Black and Brown in Los Angeles is a timely and wide-ranging, interdisciplinary foray into the complicated world of multiethnic Los Angeles. The first book to focus exclusively on the range of relationships and interactions between Latinas/os and African Americans in one of the most diverse cities in the United States, the book delivers supporting evidence that Los Angeles is a key place to study racial politics while also providing the basis for broader discussions of multiethnic America.
Students, faculty, and interested readers will gain an understanding of the different forms of cultural borrowing and exchange that have shaped a terrain through which African Americans and Latinas/os cross paths, intersect, move in parallel tracks, and engage with a whole range of aspects of urban living. Tensions and shared intimacies are recurrent themes that emerge as the contributors seek to integrate artistic and cultural constructs with politics and economics in their goal of extending simple paradigms of conflict, cooperation, or coalition.
The book features essays by historians, economists, and cultural and ethnic studies scholars, alongside contributions by photographers and journalists working in Los Angeles.
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Black and Brown in Los Angeles
Beyond Conflict and Coalition
By Josh Kun, Laura Pulido
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESSCopyright © 2014 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
Keeping It Real
Demographic Change, Economic Conflict, and Interethnic Organizing for Social Justice in Los Angeles
In June 2011, federal authorities indicted fifty-one members of a Latino gang that had engaged in racially motivated attacks on black residents in a struggling suburb named Azusa, California, near Los Angeles. The tally of crime was high: between 1996 and 2001, at least eight families saw their houses firebombed, and in 2000, a young black nurse named Ge'Juan Salle was gunned down as he strolled out of an auto parts store with his cousin (Sewell 2011).
Over the last decade, a flurry of media stories has tended to focus on exactly these sorts of conflicts, creating the appearance of steadily increasing and worsening tensions between African Americans and Latinos (especially Mexicans) in Southern California. Aside from the fascination with gang activity, reporters have often focused on local politics and youth demographics, weaving together tales of troubled ethnic successions in cities like Compton and student conflagrations in the high schools of Los Angeles. The often unstated subtext: an underlying economic dynamic drives most of the conflict, with the basic storyline suggesting that Latinos, particularly immigrants, "take" jobs and impair black economic fortunes.
Both the local conflicts and the economic concerns are real—but often exaggerated or just one part of the story. For example, while the events in Azusa caused some African Americans to leave, others stayed as the city formed a hate crime task force that eventually became the Human Relations Commission, which now hosts an annual youth conference to address issues of race and difference; one of the former gang members has said, "We were all brainwashed.... Maybe the cycle will be broken now and future generations will not see color" (Sewell 2011). The failure to tell the whole tale goes beyond just one Southern California suburb or just one wave of hate incidents; in general, the media tends to overreport crime by minorities, between races, and in the inner city (Dorfman and Schiraldi 2001). This focus on the negative is endemic to journalism—it stems, in part, from news organizations' disproportionate interest in conflict. But the media's particular fixation on black-Latino conflict also seems to be related to an attempt to portray all groups, and not just whites, as having to overcome prejudice. This reportorial sleight of hand, intentional or not, takes the focus from racist structures to racist attitudes (Nieva 2009). It not only misses the daily accommodations and negotiations within neighborhoods; it also has its own ripple effect of distancing groups—and given the pressing needs of inner-city communities, there is just not much room for that.
This is not to dispute the reality of economic and other concerns: tensions do exist, and there is some evidence of job displacement by Latino immigrants, particularly in key areas of the local economy. Since this is happening to blacks, who have historically been excluded from job markets, the Latino influx can be conveniently considered as the contemporary cause of an ongoing problem. Yet, as it turns out, research suggests that the effects on black employment are overstated, and those suffering the most harm from immigrant labor market competition may actually be U.S.-born Latinos, who are crowded into market niches very similar to those of blacks. Moreover, the positive impacts of Latinos on local labor markets, particularly the newfound ability to unionize, are rarely lifted up in the popular storyline. Nuances like these—as well as examples of groups working together—should serve to relax the overwrought and unchallenged narrative of black-Latino conflict.
In fact, African Americans and Latinos have more than enough reasons to get past the dominant paradigm of competition. These two groups not only share fences in areas like South L.A.; they also share critical social needs: healthy neighborhoods, good schools, decent public transportation, well-paying work, and neighborhood safety. Forward-looking coalitions have been trying to forge ties over these issues. Laura Pulido (2006), Jaime Regalado (1994), and others have well documented the generations of these coalitions in Los Angeles. However, in this era, the sheer size of the Latino population and its increasingly immigrant character, the relative and continuing decline of black-based political power, and the changing nature of the Los Angeles economy and the stresses that this has placed on both ethnic groups constitute new dynamics, challenges, and possibilities.
Indeed, the current era is also marked by an extraordinary opening for municipal influence that has been created by community-based groups in Los Angeles, many of whom have gone well beyond the neighborhood in their organizing and have explicitly focused on building black-brown alliances. To do so, they have had to go beyond the traditional—and easier—common-issue politics; they have instead lifted up differences and divisions and worked through them to create an uncommon but inspiring movement for social justice. Thus, I argue against the pessimism that has marked many accounts of demographic transformation in contemporary L.A. and instead stress the realities and possibilities of interethnic organizing in the years to come.
I begin by reviewing the demographic change that has brought African Americans and Latinos into close geographic, and ultimately political, proximity in Los Angeles. I then turn to the economics of the situation, pointing to some of the reasons why tensions have developed and telling a new and—I hope—more accurate story of the nature of black-Latino competition and complementarity. I then consider the coalitional possibilities, highlighting the efforts of some groups to develop leadership, including that of youth, and to take racial equity into account as they focus on addressing the underlying economic and educational challenges. I argue that these efforts are well-poised to create a new set of regional and national possibilities for progressive and multiracial politics.
A quick caveat about my use of "Latinos" as a category (and even "brown" as a shortcut). Latinos are certainly not monolithic, including in skin tone. In Los Angeles County, for example, those marking themselves with the ethnic categorization "Hispanic or Latino" are more than 75 percent Mexican, but nearly 15 percent are Central American (mostly Guatemalan and Salvadoran), and about 2.5 percent are South American. Moreover, some Latinos are black; in Los Angeles, 0.5 percent of Latinos mark their race as "black." And because the U.S. Census asks all Latinos to choose a "race," another 43 percent of L.A.'s Latinos mark themselves as "white," 53 percent as "other," and 0.5 percent as indigenous (or Native American). This is a different mix from those in other parts of the nation; on the East Coast, Puerto Ricans and Cubans make up much larger shares of the Latino population, and more Latinos choose black as their racial identification. All these distinctions matter—in Los Angeles, the country-of-origin distinctions for the immigrant portion of the Latino population often correlate with particular sending periods and receiving neighborhoods—but with the overall focus in this essay on the broad topic of black-Latino relations, I leave those important details for other authors and future essays.
DEMOGRAPHY AND GEOGRAPHY IN L.A.
Los Angeles has always been the canvas to demographic flux. Boyle Heights was once home to Jewish immigrants; it is now a key center of Latino L.A. Little Tokyo was the heart of the prewar Japanese immigrant population; with World War II and the internment, it became Bronzetown, a new home for incoming black workers, only to morph into a sort of tourist trap and now artist colony. Hollywood was the suave center of entertainment; it was transformed into a shabby set of boulevards with drugs and prostitution before its current incarnation as a regional nightlife hub and the home of Little Armenia. The city and its places, in short, have always been the objects of repopulation and reinvention, and the current era is no exception.
To understand the present, however, requires that we understand the past: onto what racial landscape are we etching yet another set of groups and dynamics? The broad trends are shown in figure 1.1, in which the steady decline in the percentage of whites in Los Angeles County can be seen over the period 1940–2007. As dramatic as the percentage shifts may be, perhaps more startling is looking at the raw numbers (figure 1.2): the number of whites in Los Angeles County actually peaked in 1960 and has been declining since; the number of African Americans has been falling since 1990, and population growth has been driven by Latinos and Asians.
But a look at the data does not tell the whole and much longer story. From World War II until the late 1960s, five million African Americans left the South, fleeing rampant racism and joblessness as part of the second "Great Migration." Blacks from Texas and Louisiana, in particular, moved to Los Angeles where the World War II defense industry created a constant demand for laborers in ship, plane, and steel production. Both male and female African Americans found upward mobility in employment from World War II through the 1960s; unemployment figures dropped and skills rose.
While this healed some historical wounds, new ones were soon inflicted: as early as the 1960s access to the hard-won jobs in L.A.'s industrial sectors began to slip. For one thing, the best manufacturing jobs were held by whites in the farther-flung parts of the region, which inner-city blacks could not as easily reach. Moreover, employer preferences shifted away from blacks as new populations grew; Josh Sides interprets data from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that show that by the 1960s "the preference of industrial employers for Mexican over black workers—especially in the metal and food industries—had become thoroughly entrenched, further eroding opportunity for black workers in blue-collar occupation" (Sides 2003: 94). This set the stage for what would be further deterioration in black economic fortunes when a wave of deindustrialization (and later immigration) struck Los Angeles and the nation in the 1970s and 1980s, a topic I explore in the next section.
Focusing on the geography of L.A.'s demography, I start with black Los Angeles and its identified heart: South Central. Until 1953, African Americans were boxed into specific neighborhoods within South Central by racially restrictive housing covenants. When covenants lost their power, whites fled the industrial neighborhoods of South L.A. and its adjoining suburbs (such as Compton) and took flight for the beaches and the San Fernando Valley. Black families soon stretched into new areas of South L.A.; spurred by the 1965 unrest, prosperous blacks moved from the central city to the ethnically mixed neighborhoods near Crenshaw Boulevard (Sides 2006: 121). In the 1980s, South Central remained more than 50 percent black, but many upwardly mobile families moved to Inglewood, Hawthorne, Downey, Paramount, and Long Beach, leaving behind a more impoverished and disadvantaged African American community. By 1990, another trend surfaced: the natural rate of increase in the black community was being offset by out-migration from Los Angeles County (Morrison and Lowry 1994: 28–29).
Latinos have been members of the Los Angeles landscape longer than African Americans. Despite the long-standing history of Latinos in Los Angeles, however—Mexicans retained an influence here after the United States annexed this part of Mexico in the nineteenth century—Latino immigration has always been a tenuous matter. For example, L.A. was the site of mass deportations in the Depression (Garcia 2001: 108), but it was also a main focus for the Bracero Program during World War II. Garcia (2001) describes how white Angelenos went to war, leaving the citrus industry—a regional economic driver—without workers. During this time, the U.S. government contracted Mexican nationals, undercutting U.S.-born Latino wages. Even though the program ended, the desire for cheap labor remained, in part setting up the illegal and unstable nature of immigrant labor that we see today.
This history helped embed Los Angeles as a gateway city for immigrants, a status resulting—surprisingly—from the civil rights movement. President Lyndon B. Johnson's enactment of the Great Society gave legs to the hopes of many protestors seeking humane treatment of all people. A natural corollary was to end discrimination against soon-to-be Americans, an issue addressed in the Immigration Act of 1965, which opened American borders and reshaped the L.A. landscape (Briggs 2004: 12). Migration then builds on migration; as Enrico Marcelli (2004) notes, more than other factors, established immigrant communities are attractive to new migrants, because long-time migrants can help the newcomer transition into the new society. Thus, East Los Angeles has become a hub for immigrant Latinos. Similarly, Pico-Union hosts new El Salvadorans, just as it was once the entry point for their refugee predecessors (Morrison and Lowry 1994: 29).
Through the 1980s, the 1990s, and the early part of this century, black and Latino concentrations have loosened and shifted (see figure 1.3). In 1980, African Americans were distinctly in South Los Angeles, Altadena, and Pacoima. Latinos were concentrated in East Los Angeles and the Gateway Cities, and to the east. But in the following decades, the sheer numbers of Latinos increased, crossing older territorial boundaries, while the black population shifted its center west to Crenshaw Boulevard and shrank. One way to see this is through the "isolation index," a measure that indicates the percentage of the same-group population in the census tract where the average member of that racial/ethnic group lives. Figure 1.4 reports that over the past few decades, blacks have become less residentially isolated (so have whites but they remain much more highly segregated than blacks). While some African Americans have moved to nonblack neighborhoods, the more reasonable explanation is that many Latinos have moved into historically black neighborhoods. The dashed line shows that the exposure index—the probability of black Angelenos having Latino neighbors—has risen from 4 percent in 1940 to 41 percent in 2000.
Excerpted from Black and Brown in Los Angeles by Josh Kun, Laura Pulido. Copyright © 2014 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
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Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
List of Tables
Josh Kun and Laura Pulido
PART ONE. THE ECONOMICS OF PEOPLE AND PLACES
1. Keeping It Real: Demographic Change, Economic Conflict, and
Interethnic Organizing for Social Justice in Los Angeles
2. Banking on the Community: Mexican Immigrants’ Experiences in a Historically African American Bank in South Central Los Angeles, 19702007
3. Black Views toward Proposed Undocumented Immigration Policies: The Role of Stereotypes and Economic Competition
Lorrie Frasure-Yokley and Stacey Greene
PART TWO. URBAN HISTORIES
4. The Changing Valence of White Racial
Innocence: Black-Brown Unity in the 1970s Los Angeles School Desegregation Struggles
Daniel Martinez HoSang
5. Fighting the Segregation Amendment: Black and Mexican American Responses to Proposition 14 in Los Angeles
6. The Politics of Low and Slow/Bajito y Suavecito: Black and Chicano Lowriders in Los Angeles, from the 1960s through the 1970s
Denise M. Sandoval
PART THREE. COMMUNITY LIFE AND POLITICS
7. Rainbow Coalition in the Golden State? Exposing Myths, Uncovering New Realities in Latino Attitudes toward Blacks
Matt A. Barreto, Benjamin F. Gonzalez, and Gabriel R. Sánchez
8. Race and the L.A. Human: Race Relations and Violence in Globalized Los Angeles
Ofelia Ortiz Cuevas
PART FOUR. REPORTING BLACK AND BROWN L.A.: A JOURNALIST’S VIEW
9. More Than Just the Latinos-Next-Door; Piercing Black Silence on Immigration; and Plugging Immigration’s Drain on Black Employment
Erin Aubry Kaplan
10. Race, Real Estate, and the Mexican Mafia: A Report from the Black and Latino Killing Fields
PART FIVE. CITY CULTURES
11. Landscapes of Black and Brown Los Angeles: A Photo Essay
12. Spatial Entitlement: Race, Displacement, and Sonic Reclamation in Postwar Los Angeles
Gaye Theresa Johnson
13. On Fallen Nature and the Two Cities
Nery Gabriel Lemus
14. “Just Win, Baby!” The Raider Nation and Second Chances for Black and Brown L.A.
15. What Is an MC If He Can’t Rap to Banda? Making Music in Nuevo L.A.
List of Contributors