Challenging Inequality in One of California's Most Divided Cities

28 min
Band Members of Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Ángeles, minutes before performing at Pasadena City College. (Courtesy of Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Ángeles)

The University of Southern California is an elite university located in Los Angeles, in a neighborhood that's been struggling with poverty for decades.

The California Report Magazine has teamed up with student journalists from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism as they venture outside the campus walls to bring us profiles of people challenging inequality in Los Angeles.

Listen to this and more in-depth storytelling by subscribing to The California Report Magazine podcast.

How One Kid Helped Take on Big Oil

How One Kid Helped Take on Big Oil

How One Kid Helped Take on Big Oil

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Nalleli Cobo is a teenager from South Los Angeles who’s made a name for herself as an activist. Her transformation began when she was just 9 years old, after kids in her neighborhood kept getting sick. Their health problems stemmed from a drilling site across the street from Nalleli's elementary school.

At 14, she and her peers sued Los Angeles for environmental racism in the way the city granted permits for oil drilling.

"That's why I fight," she said. "So kids read about urban oil drilling in history books and think it was ridiculous." USC student reporter Claire Heddles brings us Nalleli's story.

Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Ángeles: The World's First LGBTQ Mariachi Band

The World's First LGBTQ Mariachi Band

The World's First LGBTQ Mariachi Band

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Violins. Trumpets. Guitars. Those are the traditional sounds of mariachi — along with songs about love and heartbreak. But Carlos Samaniego is challenging the machista world of mariachi by creating a space for queer musicians to make music that's free of discrimination and bullying.

"You can be who you are here in this group," Samaniego said. "The group is open to anyone."

USC student reporter Jesus Alvarado introduces us to Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Ángeles — L.A.'s Mariachi Rainbow.

A Coffee Co-Op Whose Business Model Prioritizes Community Over Profit

A Coffee Co-Op Whose Business Model Prioritizes Community Over Profit

A Coffee Co-Op Whose Business Model Prioritizes Community Over Profit

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Kateri Gutierrez is an ambitious millennial who spent her college years preparing for the corporate world. But then, as USC student reporter Ben Tran tells us, she gave all that up to launch a business that challenges the very idea of profit: a coffee co-op that aims to provide a way for low-income communities to resist gentrification and create wealth for themselves.

"Typical capitalism is: How do I survive?' Gutierrez said. "I like to think of it as, 'How do we lift as we climb?' We can’t afford to be selfish anymore."

The Caregiver Who Never Sleeps

The Caregiver Who Never Sleeps

The Caregiver Who Never Sleeps

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Like many low-wage immigrant workers in Los Angeles, Aleja Plaza spends her days taking care of the elderly — emptying bedpans, giving sponge baths. But as USC student reporter Rebecca Ressler tells us, this caregiver has a unique history that helped shape her into an activist fighting for the rights of her fellow domestic workers.

"If we allow these people to pay us below the minimum wage, we are actually encouraging modern-day slavery," said Plaza.

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