Multi-American

How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Featured comment: One reader's plea for 'space' in Compton

Screen shot of a race and ethnicity map of the Compton area from the New York Times' "Mapping America: Every City, Every Block" interactive project. Blue dots represent African Americans, yellow dots represent Latinos. Each dot represents 25 people.
Screen shot of a race and ethnicity map of the Compton area from the New York Times' "Mapping America: Every City, Every Block" interactive project. Blue dots represent African Americans, yellow dots represent Latinos. Each dot represents 25 people. NYTimes.com

A post from last week regarding the political scenario in Compton, where Latino residents are vying with the city's established but shrinking African American community for political power, drew a series of comments over the weekend. While most of the later comments revolved around illegal immigration (and no, the lawsuit filed by three Latina residents trying to change Compton's local election process has nothing to do with this) there was an intriguing comment at the beginning that I reread a few times.

From a reader identified as "1tag," the comment, below, captured something beyond what's often described in simple terms as racial and ethnic tension in parts of Los Angeles County such as Compton, where a traditionally African American population has given way to a Latino majority.

Here's part of what "1tag" wrote, unedited:

There is many predominantly Latino communities and very few predominantly Black communities. And the ones we have are so fragile. We need the space tackle the bad and develop the good. Just when that was starting to happen, BAM, we’re hit with the demands with the needs of an outside culture we are not equiped to handle. Give us some space will you?

The message gets at a unique kind of frustration. Both groups share a community in which they face the many of the same problems: poverty (the annual Compton per-capita in 2009 was a little over $13,000), rising unemployment, political disenfranchisement, and gang violence that at times pits brown and black young people against one another. The quarters are close and there is little breathing room.

And yes, there also is a sense of mistrust of the other, as there is racial stereotyping. A 2007 story from the Los Angeles Times about a similar situation taking place in nearby Lynwood quoted Harry Pachon, a USC professor and head of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, which had then released a report that addressed perceptions of minorities in South Los Angeles. He cited from its conclusions in the story:

"Each group is buying off on the negative stereotypes held by the majority [white culture], rather than questioning them," Pachon said. "Blacks say that Latinos don't take care of their housing, and Latinos felt that blacks don't value families as much."

Part of the history of U.S. immigration has typically involved those who feel most vulnerable, economically or otherwise (and in this unique case, a group once segregated to live in some of these very neighborhoods by race-based redlining) feeling threatened by newcomers. As for the newcomers, Latin American society has its own hierarchy of color, and immigrants carry this baggage with them. There is bound to be friction, felt most deeply in communities where struggling is the norm and, to paraphrase 1tag, where the good remains to be developed, the bad tackled.

"Space please!!!" 1tag concluded.

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