The immigrant class


I have alluded here several times about how my morning and evening bus commutes are a haphazard, frenzied anthropological survey of Los Angeles’ Hispanic population, and to a lesser extent, White, Asian, Black, and maybe even a little Russian/Armenian thrown in for good meaasure. But it’s public transportation in Los Angeles, for chrissakes. This city is still, will always be, the great inhospitable host to public transportation. In this city of stars and glitter and conspicuous displays of ego-fueled bling, taking public transportation, if you are a resident, is akin to snubbing the great social jewel of this city: the automobile. Our most prized possession. To consciously choose to take public transportation reduces your expected standing in this regard. Use of public transportation in Los Angeles generally denotes that you are either blue collar, a Minor dependent, mentally ill, physically disabled, old or poverty-stricken. Those who wish to surmount the blemish of taking public transportation can normally do so by travelling in suited, professional groups of briefcase-waving hordes that move in unison toward the splendor of downtown L.A. There is a power and urbane disavowal of the car culture in drowning in such public transportation groups which simultaneously exempts you from shame. Everyone else on the train is just poor or a lunatic. I think I fall into the lunatic bin, because I am not poor. Conversely, I’m not wealthy, but my choice to take public transportation about 3 times a week is indeed puzzling to some people I know.


Ultimately, this is an examination of publicly transported class, not race. I’m not interested in race as much as I am in class. In the United State, race differentiates but it is frequently trumped and leveled by class. It seems that most ethnicities in America, upon attaining certain economic markers, blur together and the span between them narrows, blurs and becomes bland. Black and white becomes a murky, nearly unintelligible mix within the folds of the swollen pocketbook. On the other hand, as the economics plunge toward poverty, the races once again take a common turn for the worse in terms of behavior, outlook and ethics. Granted, it’s quite defensible to argue that certain races of a certain economic destitute class still behave worse than others, however the point is, that I find class a more discernible predictor of general behavioral traits.


What then are my class observations of a typical bus ride?
The bus is different from the train or the metro line in the respect it is usually local and municipal. It is the cheapest and the most “prole” of public commuting. You just walk to the corner and catch the bus. You don’t drive to a park and ride. The bus literally comes to you as opposed to you making an exerted effort to board a train platform or descend into a station. The bus line usually has more local stops and takes you closer to where you need to go which is usually court, the doctor’s office, a lawyer, or the day care. The passengers in my neck of the woods are typically on the poorer end of the income spectrum. Consequently, most are dressed in “Big Lot” casual. Mismatched and utilitarian clothes lacking in style or definition but which get the job done which is namely to cover that fat ass. This is minimalist personal presentation. There is nothing exquisite or unique about it. The typical man might wear some outdated baggy jeans and a very large t-shirt that hangs dubiously over a distended belly and they frequently will wear some tan-colored heavy-duty type of shoes with steel toes. The women wear usually have that “garment factory” look. Simple blue jeans, sneakers, a non-descript t-shirt and usually their hair is tied up in a bun. Everything is cautiously and plainly unsexy, unremarkable. This is the class I observe. A lot of men are usually big and heavy. Obesity is a curse of the lower class. Those who can afford least to overeat manage to do that. Skin color seems to dim proportionately with the level of economic need. Why is it skin tone seems to lighten as the economic class advances? In addition to being relatively dark, the poorer people frequently look the least unclean and their clothes never seem quite washed. Men are generally darker than the women, probably owing to manual outdoor work.


Which was curious this morning because four people boarded the bus. Two couples, really, an older and a younger, but they looked obviously Mexican. They struck me as “higher” class because their style of dress was more trendy, more socially aware. Their hair and expressions were confident, assured. I’ve seen Mexicans like this from the old country, usually the younger kids. Their hair is put together, their manner of dressing is not at all ghetto. It is understated, perhaps even a little European. The girl in the group was slender with black hair, relatively light-skinned with thin facial features. The older woman was darker, more mestizo-looking, but dressed in a nice youthful but conservative HGTV style which was the antithesis of the blue collar class. Both men wore casual jeans and shirts but carried a natural confidence which made them seem very comfortable in their skin. These weren’t poor Mexicans who just dressed up for a special event. You can tell when people who aren’t used to dressing the part try to dress the part. It looks unseemly. The effort usually falls short because the ensemble doesn’t flow or looks piecemeal. The people I saw this morning looked very natural in their clothes. There was nothing forced. Listening to their Spanish (I turned down my Ipod to listen), I thought perhaps they were from Baja California because they had a distinctive Spanish “drawl” (for want of a better word) that I’ve heard when my Baja relatives speak. These four people exuded a type of refinement that seemed timely in comparison to the rest of the bus which I found interesting considering much of the bus was probably Americanized Mexican. The class factor is important and it’s not often you see Mexicans of this style because they have generally tolerable lives in Mexico when compared to the bus turmoil they experience when visiting here. They were not the immigrant class.