NYRican in LA: The Greening of Mamita Mala

PHOTO: Mamita Malas ChileRican daughter has learned the art of composting.

Maegan "Mamita Mala" Ortiz/ABC/Univision

There's a stereotype about Los Angeles, and California in general, about its residents being greener than most Americans. I don't know if this is a matter of Californians generally having access to more space or nostalgia about a hippie lifestyle some were part of (and some still are.)

For my NYRican transplant family, we definitely have made some lifestyle changes that are better for Planet Earth but it's not like the City Terrace/ Boyle Heights border is a "green" community. Instead, our greener habits are just that, part of our daily household routines.

New York City apartment living made recycling simpler even if it wasn't always accurate. In my tiny Corona apartment, we separated our paper and plastics. We kept track of what days the garbage truck came versus the recycling truck and took presorted bags, black for trash, clear for recyclables, down two flights of stairs to the curb the night before. You knew when you mixed paper with plastic or when you left a recyclable with regular trash via a ticket mailed to the landlords and taped to the front of the building door.

Here in LA, we are reminded that we are home owners, not renters, by the every two months sanitation charge by the Department of Water and Power. The pick up is just once a week so on Sunday nights we pull three bins to the curb, black for garbage, blue for recyclables, and green for swept up leaves and grass clippings. Then we have our compost bin.

I never imagined myself the composting kind. I knew what it was before moving to LA. In NYC, composting is trendy especially among the Brooklyn hipsters but that wasn't me. Living in the hood as a single mami, I worried about attracting roaches, rats, stray cats, and even raccoons if I put a bin in the only outdoor space I had, my roof terrace. I also didn't have much use for the soil composting would yield, nor much time to get into it.

In Los Angeles, where everything is supposed to be easier because I'm cohabitating with another adult, composting is a part of my daily life….but boy is it a learning curve. My kids and I were reluctant at first to even open the large compost bin my partner bought used. We worried about an onslaught of bugs that would send us screaming. While there are bugs, they don't jump out when we throw our food scraps in.

We also have trouble sometimes figuring out what gets composted versus what's placed in the regular trash or recycling bin. This means extra attention to garbage and a lot of chiding from my partner who polices the small green composting bin in the kitchen. I have to give my teenage daughter credit, who bravely was among the first of the NYRicans in LA to regularly deposit compostable items from inside to the big outdoor bin. It's become one of her regular chores even if she does bring her little sister with her for "protection" from the creepy crawlies.

We don't think about the good composting does for the earth or our individual household. We don't talk about how much less we are contributing to landfills. We have yet to use the compost soil to help our garden grow.

We still consult with each other about exactly the "right" way to do it, eight months after moving. It's about just doing it, another chore checked off our household list. I don't know if in the short term the "why" matters. It's about developing good "green" habits that in the long term do matter. Smaller steps lead to larger strides. Next up: we are going to install solar panels on our Casa MonteMala roof.

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