How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

The cultural mashup dictionary: Gentefication

Photo by Texas T/Flickr (Creative Commons)


I first heard the term "gentefication" uttered a few years ago by the proprietor of Eastside Luv, a Boyle Heights wine bar that opened on First Street during the height of the real estate boom and rising fear of gentrification in the historic seat of Mexican American Los Angeles.

At the time, locals were becoming worried (they still are) over encroaching development from the west, including the still-standing plans for an upscale redevelopment of the neighborhood's vast Wyvernwood Gardens apartment complex. In the midst of this, Guillermo Uribe, a young Mexican American investor with L.A. roots farther east, had taken over and renovated the former Metropolitan, a former mariachi bar across from Mariachi Plaza. At the time, the corner's best view was of Gold Line construction.

Some locals were worried about the new wine bar, too. Even as a Latino-owned business, was it a harbinger of higher rents? It has since become a popular gathering spot for a mostly second-generation crowd, many of them professionals with Eastside roots. In an email last week, after reconnecting with Uribe over a KPCC radio segment about Eastside Luv's regular MorrisseyOke nights, he used the term again:

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What's your First Street Bridge story?

Photo by aarline.info/Flickr (Creative Commons)


As far as bridges go, it's neither tall, spectacular nor a tourist attraction. But in the hearts of generations of Angelenos who have grown up crossing it, the First Street Bridge holds a special place. The bridge spans not only the Los Angeles River, but a stark division of culture, race and class in the city. It's only one of a series of bridges built in the early decades of the last century that connect downtown with the Eastside (the real Eastside, as in east of the river), but this one leads into the center of its cultural heart, Boyle Heights.

The bridge officially reopens Tuesday after a years-long widening project to accommodate the Gold Line. Driving across it - whether heading west toward the gleaming downtown office buildings, or east toward home - has always been special for me, having grown up crossing back and forth over the river during my upbringing in Huntington Park. From the bridge it was east on First, then right on Soto, then south past the Vernon factories to Gage.

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Changing times on Boyle Heights' E. 1st Street (Video)

#loveLA from Steve Saldivar on Vimeo.

How do you love L.A.? An entry submitted to KPCC's #loveLA crowdsourced video feature by multimedia journalist Steve Saldivar captures a slice of L.A. in transition.

Next to Boyle Heights' venerated Mariachi Plaza, a 60-year-old mariachi sits for his portrait - which happens to be a mural of his likeness adorning the wall of Eastside Luv, a wine bar next to the plaza that opened in 2006. The video subtly captures the generational and cultural divide taking place on a gentrifying E. 1st Street, where the mariachis who have worked there for decades now find themselves elbow to elbow with upwardly mobile second- and third-generation young Latinos who frequent nightspots like Eastside Luv and the M-Bar.

The mariachi is Rafael Rubio; the muralist is Robert Vargas, an up-and-coming L.A. artist who grew up in Boyle Heights.

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Resistance to the wrecking ball in Boyle Heights' Wyvernwood apartments

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

A between-buildings playground at the Wyvernwood complex, February 2011

Just as some Santa Ana residents are battling gentrification that they fear could displace Latino businesses and residents, so are some of the residents of Boyle Heights, especially those in the sprawling 1939 mega-complex known as the Wyvernwood Garden Apartments.

I've written about this place before, a 1,187-unit, 6,000-resident mini-city within a city, so huge it's often mistaken for a housing project. The privately owned complex has housed generations of immigrants in the longtime port of entry that Boyle Heights has traditionally been, starting with European Jewish immigrants and later, multiple generations of Latino families, mostly immigrants from Mexico and their descendants.

Wyvernwood has faced the wrecking ball since early 2008, when its owners announced they'd be razing the aging 70-acre complex, which includes a large amount of green space, to make room for a more dense mixed-use development of rentals, condos and retail, including high-rises. Of the 4,400 planned units, less than 700 would be set aside for affordable housing, according to preservation activists.

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Boyle Heights, the 'Ellis Island of the West Coast'

Today's Patt Morrison show on KPCC featured a segment on one of my favorite Los Angeles neighborhoods, Boyle Heights.

The neighborhood has been a part of my life since childhood, having grown up not far away in Huntington Park. We shopped at the Sears on Olympic Boulevard, took our sick to White Memorial Medical Center on Cesar Chavez Avenue. For all its problems, this is a part of town that holds memories for many an Eastside-raised Angeleno. The show dedicated a special interactive web page to the Boyle Heights segment, with video and other elements, and this description:

It’s the Ellis Island of the West Coast, the community in which the first immigrants from a myriad of different ethnic and religious groups settled and one of the oldest neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Boyle Heights, at one time home to Jewish and Japanese immigrants and now predominantly Latino, is the focal point for how the city of Los Angeles has served low income families and whether future development will protect those most vulnerable residents.

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