How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Armenian American grocery shoppers, representing

Photo by Lory Tatoulian

Shopping for cucumbers at Super King, April 2011

Photo by Lory Tatoulian

Shopping for cucumbers at Super King, April 2011


In the past few days, L.A.'s vast but often underrepresented Armenian American community has been representing in force in Multi-American's comments section.

Why? Because the talented comedian and writer Lory Tatoulian was kind enough to take readers on a tour of the Super King supermarket in Glassell Park, one of a local chain of grocery warehouse stores catering to the Armenian palate.

As part of an occasional series of informal guides to ethnic supermarkets that we're compiling, Lory showed us where to find the basterma and the soujoukh, and warned us of the fiercely competitive shopping habits of those black-clad grandmothers. In a sequel post, she described the symbolic peace among Middle Eastern olive oils on the shelf and provided what seems like sound advice: Stay far away from the green tarragon soda.

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Quote of the moment: L.A. as 'the vanguard of a new definition of what makes us American'

Photo by Salina Canizales/Flickr (Creative Commons)

L.A. City Hall, May 2009

A series of recent posts that began with the questions printed on the floor at a new Los Angeles museum has sparked a good conversation that I'd like to keep going.

Yesterday, Ecuadorean-born Diego Cardoso wrote about the mixed cultural identity he'd acquired living in Los Angeles since his teens, becoming "Ecuadorean by birth, Mexican-American by accident and culture, Minnesotan by marriage, and Angeleno by geographic location."

This morning I awoke to another thoughtful comment along the same lines, this one from a reader named Gherhardt:

You've got to love the salad bowl that is Los Angeles. Only here could you have the intermingling and mixing of cultures, foods, languages and blood. I am part of this dynamic, and I am a part of three different cultures that are strikingly different from each other: Asian, Hispanic and American.

My children are beneficiaries of this legacy of polyculturism. It makes me proud that we are in the vanguard of a new definition of what makes us American.

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In the news this morning: Fewer border crossings, employer immigration crackdown, proposed national Latino museum, more

Border crossings: Plunge in illegal crossers leaves agents fighting boredom - Los Angeles Times Border infrastructure that includes stadium lighting, triple fencing, and more border agents - plus the economic recession - are credited with a steep drop in illegal crossings along the southwest border since 2000.

Cases Target Illegal Labor - Wall Street Journal The federal government continues its crackdown on employers who hire illegally, charging the owners of one restaurant chain with hiding the employment of hundreds of unauthorized workers.

State immigration bills meet mixed fates - USA Today It's been nearly a year since Arizona's SB 1070 was signed into law, inspiring copycat bills in several states. But few of these bills have met with much success.

Immigration Pressure on Obama Intensifies - New York Times While there is little prospect of a broad immigration overhaul in the near future, the administration is under pressure from Latino political leaders and some Democrats to ease up on deportations.

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Today's immigration segment on KPCC's Madeleine Brand Show (Audio)

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

A student's shirt at a coming-out event in Orange County, March 10, 2011

This morning I appeared on KPCC's Madeleine Brand Show to provide a rundown of what's happening in immigration news, including the continuing activism of undocumented college students and graduates who would have been eligible for the Dream Act.

Off-Ramp host John Rabe subbed for Madeleine, who is out.

Among the things we covered were the planned May 1 march for immigrant rights in Los Angeles, where the momentum that surrounded the big immigration rallies of 2006 has gone since, and whether there really is safety in numbers as more undocumented youths who were raised in the United States "come out" with their immigration status as a political act.

The audio for the segment can be downloaded here.

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'Ecuadorean by birth, Mexican American by accident...and Angeleno by geographic location'

Photo by Keith Skelton/Flickr (Creative Commons)

The skyline as seen from the east, November 2009

A post yesterday on the unexpected questions scattered around the new LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes museum in downtown Los Angeles - some of them printed on the floor - prompted a response from reader Diego Cardoso that resonated with me, as it might with other readers.

The questions at the museum, which highlights local Mexican American history, included these: Do you identify yourself by your nationality? What would you bring if you had to move to a new place?

Cardoso, who was born in Ecuador, wrote:

I migrated to the U.S. when I was 17 years old. My hopes at that time were very modest. I wanted to learn English and hope for the best. Since I was granted a student visa and attended Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights, my first impression of Los Angeles was through an Eastside perspective.

As my life evolved, I became more Mexican/Latino and never thought about a nationality. I do not know when I realized that that my home had become Los Angeles. At times in my life I hated L.A. (the urban infrastructure) but loved the magical synergy of different communities and people. I got lost in L.A. and succumbed to its magical power of allowing me to reinvent myself. Nowhere to return; home is L.A.

The day I became a U.S. citizen was an ordinary day in my life. The extraordinary day was when I first went to the polls to cast my vote. That day I realized I had became a citizen of the Americas. Ecuadorean by birth, Mexican-American by accident and culture, Minnesotan by marriage, and Angeleno by geographic location.

If I had to move to a new place, I would take the photos I have taken of Los Angeles, the memories of an ugly, always evolving and magical cultural place I call home.

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