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Working to Make a Better Life--the Neighborly Way

August 15, 1993|CATALINA RAMOS | Catalina Ramos is on the board of directors of Latinas Familias Unidas. The organization was founded after last year's riots with the assistance of the Crisis Response Network of the First Unitarian Church. She was interviewed by Kirby Lee

While walking home the afternoon the (1992 riots) began, I heard screams of children in a burning house of a Korean family down the street. I tried to help, but the parents thought I was going to attack them and would not let me.

We both knew very little English. I was yelling at them in Spanish and they were talking Korean. Finally, they were able to understand I was trying to help and we were able to save the children unharmed.

I felt very bad when I saw people looting and taking things out of stores. The police were nowhere to be found. It was mostly Korean stores that were affected, but I was worried (that) if all the stores burned, there would be nowhere to buy supplies. I was able to persuade people not to loot, but some became angered and said it was none of my business.

The First Unitarian Church had food distributions about a week after the riots. I went not only to get my bag but (to) offer help. All of my neighbors were there, and that's how we started forming Latinas Familias Unidas.

We wanted to work at getting better public services and preventing crime. I think what is missing is the police are so (alienated) from us. We need training in . . . first aid and other skills. They don't understand us, and we are not able to work together.

We have 30 to 40 families in Latinas Familias Unidas participating in taking care of our neighborhood. We meet every eight to 15 days. We don't have enough money to have an office, so we meet in different places, the church or at members' homes.

Most of the families are from Mexico, but we have families from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. We are not only open to Latinos but . . . to anyone who wants to help us out.

We paint over graffiti and have street cleanups. We obtain funds from activities such as nonalcoholic dances and clothes sales. The Korean Cultural Center has also donated funding and supplies.

One of the long-term goals is to utilize some of the resources over the years to build a playground for the children, a park and a community center on a vacant lot in this area. It will be one way to keep the kids out of trouble.

I'm getting very close with the gang people. I know most of them and have a good relationship. Some just need affection and talking to. My experience is if you don't bother them, they don't bother you.

One of the reasons the cholos become so angered and destroy the neighborhood is because people isolate them, and I see how police treat them badly.

I came to the United States from Mexico City five years ago for basically the same reason as most immigrants--to look for better opportunities to change my life.

My 16-year-old son Francisco thinks it's too dangerous to live in L.A. He has moved in with a friend in Columbus, Ohio, where he's working part time and going to high school. I would never leave, because I have strong feelings that we can help change our situation through our group efforts.

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