Benjamin Torres is the president and chief executive officer of the Community Development Technologies Center, known as CD Tech, a nonprofit focused on community and economic development in low-income areas of Los Angeles. He also serves as an adjunct faculty member at Los Angeles Trade Technical College in the Community Planning and Economic Development program. Before joining a Zócalo/California Wellness Foundation panel discussion entitled “Is South L.A. an Urban Success Story?” he talked in the Zócalo green room about time traveling back to the days of Malcolm X, walking in Echo Park, and the joys of charcuterie and wine.
You grew up in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. What single word best describes the neighborhood of your childhood?
What’s your favorite condiment?
I like the mustard that they give you with charcuterie, it’s grainy and a little bit spicy.
What’s the best thing you’ve read recently?
The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, by Matt Taibbi.
What Southern California beach do you visit most often?
You’ve said that the 1992 riots were what first drew you to work in South Los Angeles when you were a college student. That was nearly 25 years ago. What made you stay?
I saw an abundance of Latino leaders on the East Side and very little Latino leadership in South L.A. I believe in changing the narrative for how black and brown can work together to change the community.
Where would we find you at 10 a.m. on a typical Saturday?
Walking around Echo Park. I believe in claiming public space. Every chance I get, I need to physically show myself and let people know we all haven’t left. Our physical presence there maintains a narrative that’s getting lost.
If you didn’t live in Los Angeles, where would you be?
New York City or Mexico City. I lived in Santa Barbara for 10 years when I was in school but it didn’t have the life, the passion, the intensity that a city provides.
What’s in your front yard?
Sustainable plants, a hedge for privacy, and the fences that go sideways that everyone makes fun of because they think they’re “hipster,” which isn’t true. We also have two big dogs that intimidate everybody. We hang out in our chairs and enjoy a glass of wine and good conversation about the family and the community. And, I have a sign that says “Save Water, Drink Wine.”
How do you pass the time when you’re stuck in traffic?
I’m going to confess that I spend a lot of time checking my phone, texting. Or I listen to music or talk radio.
If you could time travel, what year, past or future, would you travel to?
I’d go back to the time of Malcolm X and Che Guevara, to warn them and prevent them from being assassinated. These two social justice activists were so influential in their short lives. Imagine what they could have accomplished if they’d lived longer.