María Ramírez says that she is the person she is thanks to her life in Ramona Gardens. In the interview, she talked about how she became a leader in her community, seeing the needs that existed and investigating the resources available to bring them to her neighbors.
She recalled that she had three opportunities to leave Ramona Gardens and move to another neighborhood but that she rejected them because she feels comfortable where she is and has good neighbors. Of course, she wants to make sure that all her children have their own homes outside the residential complex.
This interview was conducted in Spanish, translated and edited for clarity.
Interviewed by Adriana Jaime and Crystal Castro
Boyle Heights Beat/Legacy: When you got to Ramona Gardens, what was the neighborhood like then?
María Ramírez: I arrived in 1987, and [when] we arrived it was a bit dangerous. But, well, one adapts.
BHB/L: Who do you live with in Ramona Gardens?
MR: I live with my husband, my daughter and myself. My other children are already married and have their own separate homes.
BHB/L: What major changes have you seen at Ramona Gardens since you came here?
MR: The important changes? Well, in terms of safety, it took a  degree turn because everything has changed a lot. We just need a little more security for people to feel [entirely] safe. But in reality, well no, I haven’t seen any more strong [violence] cases.
BHB/L: Have you seen changes as part of gentrification? Or what kind of changes have you seen with that?
MR: Well, the changes… before all the guys were in one place and they bothered people passing by, or things like that. But at present, well no. They respect you more now than ever before. Before there was no respect and now there is a lot of respect towards any person.
BHB/L: What do you think of when you hear the word gentrification?
MR: Oh no, I don’t understand that word.
BHB/L: It’s like changes, like, for example, you see USC wants to put more of their buildings here. Changes that those who have money are making [that affect] people who don’t have as much money.
MR: I think that they are trying, but if we the people unite, that is, if we are united, I don’t think they can [displace us]. If we have more communication they will not be able to, because many people, many families depend on those apartments. So, I don’t believe… and not with violence, but I know that it can be achieved speaking out.
BHB/L: How do you think living in Ramona Gardens has made you as a person? How did it shape you to be the person you are?
MR: Me, the person that I am, Ramona Gardens has had a lot to do with it. Because I was a leader of my community. I saw the needs and I studied and then I came to bring information to my neighbors, for all the people. So, in that, my perspective of life changed a lot, to move forward, even without [a formal education]… I had not studied any more as a young girl and now I am a more educated person.
BHB/L: You know how you came from Mexico, how was that change for you?
MR: I have always commented on the change, in that Mexico never gives you the opportunity to achieve, in study and in work. So, since I came here to the United States… and it also depends on one, because there are also people who don’t want to succeed. As I told you, I don’t have [much] studies, but, although I don’t have studies here, I… how do you say that word?
BHB/L: Got involved.
MR: I got involved and that is the study of your very own life. The life you’re living, that’s what made me live here. But there is a lot of difference in the experience, what you live in Mexico, and here. In other words, here you never lack food and in Mexico you do.
BHB/L: Did you come here with your family from Mexico? Or was it just you?
MR: With a daughter and my husband and me.
BHB/L: What are the most drastic changes you have seen in your years at Ramona Gardens? Like, for example, different races that you see now, compared to before?
MR: Before there were no blacks and now I’ve been seeing Asians too. And people are adapting a little bit more because there was a time when they said “ah, we don’t want black people here”, I heard certain people, right? It seemed a bit cruel to me, I said, “but why? They’re from here.” I said, “this belongs to everyone, it’s not just one.” And now you know that there is already more respect for them. That is the change of the races that have been arriving and as long as they do not cause problems, everything is fine. Because we also cause problems. I mean, not just them, right?
“The person that I am, Ramona Gardens has had a lot to do with it. Because I was a leader of my community. I saw the needs and I studied and then I came to bring information to my neighbors, for all the people. So, in that, my perspective of life changed a lot, to move forward, even without [a formal education].”María Ramírez
BHB/L: Did you ever wish you could live somewhere else, or did you like it and adapted to Ramona Gardens?
MR: I adapted, I adapted. I’ve had two opportunities to get out of there, oh three with Section Eight. But it was the first opportunity I had. But no, I didn’t do it… I was comfortable, I’ve had good neighbors in the three apartments I’ve lived in. So, well, as I say, I have had the opportunity, but I adapted. Since right now it’s just me and my husband, we can get out of there, and my daughter, but I’m very comfortable there. In other words, why should I bother my children about “hey, help me with the rent or the house payment”, if I am comfortably there with what my husband and I receive. I worked 32 years of my life and my husband also worked for 38.
BHB/L: Oh, okay.
MR: Right now he is retired and I am disabled for life. But now… right now not so much, I’m a few years away from being a senior as well. Although I have had gray hair since I was younger.
BHB/L: What are your dreams for the generations to come, like your grandkids and stuff? What would you like to see them do?
MR: My dream for them… and as I told you, that comes up every once in a while, the house thing, is that they have their own home. Right now, the one who is a professional has just acquired his house and look, in 2011 he became a professional and he is just acquiring his house. In other words, he already acquired it and they are remodeling it. And the other three in January, if God allows, they’re going to start clearing their record for this whole year by January, if God allows, they start to acquire their own homes. So, they are going to have it, and that is the dream that I have of my children. My dreams, my illusions, they are making my dream come true.
BHB/L: That was amazing.
MR: I am a person of goals and when I set a goal I meet it. I smoked for many years and one day I said I’m not going to smoke anymore because one of my children asked me to, and I didn’t smoke anymore. Then another day I said I’m going to go get my mother-in-law [from] Oklahoma and it was snowing, a snowstorm, and I went and brought her. It took me almost a week in snow. But I said I’ll bring her myself. I know that this is a goal that you set for yourself and that you have to know how to carry it forward.
BHB/L: What advice would you give guys our age who are just coming up?
MR: The other day a boy told me, I went to the doctor, and he told me… I’m going to tell you that because he told me “what advise do you have for me?” I remembered that right now because I told him: “Respect your parents, to begin with.” Right now, my dear, you all don’t see that what you do can harm you or harm your family and your parents. When you say, “I’m going to do what I feel like, or I’m going to go over there”, that really hurts a lot. So, respect yourself, your person and… I didn’t want to bring God into it, but remember that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and you must always respect it.
But for your success, study and don’t stop. Don’t say… one of my sons told me, “Would you give me permission to [work and] buy a car and return to school in a year?” And I said “no”. It’s because they start to like money and then they don’t go back to school. “No, no, I will come back”, and you know that to this day he hasn’t gone back, he has good jobs, he has two jobs, but he never went back to school. So, don’t stop even for a semester, because if you do it, you won’t like it anymore. If you start working more, you will like money more. And money is a temptation, it is not good. And it’s not the money, it’s not the success.
BHB/L: Thank you. Thank you very much.
MR: Thank you.
BHB/L: Thank you, thank you very much for your time. We really loved this story.
TH: Thank you, thank you.
Boyle Heights Beat staffers Jackie Ramírez and Jennifer López contributed to this report.