Black and Brown in Los Angeles: Beyond Conflict and Coalition (2013)

Taking space in Los Angeles has been of increasing concern for this blog and its author, making it crucial to research what the process of taking social and political space in the city has looked like in the historical periods before this one.

To this end, Black and Brown in Los Angeles: Beyond Conflict and Coalition (2013) has served as an engrossing read on the complicated ways that people have taken space from one another, alongside one another, and through one another’s influence in Los Angeles. The book should also satisfy any reader interested in the intersections between race, class and culture in urban settings like those of The City’s.

Edited by USC’s Josh Kun and the University of Oregon’s Laura Pulido, Black and Brown is comprised of nearly fifteen different feature-length essays which set out to establish a lasting conversation on some of the most meaningful interactions between Black and Latino Angelenos during the last seventy years; the post World War II era, the Immigration And Naturalization Act in 1965, and Reagan’s Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, for example, are just a few eras discussed by several featured authors.

Reviewing each essay would prove worthwhile for readers of JIMBO TIMES, but it’s also true that a moment with just one of the essays should still give readers a strong sense of what to expect from the rest of the book’s analyses. For this, I’d like to reflect briefly on a few excerpts from Gaye Theresa Johnson’s essay, entitled Spatial Entitlement: Race, Displacement, and Sonic Reclamation in Postwar Los Angeles.

Johnson discusses a period that previously seemed folkloric to The L.A. Storyteller: L.A. in the 50s. She foregrounds her discussion with an important note on the various methods of taking space, citing the difference between the construction and destruction of public housing in the United States in the post WWII era over a twenty-year period:

“Between 1949 and 1973, scores of Black and Latino communities were destroyed to make way for the postindustrial, suburban sensibilities that would characterize the modern U.S. city. Between the Housing Act of 1949 and 1967, 400,000 residential units were demolished in urban renewal areas across the nation, while only 10,760 low-rent public housing units replaced them.”

One might think of this forceful taking of space during the post WWII era as a 20th century case of gentrification. But instead of avocado toast symbolizing the inevitable modernization of urban cores housing ethnic communities, it was the dawn of the freeways that promised “overall improvement” of the city over time. The irony, of course, was that freeways spelled immediate and irreversible loss of housing for working class communities of color. Johnson cites an earlier L.A. historian, George Sanchez, on what displacement for the sake of modernization would suggest in historic terms:

“Sanchez has argued that local and federal officials used ‘applied social science research, fiscal policy, and direct intervention,’ to justify the evisceration of neighborhoods like Boyle Heights [for the development of the East Los Angeles Interchange] and, in the process, redefined postwar terms of racialization through the suppression of interracial spaces.”

So, just what does it matter anyway, if freeway development and car culture in L.A. were established nearly 70 years ago? As recently as 2015, nearly 70% of people who drove to work in L.A. drove there alone. This is significant because in a city where people spend so much time by themselves in a car, only to spend the next portion of the day at work, before getting back to the freeways in their insulated vehicles once again, the city’s infrastructure steers people away from ‘the soul’ and character of its culture. Or, as Johnson’s analysis implies, the infrastructure not only disconnects us, but it actually erodes the possibility of more democratic ‘public spheres.’

“A common sphere of congregation, what Jurgen Habermas has referred to as the ‘public sphere,’ can be a crucial site of discourse among community members, where private interests are set aside and democracies are enacted in order to determine collective good.

Taking ‘social and political space’ in this context is therefore a process of people making a claim to the environments around them by whatever means available to them. ‘Collective good,’ by extension, can be thought of as a complement to the African proverb that ‘it takes a village,’ in that it takes a village in democratized communication to determine collective good. As a a result, when people are denied access to such spaces by forces of state power and its local subsidiaries, they get creative. Or, they get active.

“Scholars of working-class resistance have argued that ‘subaltern counter publics’ are sites where oppressed groups assert their humanity and refine their articulated opposition to dominant discourses about citizenship and social membership.”

Nearly eight months ago, when the Back to School Party made its way through El Gran Burrito, the ‘driving force’ of the event’s planning was the idea that for a community which was often overlooked and passed over for the city’s more vogue terrain, that community deserved to have a space, even if the space was unconventional, temporary and limited in other ways. Just as important was that it was crucial to put together the event for the neighborhood precisely because it was difficult to do under normal circumstances. Thus, as Johnson describes L.A. city officials in the 50s taking both time and space from predominantly working class ethnic communities for the sake of ‘the greater good’ of the city’s freeways, it becomes clear how so much of Los Angeles has only ever been a matter of what might be called “space wars.”

“…In Los Angeles, the zoot suit violence of 1943, the eviction of whole communities from long-standing vibrant neighborhoods, the relocation of Japanese citizens during World War II, police repression of interracial spaces, and systematic segregation facilitated by federal mishandling of the Fair Housing Act were enduring reminders that public spaces were, at best, contested terrain. Though segregated Black and Latino communities in L.A. during this period were expanding, the symbolic place of these groups in postwar Los Angeles was diminishing. Therefore, claiming and enacting social space, both material and symbolic, was an important measure of the limits and possibilities of social membership.”

Moreover, the postwar era in Los Angeles would see Blacks, Latinos and Japanese treated as marginalized groups encroaching on the dominant order, therefore experiencing what can be thought of as some of the first modern waves of ‘multicultural’ institutionalized racism in modern U.S society, which was also a key shift away from the more historic Black-White line seen across the country at the time:

“Gerald Horne has argued that L.A. displayed a ‘rainbow racism…not solely or predominantly of the typical black-white dichotomy that obtained elsewhere. In the immediate pre- and postwar era, studies revealed that in factories where Mexicans were categorized as ‘colored,’ Blacks not only worked with them but were also given positions over them. In other plants, Mexicans and whites worked together. Further research indicated that white workers often accepted Blacks and objected to Mexicans; still another pattern was found showing that white workers accepted Mexicans but objected to Japanese.”

Johnson goes on to point out that while the state sought to keep the groups contained in the workplace, the airwaves of the radio were coming into formation; as a result, despite de jure segregation in more formal settings, 50s Jazz and Blues rhythms would spark the way towards space for youth of all backgrounds to coalesce; at shows, White, Black and Brown kids danced together in some of the only instances of proximity with one another throughout The City. Strangely, the state would attempt to contain this phenomenon as well:

“…local politicians and municipal arts administrators created the Bureau of Music in order to encourage patriotic citizenship, prevent juvenile delinquency, and promote acceptable music. But it was too late: the Blendells, Willie G, the Soul-Jers, the Jaguars, Joe Liggins, Don Tosti, the Premiers, Johnny Otis, and many others had already created a soundtrack of spatial claims concomitant with the articulation of other forms of spatial entitlement. What resulted were new visions of social membership among working-class people, whose basic citizenship rights were relentlessly compromised by the repression of working-class coalitional politics and the growth of white suburbia.”

As 1950s containment gave way to the radical 60s, teenagers in Los Angeles would discover some of the first sound-waves of interracially influenced rhythms; similarly to the way Chicanos in the 40s were inspired enough by Jazz players and their Zoot suits to fashion the look into “Pachuco” suits for themselves, Chicano musicians in the 1960s would be influenced by Black soul during the decade prior. The result was Pachuco soul, which was a key achievement for both Black and Latino audiences:

“By celebrating the sociopolitical and cultural identities that both Blacks and Chicanos identified with, the creation of Pachuco soul and its performance became a means to project an alternative body of cultural and political expression that could consider the world differently from a new perspective: its emancipatory transformation. This sonic legacy reverberated in Thee Midniters’ ‘Whittier Boulevard’ in the 1960s.”

Once again, the discussion reaches close to home; I think about the creation of POC Today in 2017 as a platform for people of color to portray themselves as opposed to only being portrayed, which is also a form of celebration of these communities, or what can be thought of as self-love turned into love for the collective whole. The media project has been on hiatus, but POCT’s existence will continue to take space in the days to come.

As Johnson makes clear, the process of crafting a world through the airwaves with all of these projects will follow in the legacy of similar claims of space by people in prior generations, with hopes of achieving, once again, extraordinary value for future generations to look back on.

“These articulations of spatial entitlement, sonic and symbolic, were often articulated in moments when the loss of space meant devastating losses of wealth for communities of color, wealth that was rarely regained. Considering the unrelenting efforts to keep Black and Brown people from recognizing their mutual stakes in a just future makes these spatial claims all the more remarkable.”

In that regard, Black and Brown in Los Angeles: Beyond Conflict and Coalition is an excellent read that gets the full nod from this Angeleno. Readers can order a copy through the web, or, as I do, see if the Los Angeles Public Library can lend it to you first!

J.T.

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The First Ever Open Mic Saturday at Cahuenga Branch Library is Now Scheduled

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April 14th, 2018; 12:15 – 2:00 PM

It’s happening. After 27 years of marking so many ‘footprints’ in a little pueblo now branded by so many real estate agents as East Hollywood–but which to me for so long has just been the place I call Home–I finally get to announce a major event in the neighborhood at which my dirty chucks and I can stand at the fore alongside fellow Angelenos and L.A. enthusiasts alike. Mark your calendars!

Poetry Day for Poetry Month is taking place on Saturday, April 14th, 2018, at the Cahuenga Branch Public Library from 12:15 PM to 2:00 PM.

It is a major event. In the downstairs section of the library, and in conjunction with the library’s book sale that day as well as with support from the congruent Friends of Cahuenga chapter, I will be serving as emcee for an Open Mic celebration of April’s Poetry Month theme. The event will feature poets from Los Angeles, refreshments from the Friends, and of course, many of the library’s delicious books for sale.

If he were still with us, I’m confident that Roger King, the chess coach, would be proud. Roger passed on last year after a brief battle with cancer, and although his games have been missed, this afternoon I could feel Roger’s local friendly spirit stamping through the classroom where the planning meeting for the event was held, just like when he oversaw the handful of chess battles on the boards there.

Naturally, as the event organizer, I’ve got my eyes on other locals in the neighborhood for the big day, but every reader and supporter or friend of a friend of JT is officially invited to come out. There are also more details of the event to come, but for now consider yourself informed:

We are going to make you proud Los Angeles.

J.T.

Los Angeles: Roots

Almost a year ago to the tee, following a recommendation from a friend, I got my hands on a little book called City of Quartz by Mike Davis.

It felt like a brilliant discovery, since as early as the book’s first pages, one thing was clear: whether in discussing the international interests of downtown L.A.’s skyscrapers or township rebellion through the streets of South Central, City of Quartz’s Mike Davis was someone who cared about Los Angeles.

In turn, I went through a few of Quartz’s chapters on the site, and had a blast analyzing the roots of The City in response to the author’s perspectives on it.

But then, something happened.

It was a great but unpredictable time for me. On the one hand, I was having a lot of fun earning a little bit of money from freelance writing and photography, not to mention time with The Plus Me Project and The Beautiful Gate, but on the other hand, it wasn’t enough.

It’d been just a year since I graduated from college, and though JIMBO TIMES had taken me to Miami, when I got back from the trip I could see that if I wanted to keep going places I’d have to make some sacrifices.

I then did what so many of my peers did before me, as our families did before us: I found myself a job, earned a little bit of pay, and called it a day.

It was good: I could finally help mom out at home on a more sustainable level, and I could also just help myself with anything from gas money to a new memory card for my camera.

But it was also tough: while I could see my time in the service industry with Starbucks as something honorable and even brilliant, I also felt that it was a significant digression from my interests in work for youth, education, and of course, the writing!

Work with the company was also exhausting; standing on my feet for so many hours of the day made it so that when I got home I found myself too worn out to keep my eyes up through a book as dense as Mike Davis’s Quartz.

I had to let it go, then. And let it go I did.

I told myself I’d get back to the book and the rest of J.T. soon enough, but then the days passed, and then some other projects came up, and then:

Boom!

From one week to the next, I got wrapped up in the cha-ching noise, numbers, and framework of it all; even if I wasn’t earning much, there was this rhythm to it that I respected — and, who am I kidding — it was a matter of getting some bread.

But the thing is: even if it was all well and fine to work and work hard, it also took time from The L.A. Storyteller, and I couldn’t just let this go.

In response, in January of this year I made some changes to my schedule in an effort to regain the time I’d lost with J.T. and was successful in doing so. Moreover, I was chosen for a special project with the Inside Out Writers, and just like that: my framework expanded.

Contrary to a silent skepticism, then, J.T. was still growing after all; new seeds were being planted, and earlier seeds were blooming at last.

But there was still more: more I needed to give to JIMBO TIMES, and more which I needed to sort of get back to…like City of Quartz, L.A. Stories, and other extensions of the site not just for me personally, but for the kids.

On seeing this, I realized that I had to make some sacrifices again, but this time in the other direction;

I had to get back to myself.

And so I do.

Tonight it’s a bittersweet pleasure to announce that I’m finished with Starbucks at the end of July, and that my project with the Inside Out Writers has grown into a precious part-time position with the organization.

It’s also a pleasure to announce that I’ll be picking up where I left off with City of Quartz over the next few weeks. The thing is, these pages are dedicated to The People of The City, and critical literature by those before us plays an integral part in just how the pages continue to form. I can’t just let this go, even when I do let it go.

As such, it’s about to get literary again, and so I hope The People are ready.

There’s too much going on in the world for us to neglect our voice in it. Plus, studies show that many of the kids from the neighborhood start to slump during the summer. But nah’, we choose to make the opposite true: this summer is now officially dedicated to reading, writing, and more work to uplift The People of L.A.

With more soon,

J.T.

Making Face, Making Soul (1990)

Before time runs out, it’s a pleasure to introduce my book for the month, which will be one of the greatest literary goldmines on my shelf for a long time to come. Below is an excerpt from Making Face, Making Soul: Critical Perspectives by Women of Color:

“¡LA CULTURA! ¡LA RAZA!
Sometimes all it means to me is suffering. Tragedy. Poverty. Las caras de los tortured santos y las mujeres en luto, toda la vida en luto. La miseria is not anything I want to remember and everything I cannot forget. Sometimes the bravery in facing and struggling in such life is too little. The courage with which a people siguen luchando against prejudice and injustice is not glory enough…” – Edna Escamill, Corazon de una Anciana

The book is a collection of writings by women of color from all across the United States, gathered and edited by the late, great Gloria Anzaldua.

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I had the fortune to learn about the book after a dear friend of mine shared one of its essays with me: Aleticia Tijerina’s Notes on Oppression and Violence. In it, Tijerina speaks of her life with imprisonment since the age of twelve, and describes the herculean feat of finding and maintaining love for herself before an unrelenting enemy, both in the state and in herself. I was riveted by the power of Tijerina’s voice, which was filled as much by rage as it was by beauty.

“We were all imprisoned for various crimes against the State: impersonating men; escaping abusive homes; setting fires; taking drugs; robbery ’cause we were hungry…Most of our so-called “crimes” we’re acts of resistenc or rebellion against an oppressive family, school, society; for many of us, our cultural identity had been battered and abused since birth.”

Though I couldn’t fully comprehend it at the moment, I knew on hearing Tijerina’s voice that I’d found a living, breathing genius, who — most importantly– was in close proximity to my community. Little did I know how many more writers just like her were out there.

In Gloria Anzaldua’s Haciendo Caras, there’s an entire generation of women –like Tijerina but also substantially different– who have published their voices after a lifetime of being silenced.

There’s no doubt about the brilliance of each voice in this endeavor. Gloria Anzaldua and her contemporaries show themselves to be masterful writers who have not only studied their subjects, but who have also taken the time to weave them in terms that pulse vividly with life for the reader.

She sat cross-legged and still on top of the hill, at first watching and then becoming part of the moonlight, the brilliant sun. Tall yellow grasses stood stiff and dry and were blown down by the first harsh winds of winter. When the rains came, the earth sprouted in green and tender innocence. She listened to the meditative soul of winter and felt the quickening of spring and each of the seasons in turn: she knew that Time was inside of her.

Journeying alongside each writer in Making Face, I found myself humbled to learn of their intricate arguments, which reveal difficult positions on how to achieve a total humanity between male, female, and other identities alike.

For example, how should ‘women of color’ identify themselves as women who are distinct from the dominant white women’s feminist movement at the same time that they search for the mutual liberation of both white and non-white women, i.e. all women?

And how can women of color increase the publication of their perspectives when the major industries of publication are themselves caught in a power struggle between white females and their white male counterparts?

Similarly, how do women of color reconcile their relationships with others who call themselves allies, but who are only interested in their own personal gain from the movement?

And in Anzaldua’s words, how do women of color resist the imposition of internalized self-loathing on their counterparts?

Like the (colonizer) we try to impose our version of ‘the way things should be’: we try to impose one’s self on the Other by making her the recipient of one’s negative elements, usually the same elements that the Anglo projected on us. Like them, we project our own self-hatred on her: we stereotype her; we make her generic.

The response to these challenges vary from voice to voice, and themselves only represent a sample of the book’s many subjects, but Making Face manages to place its multiple different perspectives in a way that still indicates a true solidarity between them.

For this, I know that JIMBO TIMES is privileged to share the collection with the people of Los Angeles, as well as with the many other fans across the globe (yeah, we’re worldwide </:).

And to be sure, there’s far more that can be said about the collection — of its beautiful treatment of dreams and time and space, or of its historic lens across the decades — but of course, there’s only so much we can say before time runs out.

For now, check out Making Face, Making Soul for yourself; I assure you you won’t regret it!

With more soon,

J.T.