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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Columbia Barnard chapter.

I spent so many years hating Los Angeles. The sweltering days, blending together in a colorless haze much like the smog that always carpeted the horizon, the palm trees scorching under the relenting sun, the crowded freeways and the homeless encampments that swell on the sidewalks. I associated Los Angeles with dusty hillsides, with ash swirling in like cruel, toxic snowflakes from forest fires in an adjacent county, with the bone dry, trash-filled, concrete snake the city has the audacity to call a river.

The LA River, flowing 51 miles from Simi Hills to Long Beach. Via Shea Rouda/Unsplash.

I hated Los Angeles, because my Los Angeles was not the “ideal” Los Angeles. I didn’t grow up in a mansion in the Hollywood Hills, I didn’t walk red carpets or drive Teslas or go to brunch in Beverly Hills, or have dinner at Sugarfish or Spago. I grew up in the awkward in-between: I was a kid on financial aid at one of the city’s most expensive private schools. I lived in the wrong neighborhood and never had enough of the right things, but I was surrounded by people living the “real Los Angeles life” every day, which served as a constant and visceral reminder of my deficiencies. I felt displaced in Los Angeles, because my vision of what an Angeleno was was the narrow, privileged one that was impressed upon me as I moonlighted in an exclusive, ritzy bubble that only instilled in me a sense of shame about my shortcomings.

Venice Beach. Via Ioana Cristiana/Unsplash.

It took leaving Los Angeles to realize just how wrong I was. Though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, I had been carving out my own space and my own vision of what it meant to live in Los Angeles for years. Although I spent my middle and high school years very much in the bubble of glamour I so badly wanted to truly inhabit, I realize that those experience do not define Los Angeles. I have sipped pressed juice and walked Rodeo, looked in my rearview mirror and seen Simon Cowell or a Kardashian, mingled with Oscar winners and stayed in Hollywood mansions, but when I think of my Los Angeles, these are not the memories that come to mind.

View of Griffith Park and the Griffith Observatory. Via Alexis Balinoff/Unsplash.

Of course, some of the “stereotypical” Los Angeles experiences resonate on a deeper level: I will always be willing to sell my soul for some toast from Sqirl; feel immense gratitude for my childhood surrounded by a liberal, hippie, diverse, eccentric community; crave the sun, and the beach, and the salty air; feel the city’s enthusiasm for film, television, and celebrity. Sailing through mountain passes on seven lane freeways, the ocean glittering in the distance, a cloudless sky. Realizing Lady Bird was filmed at my local coffee shop and sister high school; recognizing shops and restaurants I frequented in the background of TV shows. One day, I got together with my friends and we made lunch entirely from someone’s garden: roasted squash blossoms, kale pesto, homemade cashew ice cream with kumquat reduction. It was incredibly L.A., and it felt incredibly right. The things that stick with me now, however, are the things that I used to try so hard to deny: the gritty, urban, imperfect experiences I had within my own neighborhood and the areas surrounding. The kinds of things I don’t tell people about as often, because when they hear I’m from L.A., they want to hear about the celebrities I know or the tourist attractions I’ve frequented.

Chica’s Tacos, Downtown Los Angeles. Via Shea Rouda/Unsplash.

My days were spent on the dry brush hillsides of northeast L.A., the shady trails of Arroyo Seco, winding back streets with beautiful houses and broken concrete. I ate huaraches while sitting in folding chairs in the corner of a family-owned restaurant. Drove to the beach, staying past sunset, cold and sandy and tired and frustrated, immensely grateful. Drank mint soda from Galco’s Soda Pop Stop. Explored hole in the wall restaurants recommended by Jonathan Gold. That is what I think of when I remember Los Angeles.

Palm trees and smog: LA’s most iconic duo. Via Nathan Dumlao/Unsplash.

When I was home for winter break, back after my first extended period of separation from Los Angeles in all my 18 years of life, I realized I missed not just the stereotypical, glamourous LA things (which I definitely did), but I missed the things I used to try so hard to distance myself from.

Disney Concert Hall, Downtown Los Angeles. Via Anthony Ginsbrook/Unsplash.

For the first time in a long time, I walked down my street, over the cracked sidewalks and past graffitied walls. The beige apartments with their tattered curtains and the medians heaped with abandoned furniture were ugly as ever, but they also brought me an odd sort of comfort. Unsightly and the antithesis of what Los Angeles “should be,” but it is exactly what Los Angeles is: to me and to so many other people, and I find wonder in it. The majority of Angelenos are not wealthy or connected, they don’t go to Hollywood or mingle with celebrities, and it is only once you live here that you realize it is those things that makes Los Angeles real.

Grand Central Market, Downtown Los Angeles. Via Jason Leung/Unsplash.

When I walk down my street I see the spot where we buy tamales out of the trunk of a man’s car, the bakery with pan dulce and bolillo. The small supermarket with pupusas sizzling in oil, fragrant meat folded into a hand-shaped tortilla, piles of fresh cortido and vats of salsa, a ripe avocado begging to be cut open.

Santa Monica, California. Via Johnny Chau/Unsplash.

To me, Los Angeles is a long list of what I once perceived as frustrations and inadequacies. Driving blind on the freeway home from school, the four o’clock sun scorching my retinas, my sense of displacement in the private school world of Whole Foods groceries and ritzy events and people wrinkling their noses when I told them what neighborhood I was from, the dirt hills, graffiti on walls, coyotes and old cars and dry grass, dry, dusty, suffocating days. Those things formerly monotonous: speeding around the 110’s hairpin turns, drinking bottles of kombucha, taking trips to downtown and Echo Park and Silverlake, fill me now with renewed energy.

Mural in Los Angeles. Via Bruce Warrington/Unsplash.

Los Angeles is a mythical city, a place of celebrity and glitz. Outsiders are intrigued by Hollywood, Beverly Hills, the expansive beaches and private clubs, sightings of famous people at sushi restaurants. Los Angeles holds powerful allure for everyone, even lifetime natives. Many of my best friends at college happen to be from Los Angeles, and though our neighborhoods, schools, and lifestyles vary dramatically, we find ourselves linked: by our universal love of Los Angeles, its idiosyncrasies and unique cultural references, our frustrations and infatuations and hours in the sun. Our shared knowledge that although the rest of the world may not realize it, Los Angeles is just a place, a place like any other, with real people and rich history and countless neighborhoods, each with its own unique culture. So here’s to you, Los Angeles. Somehow, you managed to mark me more deeply than I ever thought possible, but I am so incredibly glad that you did. I am grateful that I can finally appreciate you in all your hideous, seductive glory.

Ava Ferry

Columbia Barnard '22

A Los Angeles transplant living in New York City, Ava is a freshman at Barnard College of Columbia University (the best college in the world), and she has no idea what she's studying. In her free time, you can find her watching Netflix, wandering around the city with her headphones in, reading Vogue, scream-laughing, and offending old conservatives with her uncouth language.