By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The cumulative effect of these trends, aggravated by the death of black activism, has been a growing anxiety among black people that their window of opportunity may be closing, that the long era of a black-dominated social and civil rights agenda may be coming to an end. "The two communities are divergent in that immigrant groups are starting to gain footholds, while blacks feel stymied, or like they’re going backward," says Raphael Sonenshein, a professor of political science at Cal State Fullerton. "Latinos are starting to see a glimmer of light. Blacks are seeing it go out."
So we are still reeling and dealing, or trying to. I know a guy out there braving the elements of change whom Najee Ali would be happy to know, one Fred Thomas, who lives in the hinterlands of the West Adams district — not in the grand gentrified mansions with the maid’s quarters, but in the area well south of Adams Boulevard that is a liberal mix of houses and apartment buildings. Thomas and his family did a stint once in the San Fernando Valley, but they came back. He and his wife were active in growing the nascent South Los Angeles Little League a few years back; Thomas has long been involved with organizing the annual Louisiana to Los Angeles (LALA) Festival, which celebrates specifically Creole and generally Southern influences that shaped the black community here. Thomas has watched things go from good to bad to worse, and figures that what can best be done now is neighborhood micro-management: Absent an articulated black social agenda, tackle the big, seemingly intractable problems of gangs, drugs and shifting demographics through a series of small but doable things, like baseball outings and park festivals. The only trouble is that, these days, the small things are monumental too, in part because there aren’t enough interested parties to see them through. "We have no more immigration," Thomas says of the black population in Central L.A. "No fresh blood. We’ve spent ourselves out. We’ve given up a toehold on the property. We look around and see fewer and fewer entities created for us, and more and more created for Latinos."
Thomas states the ambivalence toward Latino growth that many black folks feel: It is a population certainly entitled to its progress — indeed, it is nothing we can stop and, recalling our own immigrant beginnings, most often something we admire — but it also cannot help but stand in relief to our own decline, and heighten the attending anxieties. Arturo Ybarra is a Watts resident and activist who has been trying to get people there to make peace with that ambivalence, to go forward in spite of it. Watts went from majority black to majority Latino well before neighboring South Los Angeles. Ybarra founded an annual black/Latino Cinco de Mayo festival, runs a Latino support organization and also heads up a grassroots effort to organize black and Latino parents around public-education issues in Watts. He’s had, as you might imagine, the least success with the last endeavor; it has proven particularly difficult to sustain black parent involvement. But Ybarra, a man with a cheerful disposition and the immutable patience of a cleric, is not going away or giving up. "Blacks are going to need us," he says. "They are in a crisis. Latinos have few options, but blacks have even fewer. There’s no sense in fighting. Though certain things imply racial hate, it’s not necessarily that blacks are aggressing against Latinos because they’re Latino. The bottom line is a lack of opportunities, jobs for everyone — that’s the most exacerbating factor. No one wants to look at that, because it’s much easier to play the race thing."
Yet Ybarra understands that the "race thing" is not immaterial; otherwise he would not have bothered to form a group that builds first on the strength of Latino solidarity. Nor is the "race thing" a case of modern-day xenophobia among colored folks, as the media often makes it out to be before magnanimously dismissing it altogether. Ethnic identity, before being cumbered with politics and focus groups and the latest Disney flick, is a destiny in itself. It is a destiny blacks in the city once had — perhaps they never reached it, but the critical thing is that for a while, anyway, they had something to want. The ranks that are left agree plenty on what they don’t want — graffiti, gangs, more of those pesky low-income housing units that breed trouble — but even all added up these things are not enough of a cause. We have much free-floating desire, but nothing to want. I hope my own desire puts down roots before I wake up one morning to find that it’s led me out of my south-end-of-Wilshire-district apartment to some point too comfortably west of Crenshaw. Or is that Palos Verdes Boulevard? Ah well. Del Amo mall at last — at least — will be within walking distance.