Re: the New Wine Bar, Alma’s, on the Corner Where Our Neighborhood Forms a “Promise Zone”

Dear Mr. President,

I hope this note finds you well. On the subject of “returning to normal” once the majority of our cities and communities are vaccinated, I’d like to bring up an old, but recurringly fresh topic on my mind as well as that of many in my community in Los Angeles.

As you may know, for centuries, white people in the United States have had exclusive access to land by way of colonies, plantations, titles, segregation, FHA loans, redlining, zoning, credit access, the suburbs, and more.

Can you explain to us, then, how their now fraternizing over drinks in our ‘hood, which until recently was avoided by both private and federal banks for its Black and immigrant residents, isnot recreating this exclusive access?

This is exactly the case at “Alma’s,” a bar recently opened underneath apartments that house Latinx families at one of the most disinvested intersections for our community through at least two decades.

The reason it’s outrageous that this bar has suddenly opened in our vicinity is because little Brown kids from our community were killed across the street from its doors, and indeed on the same block.

As our neighborhood still reels from racist disinvestment in health, housing, and educational opportunities for our families, then, the new bar acts like a vortex, vacuuming in white money away for white investors’ keep, all while a Brown reality surrounding it remains politically and socially abandoned, as it has for generations.

The census tract for the area, 191410, shows a Median Household Income of $34,000 a year, or roughly half of L.A. County’s, placing the majority of families in the area well within the federal poverty level.

On top of this, public records state that at least 20% of people living on the same tract where the bar now operates rely on food stamps to pay for meals and groceries. This is a rate second only to that of the tract right below, 191420, where 23% of residents rely on food stamps.

That’s approximately 600 people in a six block radius, not counting undocumented and/or unhoused residents, of whom in the vicinity there are many, barely getting by, as white people throw money away on lavish drinks for themselves at this establishment, which was permitted to operate after a spot-zoning ordinance by local City Council Member, Mitch O’Farrell, in 2018.

The bar is also situated directly beneath residential housing, where Latinx abuelitas and mijas have resided for decades, and is even less than 500 feet from our community’s Lockwood Elementary school. I’ve got a feeling that this wouldn’t happen in neighborhoods throughout the Pacific Palisades, Bel Air, or Malibu, so why should it happen in ours?

Due in no small part to those whiter, more exclusive neighborhoods, as of January 2021, the median price for a single-family home in L.A. County reached $650,000. This makes the tiny blocks in our neighborhood much of all we have for the foreseeable future.

Yet suddenly, in our neighborhood, liquor licenses, paid for by white patrons, are welcome? That is the definition of Planning Violence, meaning that is how inequality for some is designated and manufactured while access and rights are reserved for just a privileged few.

Walking past “Alma’s” recently, Mr. President, I could spot shame on some of the faces behind the bar’s screen, a shame betraying cowardice, as they looked back in our direction while still failing to see our humanity before returning to a fantasy world which plays more like a nightmare for those of us only in its peripherals.

Candles for Anthony, a youth and local in the neighborhood slain in October 2019 just over 300 feet from where “Alma’s” now operates.

Long-time neighbors and community members around the new bar have also witnessed yellow tape cordoning off white chalk lines, where Brown bodies fell to their deaths on the street, as well as police handcuffing and incapacitating Brown youth before hauling them into police cruisers, even during quarantine.

And so we hope you can appreciate, Mr. President, that if there’s one thing we know after these experiences:

It’s that we don’t lose Brown lives on our streets for white wine bars to take home–outside of our neighborhoods–the pay.

Alma’s” disruptive presence in our community is not equity for our kids. It’s not support for 600 neighbors on food-stamps, and it’s certainly not justice for redlined Black and immigrant families here; it’s a product of Jim Crow policies by public officials in Los Angeles who shut the door to working-class communities but line boulevards for investors.

To be sure about our neighborhood, though, Mr. President, please also note that it was designated as a “Promise Zone” under the Obama administration in 2014.


According to the fact sheet for Promise Zone neighborhoods in Los Angeles, strategies to create equity for communities in areas like ours are supposed to include (bold J.T.’s):

  • Increasing housing affordability by preserving existing affordable housing and partnering with housing developers to increase the supply of affordable new housing to prevent displacement.

  • Ensuring all youth have access to a high-quality education, and are prepared for college and careers through its Promise Neighborhoods initiative, by partnering with the Youth Policy Institute and L.A. Unified School District to expand its Full Service Community Schools model from 7 schools to all 45 Promise Zone schools by 2019.

  • Ensuring youth and adult residents have access to high-quality career and technical training opportunities that prepare them for careers in high-growth industries through partnerships with career and technical training schools and the Los Angeles Community College District.

  • Investing in transit infrastructure including bus rapid transit lines and bike lanes, and promoting transit-oriented development (TOD) that attracts new businesses and creates jobs.

  • Charging its Promise Zone Director and Advisory Board with eliminating wasteful and duplicative government programs.

Unfortunately, Mr. President, the Youth Policy Institute was shut down for embezzlement in 2019, leaving this part of our promise glaringly unfulfilled. But in addition to goals laid out by the Promise Zone we’d still like to see come to fruition, we’ve also got a simple suggestion for what our neighborhoods can use to begin creating equity here:

Federally subsidized housing and zero-interest loans for Black and immigrant communities, so we may live without the threat of displacement and banishment and open our own shops in our neighborhoods; that’s all.

In terms of “wasteful and duplicative government programs” to eliminate, yours truly personally submits that the 13th District Council Member’s office for our community has fit this profile for decades, and that it should be shut down and rebuilt for our neighborhoods in the actual interests of our Promise Zone.

J.T.

80 Years Ago, when the Klan Marched through Downtown L.A.

In 2021, so called “Anti-Maskers” are wreaking havoc for Black and Latinx retail workers across Los Angeles, harassing official vaccination efforts at Dodger stadium, and gathering hundreds of thousands of signatures to recall the 40th governor of California, which will prove an expensive campaign for the state to rebuff. There is almost no evidence that the LAPD or the FBI have significantly arrested or investigated members of these groups for their potential involvement in criminal activity against the larger public.

But this is not the first time that such groups have gone unchecked by local and state officials in California. 80 years ago, a group of hood-wearing white supremacists in Los Angeles similarly made their voices heard, and like today’s predominantly white “mobs,” they were also unimpeded by LAPD forces. The California Eagle reported:

The California Eagle on April 4, 1940; Courtesy of the Internet Archive

Failure of police to halt the parade of Kluxers was severely lashed by prominent leaders. Twenty hooded members of the Los Angeles Klan No. 1 marched through downtown streets handing out handbills denouncing communism.”

The California Eagle on April 4, 1940; Courtesy of the Internet Archive

While twenty hooded Klan members marching without a permit for two hours surely created panic for nearby African American service workers and other non-whites, editors for The California Eagle reported that no Klansmen were arrested or even questioned.

Editors for the paper also noted that: “Department officials explained that it was not necessary to obtain a parade permit, since there were assertedly less than 30 marchers. Violent protests are expected from civil liberties groups and private citizens. Rebirth of the Klan [had] been heralded for more than two years, but Saturday’s demonstration was the first blatant indication of active local participation.”

The California Eagle on April 4, 1940; Courtesy of the Internet Archive

Less than two years after the Klan’s march, on February 19, 1942, tens of thousands of Japanese American men, women, and children in Los Angeles would be rounded up at Union Station to be placed in Concentration Camps, as they were officially called at the time, where they would remain against their will for over four years.

Japanese Americans herded at Union Station to be sent to Concentration Camps, February 1942; Tessa collections at L.A. Public Library

And in 1943, “…with the Japanese out of the way, anxious white hysteria in Los Angeles led to increased targeting and attacks against Mexican Americans in the city, culminating with the arrest of 17 Chicano youth alleged to be members of the 38th street ‘gang,’ based on weak evidence accusing them of murdering a fellow Mexican American youth at ‘Sleepy Lagoon.'”

No reports or evidence of any Japanese Americans, Mexican Americans, or African Americans rallying for their “supremacy” throughout Los Angeles could be found, however.

J.T.

What to Communities of Color in America Is White “Insurrection”

Dear Colleagues, Friends, and Loved Ones,

There has been an expected wave of statements from higher education administrators, academic departments, research centers, and prominent individuals affiliated with our fields of work regarding the armed deadly takeover of the United States Capitol by self-declared “patriots” on January 6, 2021. I must be honest that I dread adding to this noise, which is why I have waited a few days to send this note. I do not write on behalf of the American Studies Association (ASA) or its leadership body, but rather out of a humble sense of accountability to the communities of radical and abolitionist movement that nourish me.

Last week’s spectacular white nationalist coup attempt may have been exceptional in form, but (for many of us) it was entirely familiar–utterly “American”–in content. It is misleading, historically inaccurate, and politically dangerous to frame this event–and the condition that produced it–as an isolated or extremist exception to the foundational and sustained violence that constitutes the United States. As the surging neo-Confederates in the Capitol building made clear, there is a long tradition of (fully armed) populist, extra-state, and (ostensibly) extra-legal reactionary movement that holds a lasting claim of entitlement on the nation and its edifices of official power.

Further, the steady trickle of information from January 6 indicates that police power–including the prominent presence of (former) police and “Blue Lives Matter” in the coup itself–animated and populated this white nationalist siege. Contrary to prevailing accounts, this event was not defined by a failure of police power, but rather was a militant expression of it.

People in the extended ASA community have organized their lifework around practices of freedom, knowledge, and teaching that unapologetically confront this physical and figurative mob in, before, and beyond 2021. I write as your colleague, comrade, and “ASA President” to urge you to invigorate and expand your scholarly, activist, and creative labors in this time of turmoil. The ASA is but one modest apparatus at your disposal.

Finally, I encourage a collective embrace of an ethnic and practice that is common to some, though under-discussed by far too many: collective, communal self-defense. This robust ethnic and practice is not only central to abolitionist, liberationist, Black (feminist, queer, trans) radical, and indigenous self-determination traditions of mutual aid and community building, but is also a necessary aspect of “campus life” for many of us in the ASA. The need to develop well-deliberated, mutually accountable forms of self-defense cannot be abstracted, caricatured, or trivialized in this moment of asymmetrical vulnerability to illness and terror. Get your back, and get each other’s backs, in whatever way you can.

D.R.

Dylan Rodríguez (@dylanrodriguez) is Professor in the Department of Media and Cultural Studies at UC Riverside.  He was named to the inaugural class of Freedom Scholars in 2020 and is President of the American Studies Association (2020-2021).  He recently served as the faculty-elected Chair of the UCR Division of the Academic Senate (2016-2020) and as Chair of Ethnic Studies (2009-2016).  After completing his Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley in 2001, Dylan spent his first sixteen years at UCR in Ethnic Studies before joining Media and Cultural Studies in 2017.