Los Angeles myths need unpacking

By McKenna Middleton | Opinion Editor

Los Angeles is one of the most mythologized cities in the world. It’s been featured in countless films, resulting in a public idea of the city that blends fact and fiction. I grew up on the northeast side of Los Angeles, and living in Waco has given me a new understanding of this dichotomy between the perceived Los Angeles and the city I love. Each of the common myths I’ve heard over the years about Los Angeles has some grain of truth to it, but the city holds much more nuance than its public image suggests.

1. Los Angeles is basically just Hollywood and the beach.

When I hear people planning a trip to Los Angeles, many of them focus on seeing the beach and walking around Hollywood. Of course, these two settings constitute a large part of the mythology surrounding the city, particularly as a result of the film industry. Los Angeles is best understood on a county level rather than a city level since places like Santa Monica and Long Beach are actually independent cities. LA County is home to 10,441,080 inhabitants and 88 cities, according to the latest California Department of Finance report in 2010. Each part of Los Angeles, from Pasadena to the Pacific Palisades, is known among locals for its unique identity and culture.

2. The traffic is terrible.

The word traffic almost seems synonymous with Los Angeles. And while this myth about the city is anything but fiction, it’s important to consider the subtleties surrounding LA traffic, especially for people considering making the City of Angels their home. If you spend any time around people from southern California, you might have noticed that we love to talk (if not argue) about directions. The SNL skit “the Californians” brought this character trait to public attention by satirizing our tendency to discuss freeways at great length. Yes, we could just get out Google Maps and see which way is the fastest, but knowing the personality and trends of each freeway is something of a badge of honor for SoCal residents. And, of course, freeways are always pronounced with a definite article preceding the identifying number, such as “the 405.”

3. Everyone is a vegetarian and into yoga.

As a Los Angelino who doesn’t eat meat and enjoys a good sun salutation now and again, I definitely fit this stereotype more than others. Living in Los Angeles, I can be sure that almost every restaurant I go to will have a viable, satisfying vegetarian or vegan option. Los Angeles, like most big cities, is ideal for people with dietary restrictions. Nonetheless, Los Angeles is one of the most diverse cities in the world. With a population made up of Mexican-Americans, Korean-Americans, Armenian-Americans and countless other citizens with unique culinary cultures, Los Angeles is anything but home to one type of person. The diverse food traditions present often emphasize meat, including my own Puerto Rican heritage. As far as yoga, Los Angeles offers a wide array of fitness options, often tailored around rising trends like spin classes and even aerial arts.

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4. People from LA are fake and just want to be famous.

Growing up, I never met anyone in Los Angeles whose goal it was to be famous. What I found more often was an emphasis on artistic expression. My peers saw Los Angeles as inspiration for cultivating their artistic endeavors whether those be film, writing, photography or visual art. On the contrary, I’ve also noticed that many people move to Los Angeles with the intent of becoming famous. That is to say, I think that certain industries in the area such as film focus heavily on networking and notoriety, leading many people to pursue fame as a goal. Nevertheless, other industries like visual arts, architecture, and even more common vocations like speech therapy, are driven by community and encouraging support between professionals.

5. It’s so expensive to live there.

While expenses in Los Angeles are notoriously above average for the United States, especially compared to Central Texas prices, Los Angeles was actually ranked cheaper than New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., according to research from The Economic Policy Institute as reported in USA Today. As with any expensive city, the key to managing a higher cost of living is budgeting and paying attention to what you spend. For example, rather than shop at Whole Foods, I get my groceries from Trader Joes and the Mexican produce market. I also use gas pricing apps to find the cheapest gas in my area. In addition, a higher cost of living means wages are generally higher, including minimum wage, which is well on its way to doubling Texas’ minimum wage.

As with all myths, the public perception of Los Angeles holds some truth, but the reality is a diverse city that millions of people, including myself, are proud to call home.