Lakshmi Jimenez is a senior at STEM Academy of Hollywood and a member of the Metro Youth Council’s second cohort. Read on to learn how growing up without a car in the family has shaped her outlook on public transit.
By Lakshmi Jimenez
I am the daughter of two hard-working immigrants who raised me in Hollywood for the past seventeen years. I can’t tell you much about my parents as they don’t talk about their upbringing in Mexico, but I know that my father’s dream was to become a pilot, and my mother was studying to become a psychologist. Both of them gave up their dreams to come to the United States. My father is now a line cook for Panda Express, and my mother is a full-time homemaker. My parents came to the United States during the mid-90s. Although they loved their homeland, culture, and community, they moved to the States due to the lack of opportunities. It was not easy to adjust. My parents had to learn brand new customs, all while not knowing English. They did it all to give my older sister and me a better future.
When I was growing up, my parents never touched a car, afraid that their undocumented status would prevent them from getting a license. Even though California is a state where undocumented immigrants are allowed to get a license, they are very cautious of anything that brings them into contact with the government. They’ve heard too many stories.
For this reason, the Metro bus system has been my main source of transportation since I can remember. It’s not perfect––far from it. As I’m involved in several extracurriculars, having to rely on public transportation to get around is challenging. I have to take two buses and the E Line to Santa Monica to get from Hollywood to West LA College for a Youth Mental Health Council. I spend a total of four hours a day just taking public transportation. The rail lines only go so far.
My earliest memories on Metro are with Ernesto, my uncle and my mom’s younger brother. He’s been with me everywhere and still accompanies to my music lessons (first oboe, now piano and flute). He also came to Los Angeles during the mid-90s, and like my parents, he never owned a car. He came to support my mother four months after she arrived, so she would not be alone in a foreign country. My uncle had no reliable transportation, so he too had to learn the Metro system to get around –– today, he knows it like the back of his hand. Talk to him, and he’ll tell you how much it’s changed since the 1990s. When he arrived, there were only four rail lines, and many didn’t go nearly as far as they do today. The D (Purple) Line station at Wilshire and Western, for example, which he now takes all the time, didn’t exist. In some ways, the Metro system has grown up along with me.
Over the last couple of years, I have seen many positive changes in the Metro system, such as new equipment and more frequent bus service. Metro has also launched programs that make a big difference when money is tight (as is the case for many students and families). My dad is enrolled in the LIFE program, and I take advantage of the GoPass program. My mom used to give me four dollars every time I went to my music lessons four times a week. Two dollars to get there and another two to get back. I was always late because I refused to spend sixteen dollars a week on bus transportation and would walk most of it. The GoPass and LIFE programs have saved my family hundreds of dollars. Now I can spend the money on something other than getting there while exploring LA like never before.
One issue remains, however, and it’s a big one. Homelessness. I hear from people who do not like riding the buses and trains because of the people that sleep inside the cars and the stations. Scrolling through Metro’s Instagram page, I can’t avoid all the comments under the posts of the new rail stations. Many have a lot to say about the homeless crisis.
I can understand a lot of those concerns. It’s hard to see other people suffer. But when you depend on transit –– and that’s not just me, that’s more than 200,000 people in Los Angeles who don’t own a car –– you see the issue a little differently. For them, these stations and cars are sometimes the only places where they can safely lie down, so how do we solve this issue? Advocating for more mental health services and voting for officials who prioritize the most vulnerable people’s safety and concerns is a great way to start.
The next time that you hop on a Metro bus, take a minute to look around. Most of the people you’ll see don’t own cars and don’t have regular access to one. Many won’t even have a phone. Many might lack the most basic things that we all take for granted. These people are the reason why I joined the Metro Youth Council so that we build a better and safer public transportation system for everyone.
Categories: Transportation News