How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

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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Report: Where Latino votes will matter most

Source: Latino Decisions

Screen shot from new report, "Where Latino Votes Will Matter in 2012"

The polling firm Latino Decisions has put together an interesting chart using census data that lists the potential states where Latino voters might have the most influence in the November 2012 presidential and U.S. Senate election outcome. The chart lists the percentage of Latinos among those eligible to vote, along with an estimate of how many Latinos who are eligible to vote aren't yet registered.

One of the questions to come out of the 2010 Census has been whether or not the dramatic growth of the U.S. Latino population - now more than 50 million strong - translates into near-term political clout, not only in terms of redistricting based on population counts, but in terms of general Latino votes. From the report that accompanies the chart, released today:

By the 2012 election, Latinos will account for over 10% of the citizen adult population – potential voters – in 11 states. In another 13 states, Latino account for 5-10% of the citizen adult population. All told, that’s 24 states where Latinos have the capacity to influence electoral outcomes, given a competitive statewide election.

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In the news this morning: FBI records of Muslim inquiry to be released, suspected smuggling off Malibu, boy attacks girl wearing hijab, more

Court orders Muslims' records released - San Francisco Chronicle A federal appeals court has ordered a judge to release the records of FBI inquiries into Muslim activists who say they were spied on.

Can Rubio help GOP with Latinos in 2012? - CNN Might Florida senator Marco Rubio become the Republican nominee for vice president?

Empty boat discovered north of Malibu possibly used to smuggle illegal immigrants, authorities say - Los Angeles Times An empty 32-foot motorboat has been found floating off the coast north of Malibu. Federal authorities say it may have been used to smuggle people, drugs or both.

Immigration Officials End Hold On Deporting Bi-National Same-Sex Couples - Talking Points Memo U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services has ended its hold on deporting foreign-born partners in same-sex marriages who would otherwise be eligible for a green card.

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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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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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