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Boyle Heights

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In LA's Boyle Heights neighborhood, a safety net clinic says patients have come to distrust health care in the wake of President Trump's aggressive moves on illegal immigration.
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Most journalists aren't venturing into Latino communities to get the story of Herbalife's aggressive sales techniques. They're missing a great tale, but a Latino high school student didn't.

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The community of Boyle Heights, lying just across the river from downtown Los Angeles, is almost entirely Latino. The neighborhood's history extends back through a century of planning blunders, racist policies and rapid urban development. But improvements are in progress.

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As summer temperatures rise, so do fears of asthma and other illnesses caused by all the air pollution converging on the east Los Angeles community of Boyle Heights. With its proximity to freeways, industrial sites and shipping corridors, activists say the geography of Boyle Heights brings a disproportionate health burden to residents.

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Hollenbeck Park is a lovely spot on the east side of Los Angeles. It's an historic place, built in 1982, and has since been a refuge for the evolving communities of Boyle Heights. Imagine a lake and boats and idyllic footbridges. What does any of this have to do with how journalists operate online? Last Friday, I explained the metaphor to this year's National Health Journalism Fellows.

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It might be roof-top green space. Perhaps a reconfiguration of streets that permits walkable medians and wide bike lanes. Or it could be a supercharging of current joint-use plans between cities and school districts.

The most likely scenario would be a combination of these solutions and many more as community leaders in North Orange County try to overcome a dearth of city parkland.

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Boyle Heights is a neighborhood populated by restless souls. Its small houses, windows barred more often than not, hold within them stories of journeys and reinvention; these days, it’s Spanglish and café de olla served at a Formica table covered in flowered oilcloth. Before that, the kitchen conversation was sprinkled with Yiddish or Japanese, as earlier generations of immigrants made their mark on these streets. But who captures the stories in these days of diminished newsroom resources of this working class neighborhood? Who shares the yarns that help people feel, as one teenager told us recently, that "No estamos solos," that we are not alone? In a few months, we will have a chance to see what stories emerge from this Latino immigrant neighborhood of about 100,000, located a few miles east of downtown Los Angeles. And we will learn how the community responds to journalism written, not by outsiders, but by local youth writing "por la comunidad y para la comunidad "– for the community and by the community -- as Pedro Rojas, the executive editor of La Opinión, put it as we planned this venture in community journalism together.

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Deborah Estrin is a computer science professor interested in the low-tech. To her, everyday technology -- as opposed to supercomputers and expensive gadgets -- are brilliant tools for data collection. The world's 5 billion cell phones -- and the cameras and GPS that are increasingly common components -- represent tremendous opportunities. Using "smart" mobile phones, researchers, community groups and journalists can design ways to capture information about people whose stories and health status are otherwise hard to capture.

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Claudia J. Hernandez is pursuing a Ph.D. in Culture and Performance in the World Arts and Cultures Department at the University of California at Los Angeles. Her research interests are in Latina/o religion, spirituality and healing practices in Los Angeles. Mrs. Hernandez' work seeks to understand the ways Proyecto Jardín was conceived, how it physically manifests as a place of healing, and how place contributes to the development and enactment of individual and community identities among Latina/os.


The nation's top infectious disease specialist will join us for a conversation with national health reporter Dan Diamond of The Washington Post. We’ll talk about the evolving threat posed by monkeypox, the current state of the COVID pandemic, and broader lessons on how we respond to emerging diseases. Sign-up here!


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