“I never like to talk about myself. But I’d like to share about my community, which is the working community, the Latino community, the poor community- the core of Mammoth,” said America Hernandez, a long-time local of Mammoth Lakes.
She will be leaving the community soon due to an unavailability of quality housing for her family.
As we walked together along the creek next to Sierra Meadows Ranch, under streaming sunlight and chirping birds, America shared, “this is my Heaven on Earth. That’s what I like to call it. And if Earth can be this beautiful, I truly cannot wait to see what Heaven will look like.”
Hernandez has been here for 24 years. She moved here when she was 24 years old.
“When I first moved here, I met people much older than me, who moved here to work, working for Dave McCoy. They would come seasonally, to work either in the summer or the winters. They would see advertisements in the newspapers in Los Angeles or outside the country and come. That’s how my parents ended up in the Eastern Sierra more than 3 decades ago, when they were in their 30s. And that’s how I ended up here in Mammoth Lakes – I came to spend time with my parents after finishing college in Mexico.”
Hernandez ended up falling in love with the area.
“I was only going to be here for about a year and that was it. But it turns out that I really liked it here. So I decided to stick around. And I started working for Mammoth Hospital. Back then, Mammoth was not as touristy as it is now. It was more of a small community in the middle of nowhere, very rural, and everyone knew each other. It was a safe place to live and to be at peace and away from the city chaos.”
She eventually met her husband, who had moved here when he was 18. They have two children: one who is currently enrolled at Mammoth High School, and one who just recently graduated.
“I am leaving Mammoth because I cannot afford my current living situation here, and I am not willing to go any lower, for the sake of my kids. I want them to have a safe area to live in. They were born here. They were raised here. And unfortunately, we haven’t been able to afford buying a home, so we will be leaving.”
Q: What have you seen change in Mammoth during your 24 years here?
A: “The nature. Although the nature has remained, it has definitely changed. And now since more people know about Mammoth and Mono County, I’m worried about it changing even more. Back in the day when I used to come visit my parents, it would not get very warm. It would be at the highest, maybe, in the ‘70s. And now we are having weather in the 80s. Our trees used to be a much darker and more vivid green, and now there’s much more brown. There’s just a lot more dryness to this area than there was before, which is due to Los Angeles taking all the water from this area. You also don’t see as many animals as you used to. And as far as humans go, things have definitely changed. We started as a working population who chose to live in a remote area to enjoy hiking and the outdoors. Of course we had people coming and going, but it wasn’t as touristy as it is now. But with Dave McCoy selling his business – who was such a great man, a simple, down-to-earth human who really loved this area- things changed. People started finding out about Mammoth. As far as I know, it’s now owned by international ski areas (it’s now part of a larger conglomerate). So that brings even more visitors from around the world.”
Q: What about housing has changed?
A: “Most of the older buildings … we’re now getting rid of them to make smaller housing for more people. What I’m seeing is, where there used to be one house, there are now condominiums. We’re growing upwards in all the ways that we can. And with the ‘Mammoth lifestyle’ being very attractive to high status, rich people wanting to have a second or third home here, locals are losing out on the possibility of owning something. To live here and be able to afford to live here, you now have to have 2-3 jobs, because the cost of living goes up, but our wages don’t. And the funny thing is, we all saw it coming. A lot of us chose to leave before things were going to get this bad. But I love this area. I was hoping I would die in this area, in Mammoth, but it didn’t happen.”
Hernandez has done all she can to try and stay here. Her last 4 rentals have consistently been downgrades, and it has gotten to the point where she refuses to go any lower (conditions were bad to begin with – in fact, she attributes her teenage daughter’s pediatric asthma to unchecked mold that was growing in their apartment).
“Currently I am renting at a condominium, in a lower unit, and there are nightly rentals all around me. For the working population this is a nightmare, because you have to work and the kids have to go to school in the morning, but the people next door are partying. Our manager can’t do anything about it. You call the police, and they don’t do anything. There are times when tourists will come and cram 15-20 people in a unit for 3 or 4 nights and you feel like you’re in the room with them. So it’s really hard. And the rentals cheaper than mine are rampant with drugs and extremely bad living conditions. I cannot take my kids into that. I am currently begging my landlord to switch the short-term rentals back to long-term ones like he had before, so that both he as a 4th homeowner as well as the locals looking for housing can prosper.”
Q: What have you seen from other community members in similar positions?
A: “Many workers are pushed out of Mammoth and are forced to commute from as far as Lone Pine, which is crazy. But the land is cheaper down there. Mammoth is still where the working businesses are in the Sierras though, so people are forced to have to commute all the way here. I’ve also never seen so many of our community members living in their cars. And you might not know that they’re living in their cars – you might see them at the library all dressed up fine. But they’re living out of their cars and they’re struggling. We’ve had an increase in suicides because of the crisis. And I can totally understand why – imagine living here, working constantly to cater to tourists, and walking by enormous, beautiful condominiums that are empty and not being used, whose owners come here maybe once or twice a year. It’s just become a grim reality. It’s starting to look more like Hell on Earth, when it should be Heaven.”
Q: What do you hope to see change in the community?
A: “They need to find a balance between second/third home owners/investors who want a piece of this beautiful part of the world, and the local workforce who actually live here. A balance between community and tourism. I worry about this beautiful area, that if there’s no working force, no children, no families around, it might be the future Bowdie. I just wish the best for Mammoth. I truly don’t know how the town will survive if we all leave. I mean, it will survive- it’ll just be a destination, it won’t be a home.”
Although Hernandez is leaving Mammoth, she is doing everything in her power to stay in the county.
“My daughter wants to graduate from Mammoth High School with her friends, so I am doing everything I can to not have to leave the county completely, but I have to leave Mammoth. We have 3 more years, and I think I can make it. It just hurts to be third generation in this area and have to leave. Because I love this area, like I said, it’s my Heaven on Earth. And I have to leave my Heaven on Earth.”