How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Do we live in the nation's most diverse city? It depends.

Photo by Chelsea Nicole Conner/Flickr (Creative Commons)

The skyline as seen from the Griffith Observatory, August 2010

As it promotes its special quarterly issue highlighting Los Angeles, the magazine GOOD recently posted an interesting short piece that examines how diversity is measured - and where, depending on the metrics, Los Angeles places among other large U.S. cities.

From the piece:

If you look at the total number of minorities in an area, Los Angeles does come out on top. According to county-level data from the 2007 U.S. Census, Los Angeles County has more Hispanic residents (4.7 million), Asian residents (1.4 million), and Native American residents (146,500) than any other in the nation. But that’s largely because Los Angeles County has more people, period. L.A. County has 9.8 million residents, nearly twice that of Cook County, Illinois, the second largest.

Another method is to look at the percentage of minorities in an area. By this measure, according to the online data repository City-Data, New York is the most diverse major city, with only 35 percent of residents identifying as “white only,” followed by Dallas, Chicago, and Houston. However, City-Data’s figures don’t jibe with the 2005 to 2009 U.S. Census American Community Survey, which places the New York figure at 45.4, behind Chicago’s 41.9 percent.

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On the trail of the Tapatío Doritos

Photo by Jeremy Brooks/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Last week, I came across a Facebook update from a friend with a photo that made my heart skip a beat. It was a small photo of a bag of Doritos, on the front a familiar and revered image: The smiling man in the sombrero from the label of the Tapatío hot sauce bottle.

Her message:

OMFG!!! I have been waiting a long time for this.

Ditto, sister. L.A.'s own Tapatío hot sauce, the closely-guarded secret of a local Mexican American family business, is a regional obsession. Before it became available nationwide, I remember smuggling it in my carry-on bag to California expats on the east coast, even to a friend who had moved to Europe.

And wisely, after years of creating bizarre flavors that range from the very un-taco-like "Original Taco" and even faux pizza, Frito-Lay recently got wise, apparently, to the fact that many people like to douse the company's chips in Tapatío sauce. Sure, there are flavors like "Flamas," blazing-hot Doritos the deep red color of imaginary hellfire with a lemony tang, but it's no Tapatío sauce. The Tapatío-flavored Doritos - along with Tapatío-flavored Fritos - have only been available recently.

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Angelenos and Angeleños in the age of the Korean taco

Photo by Ron Reiring/Flickr (Creative Commons)


And while those of us there didn't come away with any clear answer, we did come away with some great ideas and insightful observations from both the audience and the panelists.

The idea for the panel came out of a piece written a couple of months ago by Southern California author D.J. Waldie on the disappearance of the Spanish consonant ñ, pronounced “enye,” from "Angeleños" in the late 19th century as eastern and midwestern migrants came west, diluting and eventually burying the city's Spanish-speaking identity.

But with all of the demographic changes that have occurred in Los Angeles since, a discussion of the city's evolving identity today seemed in order. Waldie joined me on the panel, as did Eric Avila, an associate professor of Chicano studies, history and urban planning at UCLA.

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Angelenos/Angeleños speak out on who they are

In a brief post yesterday, I mentioned that I'll be moderating a panel next week at KPCC titled "Angelino, Angeleno, Angeleño: Who are we?"

It's going to be a discussion on the evolving identity of Los Angeles, based on a popular post on the KCET website a couple of months ago by author D.J. Waldie about the disappearance of the Spanish consonant ñ (pronounced “enye”) from "Angeleños," the original Spanish term for city residents.

I threw out a few questions yesterday: What is an Angeleno today? How does the culture we were raised in, and the part of the L.A. area we call home, shape how we define ourselves? In great polyglot Los Angeles of the 21st Century, do we still define ourselves geography, by area code, by ethnicity?

On KPCC's Facebook page, several readers shared their thoughts. A particular line from one of the readers below resonated: "Angelenos are all a little Mexican, a little Korean, a little Jewish no matter where they're actually from."

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Angelino, Angeleno, Angeleño: Who are we?

Photo by jwilly/Flickr (Creative Commons)

The skyline from the top of Runyon Canyon Park in Hollywood, January 2008

A couple of months ago, I featured an excerpt from a popular post on the KCET website by author D.J. Waldie on the disappearance of the Spanish consonant ñ, pronounced “enye,” from the word that we in Los Angeles use to describe ourselves.

Angeleños became Angelenos toward the end of the 19th century, as eastern and midwestern migrants came west, changing the region's Spanish-speaking identity. But over the course of the 20th century and into the 21st, that identity has continued to evolve as the cultural landscape is continuously reshaped by newcomers from Latin America and elsewhere around the globe.

What is an Angeleno today? How does the culture we were raised in, and the part of the L.A. area we call home, shape how we define ourselves?

I'll be taking up these and other questions next Tuesday night during a panel event at KPCC. My guests will include Waldie, who is one of my favorite local authors, and Eric Avila, an associate professor of Chicano studies, history and urban planning at UCLA.

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