Photo by Nomadic Lass/Flickr (Creative Commons)
In stories of gentrification, that process by which lower-income neighborhoods are renovated through an influx of wealth that simultaneously pushes poorer residents and merchants out, the role of the gentrifier is often played by whites, the role of the displaced by people of color.
But it's not that simple, as seen in the conversations surrounding a couple of recent posts on Multi-American and its Washington, D.C. sister site DCentric. Neighborhoods in both cities have been experiencing investment in businesses and real estate by more affluent minorities, notably Latinos in Los Angeles' historic Boyle Heights and blacks in D.C.'s Anacostia community.
What is the role of the gentrifier of color? In a piece titled "Shades of Gentrification" on the KCET Departures site last year, Gary Dauphin explored the demographic changes that have occurred in neighborhoods like Venice's once-predominantly black Oakwood community, writing eloquently about the people who "often sit between the place's old and new incarnations, becoming the positive 'local color' that gives a gentrifying area its coveted character."
Screen shot from www.kcet.org
The map resonated for readers, with people posting comments like "Someone forgot about Koreatown" and "I'm one o' dem scary white people in the hills" (yes, the map labeled one area as "scary white people in the hills"). Other areas were labeled simply as "black," "brownish," "hipsters" or "homeless."
The map contest has continued, and while the entries since haven't packed quite the same punch, one stood out for depicting what is undoubtedly the tiniest of the city's officially recognized ethnic neighborhoods, Little Bangladesh.
The neighborhood, part of the larger Koreatown area, received its official designation in recent months after protracted wrangling among different ethnic groups in the area. It is a short strip along 3rd Street between New Hampshire and Alexandria avenues, named for the Bangladeshi immigrants who began settling in Koreatown about two decades ago.
Screen shot from www.kcet.org
A city that's perceived by some as multi-culti heaven is a starkly segregated place for many Angelenos, and this map serves as a reminder of that.
The map was submitted recently to KCET as part of an ongoing "Map Your L.A." contest, in which the station is seeking hand-drawn maps from residents. Contestants are asked to map the city as it applies to them and their experience of it. One contest entry portrays the city as a simple path from downtown to the beach; another focuses on the region's waterways.
This blunt, not-necessarily-PC entry from "A Concerned Citizen" makes no bones about the city's racial and ethnic boundaries. From the KCET Departures contest entry page:
This map illustrates an L.A. that is segregated by race, ethnicity, class, and sexual orientation all under an editorial title that calls for concern. The map itself is simple, with a larger message written between, under, across, and on top of the lines.