Re: Where is East LA? (responses to Leo DiCaprio’s interview statements about where he grew up)

(written as a response on http://www.laweekly.com/news/where-is-east-la-6662576)

East LA has a lot of history because it’s a pretty old area, for LA, and a lot of families started out in Boyle Heights or East LA. If you look at the HOLC “redlining” documents from the 1930s, it says it’s a unique place because it’s like a “melting pot” with many different ethnic groups and “racial hazards”, similar to Boyle Heights but fewer “subversive elements” (Communists). For around 100 years, it’s been a place where many communities started, and then left, but have stories about, or have older relatives still living there.

To contextualize this, much of Los Angeles was segregated, with newer “whites only” areas being built in the 20th century, and older areas had become “ghettos” for people of color and some not-at-the-time-white ethnics (Armenians, Italians, Greeks, Russians, Eastern Europeans, Southern Europeans, Spaniards, Jews). There were hundreds of old neighborhoods like this, most were predominantly Mexican American, and many still exist.

The main difference between East LA and other locations, like Echo Park, is size. Both were enclaves for people of color, but East LA and adjacent Boyle Heights are vast. Combined, they’re around 9 square miles. Each half could become a good sized city, but combined could form one of the largest cities in the County. Consequently, though the area has changed, it’s probably changed less than other communites, only shifting from being sparse and mostly Mexican, to dense and mixed, to mostly Mexican, and now almost entirely Mexican.

Because Kapital was never very interested in investing in the land, or the people, it had slow development and “problems” that kept things the same. Redevelopment agencies might have call it “blighted” — but they only use that perjorative that if they have a desire to take over a piece of land, and need a justification. Institutional desire was lacking. Kapital wanted to extract labor, the region’s most valuable resource, then, and now.

It was malign neglect. Neglect was also a kind of safety; it was an enclave for people escaping white society, and all the hazards that entailed. Wallace Fard Muhammad (Walid Fard) founder of the Nation of Islam lived there a while with his “Spanish” wife. Jewish communists lived there. Mexican refugees of the civil wars lived there. But it wasn’t totally safe, because it was in America. In the 30s, many American citizens of Mexican ancestry were “deported” to Mexico, to appease angry white voters. In the 40s, Japanese Americans were “relocated” to concentration camps, for roughly the same reason. In the 50s, it was Mexicans deported again. And, if Trump is election, it may happen again, to Mexicans and Central Americans.

They say history is written by the winners, but it can also be written by “losers”, the people for whom continuing to exist is victory against the forces of destruction. That’s why East LA has so much history written about it.