NYRican in LA: No Longer Oversmelling Your Vecinos

PHOTO: In New York City you expect and accept people breathing down your neck in the subway. In Los Angeles, expanding wide open space and cars.Maegan Ortiz/ABC/Univision
In New York City you expect and accept people breathing down your neck in the subway. In Los Angeles, expanding wide open space and cars.

Space, the new frontier for Nuyoricans used to living, and breathing in cramped, tiny apartments, where you can hear all of your neighbors' business. This is the voyage of a little familia exploring the strange, new-to-them world of Los Angeles, specifically East Los, where the neighbors have roosters and overhead you can see Downtown in the distance.

This is where you hear LAPD helicopters, locally known as ghetto birds, dutifully and annoyingly keeping watch. Here we seek out a new way of living with new people to boldly go where few Nuyoricans have gone before, or at the very least - where few Nuyoricans have written about before.

Space. I think Angelenos are a spoiled bunch, and not just when it comes to the weather. There is a certain expectation of personal space, quiet space. Not like in New York City where you expect and accept people breathing down your neck and being up against your ass on the sidewalks and the subways. The car culture here contributes to this. So many people can escape into their pods without overhearing or oversmelling their vecinos. In fact, when my pareja first visited New York City with his son, the one thing they particularly hated was the absence of personal space, especially in the swamp-ass summer.

For my little familia of three, moving to Los Angeles has meant expanding space and allowing ourselves to take more room. For the first time in my daughters' lives they have their own room. They have their own beds. For so long we all shared one bedroom and often the three of us would sleep in one queen bed. My younger daughter, upon seeing her twin-sized lower bunk bed asked me with all sincerity, "How are we all going to fit in that bed mami?" That nearly broke my heart and made me cry.

And yet for all the wide open space in our three-bedroom home that includes a backyard complete with a clothesline, compost bin, picnic table, grill and numerous fruits trees and cacti, my pareja at times feels his world is getting smaller. To him, part of it is my lackadaisical discipline with my 5-year-old that has her barging into rooms with closed doors and knocking incessantly when these doors are locked, even on early weekend mornings.

But it's also just the loss of the bachelorhood he enjoyed for a few years before I arrived with my troop of Ricans. As the non-custodial parent, he had at least every other weekend to go out drinking till all hours with his poet friend from high school. After-work happy hours didn't require checking in and dinner was usually planned on the fly - Taco Truck Tuesdays, Chinese Takeout Thursdays, Cereal Saturdays.

Now, there is usually dinner waiting and ready when he gets home from work since I work from home. This means that most of the cleaning in this bigger space also falls on my shoulders, including vacuuming, dusting, mopping, dishwashing. Laundry for five is usually handled by me, although I could do an entire separate post on the logistics of dirty panty washing.

And the heteronormative, gendered roles don't stop there. My pareja, who has owned a home before and now owns a home again, handles most of the yard work including trimming the fruit trees, although we do make the kids help the flood of guavas that litter our front steps and the sidewalk in front of our house and I occasionally sweep leaves and water the plants (too occasionally I admit, as in RIP strawberry plant).

The other day during a moment of high stress in Casa MonteMala (what we have dubbed our hilltop casita), my pareja got into his car and drove to the local chain pharmacy. I'm used to seeking escape on a toilet seat behind a locked bathroom door but now I feel like I have more options - the backyard, the veranda out front, the front bedroom that is used 60 percent of the time. When it comes to concepts of personal space, it's all relative and has some basis in geography. And like everything else in this new life of mine in Los Angeles, all about compromise.

Follow Maegan "Mamita Mala" Ortiz as she chronicles her adventures as a Nuyorican in LA, including surviving Sandy from far away, her musings on different Spanglish accents and slang, her quest for the best schools for her daughters, how she gets around without a car, and the story of how the self-proclaimed original "Twitterputa" fell in love and ended up here in the first place.