said about just leaving things alone—and this pertains to privilege also. If more white folks head over to the bad part of Pasadena or El Monte to pay penance or lessen “privilege”, things are going to change. I am going to be mad because food is going to cost more and these penitential folks are going to continue to drive out good food at good prices—yes soul food and Mexican Mexican food.


One thing I love about New York is how, even though there are definitely lines of economic and cultural segregation, everyone lives on top of one another and it's not that big of a deal for me to go into a store selling Indian food (though I feel really silly if the labels aren't in English, because there's no way in hell I can decipher Hindi), though it's a bit more odd for me to show up in the Mexican grocery or the Jamaican patty store.

When I first moved to my neighborhood, three years ago, white American folks were pretty rare -- so rare that when I went into a Polish deli to buy kielbasa and pierogies, they started speaking to me in Polish. Since I wasn't Chinese, Hasidic, Puerto Rican, West Indian, Bangladeshi, Cambodian or Mexican, I must be Polish!


and these penitential folks are going to continue to drive out good food at good prices

How so?

It sounds like you, joe, enjoy your special status as one of the lucky few who gets stuff on the cheap, and you don't want anyone else spoiling the party. Never mind that it means MORE money for those small businesses you like to patronize.

In my experience, small markets that cater to, say, Mexican immigrants are a hell of a lot more concerned about making money than they are about preserving your quaint, discount market atmosphere.


joe is right about one thing, that it is very subjective what you can "afford". For example, after food and shelter, the first thing I could "afford" would be health insurance, whereas a several people I know can afford a lot more than food and shelter, but don't have health insurance.

But why, joe, do you as a "shopping-conscious" person buy at Walmart when you can at all afford not to? Why do you support a company that, as everyone knows, is exploitive, driving local businesses out and underpaying their employees? Is it just about low prices for you?


I see your point, Joe, because even as we have more spending money, I still have no desire to spend more at ritzier stores on principle. But while you and I don't particularly see the appeal of the "privilege" of not being in a multi-racial enviroment, a lot of racist white people, even those who don't see themselves as racist, do.

This whole discussion reminds me of talking to a friend of mine about a show we had gone to, this really cool band from Monterrey called Plastilina Mosh. He said, "Yeah, the people in our group were like some of the few white people there," meaning that most of the club was Hispanic. I laughed and pointed out that he and I were the only white people in our group of friends that night. A good indicator that being of a different race of the people around you is a subjective judgement on a certain level.


That's too bad about Trader Joe's Hugo, at no other grocery store in Pasadena will you find a more diverse group of shoppers, and the employess always seem *happy* - which I take as a good sign. (and their selection of cheese is marvelous) Von's and Ralphs are full of people who seem to hate their job, with one exception; the Ralphs on Green and Orange Grove, it used to be a Howies Ranch Market, and all the checkers have worked there since forever and they love it (it was recently remodeled). I live in Altadena and often shop at the "ghetto" Ralphs. When I first moved here I admit it was a bit uncomfortable, often being the only white shopper, but now it's normal to me and I don't mind it at all. Likewise I go to the "ghetto" (magic johnsons) starbucks next to your vons, all the time. Though I have been disappointed of late, the faces have steadily grown more and more homogenized (white), especially among those that work there. There is a certain amount of guilt involved for me, going to these establishments though. I feel as if i'm taking something away from the people whom these stores were built for. It's hard to explain, but i'm shopping at their Ralphs and going to their Starbucks and I often imagine them thinking "why can't she shop at her own damn Ralphs"? In them and their I mean, the people who live in that neighborhood who aren't white. It's segregation fueled by guilt, hopefully a product of my own imagination. It's weird and hard to explain, hoping you guys get what I mean.


It's really a shame about TJ's not being unionized. My budget and taste for good cheese make it hard for me to buy cheese elsewhere. I shopped there alot when all the unionized stores in walking distance were owned by companies involved in the lockout, and now I just want to keep going back. How do they treat and pay their employees? And do they have a reputation for anti-union shenanigans? If the answers are a)comparably and b)no, I'll start going more.

I saw Plastilina Mosh at a music festival becuase the show I planned to see was full; I knew exactly nothing about them. What a revelation; if that's what Mexican hip-hop is about, I want to here more.


I've got no problems with companies that keep unions out by treating their employees well; it's the Wal-Marts of the world that bug me. Where does Trader Joe's fall?


I am in love with their keyboardist. It's rather disturbing. I told my boyfriend that I might have to make a pass at him, so please look the other way.


I honestly don't know where TJs ranks on the wage scale. A little searching on the net finds that though TJs benefitted enormously during the grocery strike in SoCal last year, there is no evidence that that they are unionbusters. (Unlike, say, Whole Foods -- which visits to various sites suggests is a viciously anti-union outfit, see http://www.wholeworkersunite.org/).


Oh, crap. Whole Foods?

I worked at a newspaper that was virulently anti-union; most of our pressroom gang were scabs from an ill-fated attempt to organize 10 years before I got there. Those of us on the news staff had low pay and bad morale; there were other papers in the state which were anti-union but fought them through generosity rather than fear. Guess which I'd rather have worked for?


Yeah, I knew about Whole Foods. They get exactly none of my money.


Swan: “Is it just about low prices for you?” There’s a bit of irony in that question. Are you suggesting prices at Wal Mart be raised so that the poor folks that shop there pay more to get less? Should we boycott the airlines because of their less expensive and efficient travel? Should I really have to pay a $100 to take my kids to a basketball game? Are you really concerned about whose pockets you’re lining? You think Wal Mart is a new thing?

So yes, I am concern about low prices.


I want Walmart to pay their employees decent wages, make benefits available, and that kind of thing, and if that means the prices have to be raised, so be it.

Efficient and less expensive sounds like a good thing, so no, of course I wouldn't boycott an airline because of that. What did I misunderstand here?

I have no idea what you should pay for a basketball game, I and my family are not interested in sports.

And no, I don't think Walmart is a new thing, but I try to do things right when I can, i.e. when I have the information and the choice.


You didn't misunderstand anything, Swan--I should've be clearer. Not too many people are complaining today about those trampled upon because of the airline industry; remember passenger trains or how about stagecoaches? Something always comes along to displace something else. I suggest folks adapt. I am nostalgic; I like mom n pop stores. I have worked for four mom n pop businesses and none of them had the benefits you think Wal Mart should have, and frankly, they screw people just the same.

It is an interesting phenomenon that people voluntarily seek a job, take the job knowing clearly what’s involved, and then bitch and complain about their circumstances.

“…but I try to do things right when I can.” I really cannot knock this; however, short of living off the land, I don’t see how one can participate in today’s society without exploiting another human being. And then again, living off the land some animals are going to get screwed (is “screwed” a homosexual slur?) by becoming a meal or at the least displaced of their environ. The trees and the rest of the flora… one can destroy a whole ecosystem simple by building a dam to irrigate crops… speaking of dam’s you see how many folks were displaced by the one in china. Wal Mart is not even the tip of the iceberg for me to be concerned.


Not too many people are complaining today about those trampled upon by fair labor standards, minimum wages, and receiving health benefits through their employer; remember noncompensation for work accidents or how about indentured labor? Something always comes along to displace something else. I suggest folks adapt. I am nostalgic; I like giant multinational conglomerates not subject to outside criticism - especially when their prices are low. But I realize that if I took a job with one I would like to have certain basic work standards - after all, improvement of labor conditions seems to be a natural trend of history.

It is an interesting phenomenon that people voluntarily seek a job, take the job knowing clearly what’s involved, and knowing that they may not have (or be aware of) opportunities to take a better job, and then attempt to work collectively to improve their circumstances. It is even more amazing that so many voluntarily return to their jobs following successful strikes.

“…but I try to do things right when I can.” I really cannot knock this; however, short of living alone off the land, I don’t see how one can participate in today’s society without making concessions to the autonomy and needs of another human being. And then again, living off the land some animals are going to get screwed without the help of other animals in order to get a meal or at the least avoid being displaced by others from their environment.


I would suggest that someone doesn't "voluntarily" take a job when her other option is starving.

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