Blanca has been the KYCC Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Site Manager since 2018. Additionally, she has been a part of KYCC since 2006, when she was a participant in the KYCC Drop-In Center at Los Angeles High School, and has volunteered for and worked in many different positions with KYCC’s Community Economic Development. She graduated from the University of California, San Diego in 2012.
Where is your hometown?
I was born in Oaxaca, Mexico and I came to the U.S. when I was 5. I lived with my grandma and mom back there. My dad came to the U.S. and started off as a day laborer, and he eventually learned the electrician trade, worked to save money for coyotes so my mom could come over with me. My mom is a housekeeper/nanny. I have a younger sister, one year younger than me. The four of us came together. But now we’re U.S. citizens. My mom applied for our residency when I was still in high school, but it took nine years. When we got approved, I was able to apply to UCSD.
This was pre-DACA. At least with DACA, you can get financial aid or a loan. There was no loan or help back then. You had to pay up front, but thank god, I got my residency so I was able to get financial aid. As soon as the five years were up, I became a citizen. I jumped on it.
Do you live or work in Koreatown?
I work in Koreatown. I’ve been hanging out here since high school. Now I’m a Site Manager for KYCC’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program. (Note: VITA is a free tax prep program that has been offered at KYCC since 2011.)
A lot of my VITA clients talk about how they’ve been taken advantage of with tax prep. A lot of these clients pay high prices for a return that’s very simple or the preparer makes mistakes or does things incorrectly that could potentially jeopardize them. It’s like visiting your doctor—we want to make sure that tax preparers have their credentials, we want to make sure our clients are asking the right questions and that they understand what the preparer is explaining. I think it’s important that clients take the time to read the forms because mistakes are made with basic information.
My clients talk to me about their hardships. A lot of clients provide in-home supportive services for sick or disabled relatives and the state pays them to be a long-term caregiver. I’ve had a lot of clients whose son or daughter is permanently disabled. These families open up about how hard it is for them to find another job because they have loved ones who require so much attention and care. Sometimes they ask about supportive services for themselves. We help with job searches, grocery delivery, food pantry sites and FAFSA applications. We also provide workshops with WorkSource Centers, which helps with job placement.
Sometimes we have great stories, like small entrepreneurs who they started their small business and they tell you, “I’m not coming next year, because I’m not going to qualify,” and that’s great.
In the past, there have been victims of domestic violence. A lot of my clients have been my clients for years, so I can watch their progress and evolution. Also, we work with undocumented families and I hear when they’ve gotten their green card and that they’ve become eligible for helpful tax credits that they have not been eligible for in the past.
When I see families bring in their 1090-AT, which is a form issued to college students or grad students, it’s an indicator that their son or daughter is going to school and their next generation is going to be in a better place with more opportunities.
The majority of my clients are Spanish-speaking, but we have Korean, African American and Caucasians clients. There are Russian- and Arabic-speaking clients as well. Because our sites are in Koreatown and the surrounding area, they have the misconception because of our agency’s name that it’s only for Koreans, but we’re here to serve the community and everyone in it. I personally make it a point that our services are not just for Korean and Latino families so other people can see that it’s for everyone.
We’re here to serve everyone.
And if for some reason, you’re considered out-of-scope or we cannot assist you, we will give you the resources, or we will find you a site that will deal with your specific situation.
We try not to turn people away without some type of resource.
What are your thoughts on Koreatown?
There’s a police station a few blocks away from work, but the tenants or neighborhood residents complain about response time and crime, which is prevalent here despite the police presence. It’s mostly break-ins—car break-ins—and a lot of loitering. People are having a hard time with the marijuana legalization, because I think it’s difficult to live in an apartment building because your neighbors might smoke. A lot of families don’t want their kids exposed to that. It’s hard to censor their surroundings.
Koreatown is changing a lot. There’s a lot of businesses opening up—there are Boba Times all over the place, which is a good thing. I love boba! Koreatown is booming. We have people from all over flocking here for the Korean BBQ. Korean food is real. All the foodies want Korean food and the best place to get it is in Koreatown. I love Koreatown. I think in a past life I was Korean. A Korean panda.
Where’s your favorite place in Koreatown?
Mariposa and 6th Street. It’s the trifecta—you have Chapman Plaza and the food there is delicious. There’s Toe Bang and the boba place. Across the street, there’s Paik’s, where they do the black noodles. And then I like City Center a lot, because you have the food court and Zion Market. I like Korean grocery stores in general. Their produce sections are the freshest, and I can’t find a lot of the fruit, like the Asian pear, in a regular grocery store.
I like to buy Choco Pie, king oyster mushrooms and chapchae. The mushrooms, if you cook them right and season them well, they take on a meaty consistency. Sometimes I buy the premarinated meat to BBQ at home.