Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Readers sound off on gentrification, race, and the role of people of color

Photo by Leo Reynolds/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Getting beyond the simple black-and-white of the traditional gentrification story involves a nuanced conversation, and the Multi-American readers who have posted comments on this topic in recent days have been more than up to the challenge.

This conversation began in response to a recent post on "gentefication," a coined term used to refer to second-generation, upwardly mobile Latinos investing in and returning to traditional immigrant neighborhoods like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights. Gente is Spanish for "people," alluding to a revitalization that's due not to outsiders but to the people of these communities themselves, or more accurately, these communities' American-raised and educated children.

So is the role of people of color in revitalizing minority communities something positive, or perhaps not? Does grassroots investment by more affluent people of color in the communities where their poor aunts and uncles still struggle bode better days ahead for all, or will it ultimately bring about evictions and the wrecking ball as speculators and developers follow in their tracks?

Here are a few of the opinions shared on the site, in no particular order. Anel B wrote:

I feel that this is, for lack of a better saying, a double edged sword. My parents, as I'm sure many Mexican immigrant parents, have raised and conditioned us to go to college and become successful, but they also instilled in me a huge sense of orgullo for my culture.

But if you become successful and move out of your neighborhood into one that is considered "higher class" or "racially different", then you are "too good."

But you move back into your old neighborhood and run the risk of being labeled as a part of "gentrification." Personally I feel more at home in an area that is primarily Latino, luckily I don't have to go very far to get that here in Southern California.

But I sure don't consider myself to be exploiting or displacing people from lower economic backgrounds that reside in the same neighborhoods.

Ken M wrote:

Like the hipster who swears s/he is not one, so is the gentefier who insists s/he isn't a gentrefier.  Ultimately, the question hinges on what the impact is on the local community which, really, is out of the hands of hipsters/gentrifiers; it's in the hands of the property owners who raise rents and business that cater to this higher/disposable income clientele.

In a place like Cali, with Prop 13, that means the business and landowners don't give back to the community. So, at the end, the gentefier/gentrifier discussion is a distraction because all communities deserve things like good schools, accessible jobs, and clean streets...whether the people there wear Toms or botas perronas.

Geomagallanes wrote:

This is a very interesting topic and the article is right on target. Boyle Heighs has a historic past. One of being a temporary home to many immigrants. Russians, Jews, African-Americans and for the past 50 years, Latinos. Boyle Heights is like a big Mexican home. Kids go off to college, travel but always come back. One thing about Latinos is we hate traffic! But we also hate public transportation. So we live were we work.

Latinos cannot live in Corona and work in LA. Not gonna happen. We don't trust daycare centers so one of the grandmas is going to baby sit. Another reason why we can't live far away from home (Boyle Heights). Those of us that never left because we were aware of all the massive government investment knew that thigs would get better. There are still many problems but overall Boyle Heights is better today than it was 10 years ago. The City as a whole is better off.

However, Gentefrication isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's about time that the gente do what other folks before us have done. Invest in your community. Latinos are also a purchasing power. Why spend in Glendale, Santa Monica, the Beverly Center?

Why have a social time in Hollywood, Silverlake? C'mon now. Eastside Luv and Eastside Love makes Boyle Heights a better place!

Robert Baird wrote:
I'm frustrated at how the gentrification debate is so trapped inside a polarizing prison of dogma. Within inner-cities, there is an anti-gentrification camp and an anti-concentrated poverty camp that unknowingly undermine each other's important agendas because they have no consensus between each other. I hear very few people talking about "mixed-income" communities...perhaps, because it requires to much optimism from cynical community advocates who constantly fall back on a "no-change" stance as a hollow community development strategy.

Having some upwardly mobile folks around (living, not just drinking) definitely helps neighborhoods become more livable.  But it does need to be coupled with good, enforceable affordable housing policy at the city level.  And mixed-income transformations need to be taking place across the urban spectrum, not just the inner-city.  In California, RHNA allocations are one policy that does, slowly, force wealthier suburbs to build affordable (not just senior) housing in their communities.

Without a consensus on housing policy among community advocates, I don't think the people of the inner-city benefit from either extreme.  But it does take some optimism and it does take consistent community pressure to follow-through on affordable housing policy.

Other comments were quite long, so I'm posting excerpts. In addition to gentrification, Tati Luboviski-Acosta wrote about income, identity and growing up between Huntington Park and Highland Park as part of a Latino-Russian family. She wrote:

Earlier this year, I got into a spat with one of my closest friends regarding gentrification. I forgot the specifics of it (I let myself get really angry, which is the same as getting hit on the head for me), but it turned into a question of  whether or not it was racialized, and if I would hold the same resentment towards a Guatemalan family from Chino Hills opening a bakery or something.

Duh, everything is racialized: this is America; but I think it's easy to forget that in other places, like in the  South, gentrification is happening to poor white neighborhoods. HOWEVER: I also think it's too easy to forget class divisions within race. The goals of working class Latinos and the goals of "upwardly-mobile" Latinos are different. OK: galleries, bars, shops selling radical literature and Frida tchotchkes (R.I.P. 33 1/3 & IMIX), and good coffee.

One of the things that I've noticed regarding gentrification is how a lot of the institutions established in its wake are essentially exclusionary to the existing community at large. The argument that I previously mentioned was ignited by my indignation towards that, and over the disregard towards places like Avenue 50 Studio (a gallery specializing in political and Latino art that all the galleries in Highland Park can thank for their existence) that actively participate, such as collaborating with students from Franklin High School's Transportation Academy or giving workshops at the Highland Park Senior Center.

I propose that we redefine gentrification as thus: the irresponsible "investment" in a community without its best interests at heart by outsiders.

Peter Smith wrote (an excerpt):

As sure as night turns to day, non-white/non-asian/non-asian-indian gentrifiers will be pushed out of their gentefied and gentrified neighborhoods, money or not, with time -- no matter what label you try to use to try and confuse the issue. This is the inescapable truth based on our existing economic model and systematic and overt racism present in everyday life. Minorities who have benefited from a relative lack of racism in government hiring are already feeling the effects. They've got one foot out the door of their gentrifying neighborhoods and many of them already feel it.

Some 'non-approved minorities' -- blacks/Latinos/etc. -- who are who are taking advantage of the exploitative circumstances just as whites/asians/indians are doing -- will be able to stay on top for a while -- most others will eventually be booted as unceremoniously as the people they uprooted. Karma doesn't care what color you are -- but people, and our economic system, do.

And to close it out, this short comment from Geekano:

I'll be convinced "gentefication" is real when a Latino can go into a White neighborhood and raise their property values.

Anyone care to add anything? Post it below.