In my previous post, I mentioned the field work I had done on campus for my human geography class. My other experience with field work came from an unlikely class: statistics. This statistics class though was specially designed for geography majors and so built around certain situations. Even so this class was supposed to be computer based, which it was except for one lab.
Most labs focused on what formulas to use for certain types of data and how to make simple graphs, charts and maps. As a person who usually runs screaming from all types of math, I was dreading this class. It was hard. But I learned how to use Excel and make some interesting graphs. I turned boring raw data sets into visual and understandable information.
Then the professor decided to give us a break from crunching numbers and told us we had to go out into the field, observe and collect data. We had to compare what we saw in neighborhoods in Long Beach with data from the U.S. Census Bureau. We were trying to see how accurate the census data was. But for me this was more than just data. It was discovering Long Beach.
Long Beach and the surrounding area are very diverse, which is one of the reasons I love living here. You can see and meet almost any type person and many people from around the world. There are many people of Hispanic and Asian origin as well as Caucasian and African American. Despite the great diversity and cultures, people tend to form enclaves because of family connections, economic reasons, etc. This is something you can see all over the L.A. area. Long Beach has the largest Cambodian population outside of Cambodia. Westminster has Little Saigon (Vietnamese), downtown L.A. has a Little Tokyo and Monterey Park is known for its large Chinese population.
This difference in diversity, housing, geographic location, economic status and family status was quite apparent as my group walked through our two chosen neighborhoods. While we confirmed that the census data mostly matched what we saw, it of course didn’t tell the whole story.
It didn’t mention how some people painted their houses bright cheerful colors or how many couches were sitting on sidewalks. It didn’t mention the drab sameness of endless identical apartment complexes and the lack of parking along every (identical) street. It didn’t explain why in one neighborhood, the trees were all different and planted in a seemingly random fashion or how the other had nicely kept but uniform trees. It didn’t explain the giant stuffed bear sitting on a roof or the flowers left on the corner of a street.
Census data is great for some things, but I prefer to know the story of the people. Their communities might look all the same in numbers but out in the field they all have their unique history. As a journalist and geographer, that is what really matters. It is why I love being out in the field. It is where you find the story behind the numbers.