Tag: Latinx

Articles

Seeing Through Murals: The Future of Latino San Francisco

Lori A. Flores

In 1964, British sociologist Ruth Glass coined the term “gentrification” in her study of young creative professionals moving into the working-class, largely West Indian neighborhood of Islington, London. She explained, “Once this process of ‘gentrification’ starts in a district it goes on rapidly until all or most of the original working-class occupiers are displaced and the whole social character of the district is changed.”1 The late twentieth- and twenty-first-century tech-boom-related gentrification of San Francisco has undeniably changed the city’s character and its accessibility to the diverse groups—writers, artists, activists, the working class, queer people, and people of color—who have made it such a unique city in California and the world. In contrast to poet George Sterling who called San Francisco a “cool grey city of love” in 1920, writer Rebecca Solnit now deems it a “cold gray city of greed” as the incursion of new wealth has rapidly and violently displaced longtime residents.2

The predominantly Latino neighborhood of the Mission District has been particularly affected. In the longer historical view, San Francisco’s Latino demographic is highly distinctive because it has been strong and variegated since the nineteenth century. Central Americans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, and Latin Americans of other nationalities moved there beginning in the Gold Rush era; the only other city to have such a diverse Latino population so early on was New York City (which claimed more of a Caribbean demographic), to be followed much later by cities like Los Angeles and Miami. The Mission District has been San Francisco’s “Latin” neighborhood since the 1940s, but now many fear it will lose that label as thousands of its Latino residents are evicted to make room for tech titans and their employees. While some may characterize this moment of gentrification as more economically than racially consequential, the data on tech industry hiring points to the contrary. A whopping 94 percent of Facebook’s employees are white or Asian while only 3 percent are Latino, 2 percent are mixed race, and 1 percent are black. Meanwhile, blacks and Latinos together comprise only 6 percent of Twitter’s workforce and 5 percent of Google’s.With little overlap between the Latino and techie demographics, the threatened dilution or disappearance of Latino San Francisco is very real.

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The Virgin of Guadalupe shares space in the Mission District with a sign of the sharing economy. “La Virgen De Guadalupe” by Francisco “Twick” Aquino, 2007.

A long-defining characteristic of the Mission District has been its public murals, which first appeared in the 1970s in response to various local and global events as well as new city funding for public artwork. Located mostly in Balmy and Clarion Alleys, the murals infuse the neighborhood with color, creativity, and visual interest. Ironically, the cultural vibrancy that newcomer techies, investors, and young professionals value so highly in their choice to move to the Mission is exactly what will be eliminated over time with continued evictions, takeovers, and buildup. This essay offers a brief history of Latino San Francisco, using the murals of the Mission as the lens from which to examine Latinos’ historical presence in the city and to interrogate what part they will play in its future.

Historically, Latino artists in San Francisco and elsewhere have used murals as vehicles for, and symbols of, their social and political activism. They have articulated their stances on local and global issues—civil rights at home, civil wars abroad, racism, policing, and now gentrification—with paintbrushes and spray cans, and in the process have helped to cultivate a sense of Latinidad, or cultural interconnectedness between Latinos that surmounts differences in nationality and citizenship status.This essay showcases older and newer change of Mission murals, both of which comment on the simultaneous persistence and precarity of Latino artistic production on San Francisco’s streets. Many early murals have disappeared either through a lack of restoration funding or new property owners’ decisions to whitewash them. What does the erasure of some murals, and the survival or appearance of others, help reveal about the future of Latinos in the city? A few years ago, journalists and demographers questioned the future of black San Francisco (and now African Americans comprise only 6 percent of the city’s population).As one of the first big “Latino” cities of the US West, San Francisco is becoming so economically inhospitable that it is in danger of losing that historical title. With the exodus of Latinos to suburban and rural Northern California, we may be witnessing a shift back to pre-World War II demographics in that region, as well as the creation of a marginalized commuter class of Latino workers who will continue to serve an influential city but no longer be able to call it home. Do murals and the fight for their preservation have the potential to mobilize a diverse population of Latinos who want to push back against being pushed out?

• • •

Living in San Francisco even before it became San Francisco, Spanish-Mexican (Californio) rancho-owning families established deep roots in the area near the present-day Mission District. After the end of the US-Mexican War in 1848, however, these families lost their land grants to white squatters and even their own lawyers.The next year, the Gold Rush attracted migrants from all over the world and anti-Latino violence spiked. “Whether from California, Chile, Peru, or Mexico…all Spanish-speaking people were lumped together as interlopers and greasers,” and Latinos were either chased away from the gold fields by white miners or lynched by vigilante groups.In response to these attacks, Latinos turned inward and formed community with each other, constructing a Spanish-language Catholic church in the “Latin Quarter” of North Beach in 1875. When San Francisco became a leading processer of Central American coffee, Central American migrants added to the community’s diversity, as did Mexicans fleeing the Mexican Revolution of the 1910s and Puerto Ricans transitioning from jobs on Hawaiian plantations during the 1920s.8

After World War II, increasing rents in North Beach and urban development pushed Latinos to the South of Market Street Area (SoMA) and the Mission. The German, Irish, and Italian residents who had been living there began moving to newer housing in San Francisco’s western neighborhoods, which facilitated Latino settlement in the Mission along with small numbers of African Americans, Native Americans, American Samoans, and Filipino and Chinese-origin peoples.The first significant cluster of Latino restaurants, bakeries, and specialty shops soon appeared along 16th Street, and the neighborhood absorbed more newcomers, including Mexican farmworkers escaping the Bracero Program, Puerto Ricans who jumped ship instead of becoming Hawaiian sugar workers, and Nicaraguans and Salvadorans recruited by shipyards and wartime industries. By 1950, San Francisco’s Latino population totaled approximately 24,000 people, with almost a quarter of them living in the Mission.10

As San Franciscans heard more Spanish spoken on Mission streets, the perception of the neighborhood as a “poverty area” solidified.11 If one looked closer, however, multiple Latino political and social organizations had been founded by the 1950s, and a Latino-centric economy of small businesses, restaurants, grocery stores, record shops, and bookstores was thriving. When the 1960s ushered in War on Poverty initiatives and urban redevelopment, many Mission Latinos resisted the plan to build two Bay Area Rapid Transportation (BART) stops in the neighborhood. In city authorities’ eyes, BART would ostensibly revitalize and sanitize a district “well on its way to becoming a slum,” but residents rightly predicted that this infrastructure building meant displacement from several homes and businesses.12 As new waves of Cold War–era migrants—mainly Asian and Latin American refugees fleeing invasions and civil wars—moved into San Francisco, they increased the Mission’s percentage of Latinos to 44.6 percent and its foreign-born residents to 33.5 percent by 1970.13

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Details from the mural “Mission Makeover” (2012) by Lucia Ippolito and Tirso Araiza.

A concurrent influx of internal migrants, including Puerto Ricans and Mexican American farmworkers leaving California’s San Joaquin and Salinas Valleys, boosted the 1970 citywide Latino population to over 101,000.14 Still attractive for its affordability and proximity to industrial and service jobs, the Mission cost residents an average monthly rent of $105.15

Two major phenomena of the 1970s that kickstarted mural production in the Mission were the Chicano civil rights movement and the multiple civil wars taking place in Latin America. In 1970, local artists active in the Chicano Movement founded La Galería de la Raza, a nonprofit community arts organization intended to foster public awareness and appreciation of Chicano/Latino art. When the city of San Francisco began commissioning murals in the 1970s that depicted events, people, and images associated with Latino communities, Galería-affiliated artists and others painted at least fifty major murals in the Mission by 1985. Inspired by Chicano Movement graphic art as well as older Mexican artists like Diego Rivera and David Siqueiros, muralists paid tribute to a wide array of subjects including the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexican cinema stars, farmworkers, zoot suiters, and Vietnam veterans. A great number of the Mission’s early murals were painted by a group of Latinas called Las Mujeres Muralistas who fought for their place in the male-dominated world of mural-making and pointedly included women and children in their pieces. Their 1974 piece Latinoamérica intentionally strayed from the style of Mexican master muralists and paid homage to Peruvian, Venezuelan, Bolivian, and other Latin American cultures, as well as US-born Latinos, in an effort to affirm the Mission’s pan-Latino identity.17

Often the product of several artists’ work, murals are collaborative and collective art pieces that can function as an empowering mode of social bonding and an assertion of a community’s presence in a certain space. In requiring people to gather and decide what kind of art they want to live with, murals work to—as Cary Cordova argues—“solidify local and transnational communities.”18 Indeed, murals are landmarks of belonging and texts to be read for their expressed social values, political stances, or emotional responses to certain events. During the 1980s, some Mission murals commented on the farmworker movement in California. Juana Alicia’s Las Lechugueras/The Women Lettuce Workers depicted a group of women harvesters, including a pregnant worker, being sprayed with pesticides. Meanwhile in Balmy Alley, artists painted twenty-seven murals that addressed the United States’ intervention in the Nicaraguan, Guatemalan, and Salvadoran civil wars and communicated the trauma and violence experienced by these Central Americans.19 The pieces Culture Contains the Seed of Resistance and A Past That Still Lives feature ominous military police, critique economic disparities between the United States and Latin America, and express a hope for sanctuary.

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As much as the 1980s witnessed intra-Latino mixing in the Mission, they also witnessed intra-Latino tensions. Central American and Mexican day laborers jostled each other figuratively and literally as they competed for work. Branches of the Sureño, Norteño, and MS-13 gangs staked out territory and engaged in open violence. The Mission’s reputation as an increasingly dangerous neighborhood resulted in heightened police surveillance. This, however, did not diminish the area’s real estate value. After the 1989 earthquake, white and Asian residents unable to buy property elsewhere in the city flocked to the Mission, where they beat out Latinos (who made a median annual income of $11,400 compared to $26,222 for whites) for housing. By 1990, Latinos accounted for 51.9 percent of the Mission’s population, while whites comprised 30 percent and Asians 13.1 percent.20 The later 1990s ushered in the dot-com boom, and as housing prices continued to soar, entrepreneurs erected high-end restaurants and boutiques next door to taquerias and thrift shops. Taking advantage of the fact that the Mission had the highest concentration of renters in the city (70 percent), landlords raised rents, evicted tenants through owner move-in evictions (OMIs) or the Ellis Act, chopped up buildings into multiple units, and converted warehouses into live/work lofts coveted by tech startups.21 In a land grab reminiscent of the post–US-Mexican War era, many Latinos were displaced and those who remained struggled to meet the median rent of $1,600 a month for a two-bedroom apartment (a price that only about 38 percent of all San Francisco households at the time could afford). “People who have been the heart and soul of this city for decades—artists, writers, musicians, senior citizens living on pensions, blue-collar workers, students, people on welfare and disability, and service-sector employees—are increasingly in danger of becoming an endangered species,” journalist Daniel Zoll wrote.22

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Details from the mural “Mission Makeover” (2012) by Lucia Ippolito and Tirso Araiza.

This endangerment was reflected in a particular episode involving a beloved Mission mural. On 25 July 1998, the colorful four-story piece Lilli Ann by Jesus “Chuy” Campusano (commissioned by the city in 1986 for $40,000) was whitewashed after the building was sold to the Robert J. Cort Family Trust. A major real estate investor, the Trust wanted to provide ad space for its new tenants’ multimedia game company. According to the federal Visual Artists’ Rights Act (VARA), the mural’s copyright holders (Campusano’s children and fellow muralist Elias Rocha) were entitled to ninety days’ notice before any alteration. They ultimately sued the Trust for $500,000 and won their case, but the mural had already been lost with no planned replacement. This destruction of a Latino-produced mural came to symbolize the whitewashing of a larger Latino presence and culture in the Mission, or what scholar Nancy Raquel Mirabal has termed “culture deletion.”23 With one stroke of a delete key in the digital gold rush, the many strokes of a Latino artist’s paintbrush were rendered invisible.

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Detail from Josue’ Rojas’s 2014 mural “Dedicated to the Migrants of the Mission,” which depicts a young Honduran boy crossing into the U.S. where he is met by a welcoming embrace to San Francisco.

By 2000, the Mission was making headlines for the tensions erupting between the new Silicon Valley digerati and older residents who were organizing themselves into anti-gentrification and anti-displacement coalitions. Accusing newcomers of taking advantage of the Mission’s low-income renters of color (in 2000, the neighborhood was 62 percent Latino and 83 percent renter, with a per capita income of $20,112 versus $32,441 citywide), activists added that many Mission residents were undocumented or could not speak English, making them more vulnerable to intimidation and being pushed out of their homes.24

Furthermore, on a national scale, Latinos had been deemed “the furthest behind in the race to become connected to the Internet,” and therefore lacked desirable cultural capital in the digital era.25 By the year 2000, more than one thousand Latino families had been displaced from the Mission; and between 2000 and 2005, the Latino population of San Francisco decreased from 109,504 to 98,891, making it the only major city in the United States to experience a loss in its Latino population.26

The national media continued to discuss, but not always with informed nuance, the Mission as a space of Latinidad. In a 2008 travel article on San Francisco, The New York Times praised the “wonderful mishmash” of the neighborhood. “Where else can you find epicurean vegan cafes, feisty nonprofits, and a Central American butcher shop?” the author asked, disregarding the community tensions keeping these nonprofits “feisty.”27 Along the same vein, a 2016 USA Today contributor living in the Mission sentimentalized her “discovery” of her local Mexican restaurant:

I had burritos delivered from Pancho Villa twice before I ever stepped in the well-known staple in my Mexican-influenced neighborhood.…I felt the energy of the staff wrapping perfectly cylindrical burritos at light speed and heard each order called out in Spanish and English. The burrito tasted better when I could appreciate the soul that went into making it.28

Essentializing Latinos as soulful workers who rapidly met her needs with a comforting bilingualism, the author extolled her choice to personally interact with this Latino business rather than rely on a food delivery app. This ability of newcomers to choose whether to interact with residents closely or distantly through technology is what many Mission Latinos decry as an uncomfortable and even hostile social environment.

In response, La Galería de la Raza and Precita Eyes Mural Center artists have produced powerful anti-gentrification pieces. The 2012 mural Mission Makeover hits upon the gentrification-related consequences of racially-targeted policing and price gouging. As young Latino and African American boys are detained and arrested by police, eviction notices and For Sale signs hang in windows while coffee shops fill to the brim with laptops and expensive lattes. Looming riot police don helmets with Facebook and Google logos; a Mexicana Airlines airplane flies overhead (presumably taking San Francisco–weary people back to Mexico); a blonde woman holds a Dia de los Muertos mask in a sign of cultural appropriation; and a faceless figure in the center symbolizing the Latino working-class majority proclaims, “Aquí estamos y no nos vamos! (Here we stay and will not leave!).” The directional landmarks in the mural—street signs reading Uan Wey and Otro Wey (wey meaning “dude” or “dummy” in Spanish)—communicate a frustration and hopelessness with what the neighborhood has become.

This explicitly anti-gentrification mural, and others like it in the Mission, works to counterbalance the disappearance of the older, historically significant Latino murals that came before it.29 Community action around mural preservation has increasingly become the way for Latinos in the Mission to keep their voices heard. In 2013, when the owner of a new wine bar decided to paint over the building’s large murals that depicted scenes from Latin American history, he incited vociferous protest. In the summer of 2015, hundreds of people rallied outside La Galería in support of Por Vida, a digital mural depicting two Latino same-sex couples and a transgender man that had been repeatedly defaced. Defending murals has become shorthand for defending Latinos’ presence, diversity, and deep history in the Mission. Murals have marked Latinos’ past and present in San Francisco, and therefore efforts to protect them stand as acts of community cohesion and persistence in the face of what feels like cultural warfare or erasure. With such a heterogeneous population of Latinos living in the Mission, no one civic, social, or political organization can represent them all. Yet, arguably, murals have helped to create a more tangible sense of Latinidad through their creation and subject matter.

By that token, if murals have played a key historical role in the making of Latinidad, do they hold the potential to mobilize and preserve San Francisco’s Latino community? By virtue of being visually provocative or beautiful, murals may be easier magnets for community support and thereby effective political tools. Nicaraguan immigrant and longtime San Francisco resident Erick Arguello has recently convinced the city to create the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District because of the number of murals in the area. If city authorities proceed to grant Twenty-Fourth Street special-use district status, local residents would have more say in decisions concerning further residential and commercial development.30 By tying the murals’ survival in the city to their own, Latinos could use historical preservation arguments to maintain the landscape they created as well as their place within it. While numerous cultural districts and street art conservation programs exist in the United States from Los Angeles to Harlem, to date Calle 24 seems to be unique in its fight to preserve not only particular works of art, but the right of a particular ethnic community to keep living among them.

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Because the Mission District was not always a Latino neighborhood, some might argue, it should make sense that it will not always be one. People move in, people move out, and environments change. In 2015, studio apartments in the Mission were renting for $2,700 a month, and the neighborhood was more popular than any other area of San Francisco on Airbnb.31 As San Francisco city budget authorities predict that the Mission will lose 8,000 Latino residents by 2025, Latino organizations like the Mission Economic Development Agency are holding free computer and coding camps in the hopes of giving Latino youth a better foothold in the tech world.32 Local architect Evan Rose has argued that the Mission’s transformation simply reflects “the nature of a city. Cities grow and respond to growth pressures.”33 Mission artist and evictee Tony Breaux opines, however, that once tech monoculture takes over, “you are dealing with a dead city, creatively.”34 If city authorities give only certain groups the opportunity to grow and be creative, other groups—in this case artists, working-class people, immigrants, and people of color—will not be included in the future of San Francisco. In fact, they will be rendered as even more foreign and powerless outsiders.

Writ large, Latinos crisscross all of these vulnerable positionalities. If they will no longer be able to reside in the city unless they possess a certain amount of wealth, what will result—and what has already begun to emerge—is a large Latino commuter underclass living on the periphery of San Francisco. Latinos and blacks have already moved to suburbs like Richmond, Vallejo, Sacramento, Antioch, Tracy, and Stockton. Though superficially cheaper, these new homes result in more expensive work commutes and profound disconnection from old places, people, and routines. This shift in San Francisco will no doubt shape the future of California as more people of color move to suburban or agricultural communities that may or may not be accustomed to their presence. In some cases, Latino families with farmworker heritage that worked their way out of the fields in the post–World War II era are returning to places like the San Joaquin and Salinas Valleys out of economic necessity, a move which likely provokes anxieties about re-experiencing racial and social marginalization and downward mobility.

San Francisco has rebuilt itself several times after natural and economic disasters— this time, is it doing so without imagining Latino residents in the picture? Or, as some believe, are intentional disasters being created to erase this population? After BART’s establishment in the Mission in the 1960s, 133 fires erupted within a three-block radius of the Sixteenth Street station, eliminating low-income properties and paving the way for redevelopment. In an eerie echo of the past, mysterious Mission fires over the past few years have displaced hundreds of people.35 Latinos’ historic contribution to San Francisco’s social diversity and cultural production is profound, yet the threat of their (as artist Rene Yañez terms it) “cultural eviction” looms large.36 Murals have given Mission residents access to beauty, creative work, and cultural pride amidst the local and international political turbulence of the past fifty years. This current moment of turbulence is about who can claim access and belonging to this influential California city. By painting and pointing to murals, Latinos are engaging in a type of community cartography, fighting to map themselves onto the past, present, and future of a changing San Francisco.

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Detail from Josue’ Rojas’s 2014 mural “Dedicated to the Migrants of the Mission,” which depicts a young Honduran boy crossing into the U.S. on La Bestia, the infamously dangerous train used by undocumented immigrants where he is met by a protective angel on the journey.

Notes

The author gratefully acknowledges Francisco Aquino, Lucia Ippolito, Tirso Araiza, and Josué Rojas—the artists whose work is featured in this essay—along with Tatiana Reinoza…along with Tatiana Reinoza, Susannah Aquilina, and an anonymous reader for their feedback and suggestions.

1 Ruth Glass, London: Aspects of Change (London: MacKibbon and Kee, 1964), xiii–xlii.

2 George Sterling, “Cool Grey City of Love,” The San Francisco Bulletin 133/31 (11 December 1920), 1; Rebecca Solnit, various Facebook posts—for example, 7 May 2016.

3 JP Mangalindan, “How Tech Companies Compare in Employee Diversity,” Fortune, 29 August 2014, http://fortune.com/2014/08/29/how-tech-companies-compare-in-employee-diversity/; Kurt Wagner, “Facebook Employee Demographics: A Little Less White, A Little Less Male,” Recode, 25 June 2015, http://www.recode.net/2015/6/25/11563890/facebook-employee-demographics-a-little-less-white-a-little-less-male; Donovan X. Ramsey, “Twitter’s White-People Problem,” The Nation, 6 January 2016, https://www.thenation.com/article/twitters-white-people-problem/.

4 For more on Latinidad in San Francisco, see Tomas Summers Sandoval, Latinos at the Golden Gate: Creating Community & Identity in San Francisco (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013).

5 Jaimal Yogis, “What Happened to Black San Francisco?” San Francisco Magazine, 18 January 2008, http://www.modernluxury.com/san-francisco/story/what-happened-black-san-francisco; Thomas Fuller, “The Loneliness of Being Black in San Francisco,” The New York Times, 20 July 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/21/us/black-exodus-from-san-francisco.html?_r=0.

6 Brian Godfrey, “Ethnic Identities and Ethnic Enclaves: The Morphogenesis of San Francisco’s Hispanic ‘Barrio,’” Yearbook: Conference of Latin Americanist Geographers 11 (1985): 48.

7 Abraham P. Nasatir, “Chileans in California during the Gold Rush Period and the Establishment of the Chilean Consulate,” California Historical Quarterly 53/1 (Spring 1974): 62.

8 Godfrey, “Ethnic Identities,” 46; Cecilia Menjivar, “Immigrant Kinship Networks and the Impact of the Receiving Context: Salvadorans in San Francisco in the Early 1990s,” Social Problems 44/19 (February 1997): 111.

9 Eduardo Contreras, “The Politics of Community Development: Latinos, Their Neighbors, and the State in San Francisco, 1960s and 1970s,” unpublished Ph.D. diss. (University of Chicago, 2008), 6.

10 Menjivar, “Immigrant Kinship Networks,” 111; Godfrey, “Ethnic Identities,” 46, 50; Contreras, “The Politics of Community Development,” 6.

11 Godfrey, “Ethnic Identities,” 50.

12 Contreras, “The Politics of Community Development,” 32.

13 Godfrey, “Ethnic Identities,” 49.

14 Contreras, “The Politics of Community Development,” 6; Godfrey, “Ethnic Identities,” 46. This is likely a conservative and low number because there were many undocumented Latinos working in San Francisco’s underground, informal, and cash economies.

15 Contreras, “The Politics of Community Development,” 7; Godfrey, “Ethnic Identities,” 52.

16 Godfrey, “Ethnic Identities,” 49.

17 Caille Millner, “In the Mission, Murals are More than Décor,” San Francisco Chronicle, 3 July 2015, http://www.sfchronicle.com/art/article/In-the-Mission-murals-are-more-than-decor-6364161.php.

18 Cary Cordova, “Hombres y Mujeres Muralistas On a Mission: Painting Latino Identities in 1970s San Francisco,” Latino Studies 4/4 (2006): 356.

19 Timothy W. Drescher, “Street Subversion: The Political Geography of Murals and Graffiti,” Reclaiming San Francisco: History, Politics, Culture (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1998), 235.

20 Menjivar, “Immigrant Kinship Networks,” 110–111. Again, because the Census has historically undercounted Latinos due to the population’s undocumented immigrant element, 51.9 percent is a conservative number. African Americans (4.5%), Native Americans (0.3%), and Other (0.3%) comprised the remainder of the neighborhood’s population in 1990. Simon Velasquez Alejandrino, “Gentrification in San Francisco’s Mission District: Indicators and Policy Recommendations,” Mission Economic Development Association Report (Summer 2000), 18.

21 Nancy Raquel Mirabal, “Geographies of Displacement: Latina/os, Oral History, and the Politics of Gentrification in San Francisco’s Mission District,” The Public Historian 31/2 (Spring 2009): 13–15.

22 Daniel Zoll, “The Economic Cleansing of San Francisco: Is San Francisco Becoming the First Fully Gentrified City in America?” San Francisco Bay Guardian, 7 October 1998, 17.

23 Mirabal, “Geographies of Displacement,” 23–24; Bob Armstrong, “Developer Whitewashes Mural,” The Progressive, April 1999, 13; Lynda Gledhill, “Mission Mural Now a Whitewashed Wall,” SF Gate, 5 August 1998, http://www.sfgate.com/politics/article/Mission-Mural-now-a-Whitewashed-Wall-2998669.php; Lynda Gledhill, “Mission Mural Rescued From Wipeout by Judge, Artists Gets a Chance to Protect Wall Art,” San Francisco Chronicle, 4 September 1998, http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Mission-Mural-Rescued-From-Wipeout-by-Judge-2992620.php.

24 Evelyn Nieves, “Mission District Fights Case of Dot-Com Fever,” The New York Times, 5 November 2000, http://www.nytimes.com/2000/11/05/us/mission-district-fights-case-of-dot-com-fever.html.

25 John Jota Leaños, “The (Postcolonial) Rules of Engagement: Advertising Zones, Cultural Activism, and Xicana/o Digital Muralism,” Street Art San Francisco: Mission Muralismo, Annice Jacoby, ed. (New York: Harry Abrams, 2009), 205.

26 Mirabal, “Geographies of Displacement,” 13–14.

27 Chris Colin, “36 Hours in San Francisco,” The New York Times, 11 September 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/14/travel/14hours.html?_r=1.

28 Natalie DiBlasio, “Welcome to S.F., the Premier Assisted Living Community for Millenials,” USA Today, 17 May 2016, http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/columnist/2016/04/05/welcome-sf-premier-assisted-living-community-millenials/80206798/.

29 Millner, “In the Mission, Murals are More than Décor.”

30 Joe Garofoli, “Erick Arguello: Cultural Preservationist Scrambles to Save Neighbors’ Homes, Jobs,” San Francisco Chronicle, http://www.sfchronicle.com/the-mission/arguello/.

31 Carol Pogash, “Gentrification Spreads an Upheaval in San Francisco’s Mission District,” 22 May 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/23/us/high-rents-elbow-latinos-from-san-franciscos-mission-district.html

32 Caleb Pershan, “Mission to Lose 8,000 Latino Residents by 2025,” SFist, 28 October 2015, http://sfist.com/2015/10/28/mission_to_lose_8000_latino_residen.php.

33 Mirabal, “Geographies of Displacement,” 15–16.

34 Ted Andersen, “A Dying City for Artists?” Mid-Market News, 2 May 2016, https://mid-marketnews.com/2016/05/02/a-dying-city-for-artists/.

35 Juan Cruz and G. Roginsky, “Mission Fires: Urban Renewal Made Simple?” El Tecolote, April 1977, 1; David Campos, “Why Is the Mission Burning?” San Francisco Examiner, 28 June 2016, http://www.sfexaminer.com/why-is-the-mission-burning/.

36 Sarah McClure, “Benefit for Mission Artists Attracts Latino All Stars,” 26 October 2013, http://missionlocal.org/2013/10/benefit-for-chicano-mission-artists-attracts-latino-all-stars/.

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Details from the mural “Mission Makeover” (2012) by Lucia Ippolito and Tirso Araiza.

Lori A. Flores is an assistant professor of history at Stony Brook University specializing in the histories of US Latinos, immigration, labor, and the US-Mexico borderlands. She is the author of Grounds for Dreaming: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the California Farmworker Movement (Yale), which was named Best History Book by the International Latino Book Awards. Her scholarship engages the public through advocacy for underrepresented groups in higher education and immigrants and farmworkers in the United States.

Articles

Through the Heart of California: Seeing the “Other” California through a Relief Map

Alex Espinoza

In 2014, Aljazeera America ran a story titled “Fresno Rated Highly Livable for Young People.”The piece cited information gathered by the online news source Vocativ, which used everything from the cost of manicures to real estate prices as metrics for determining “all things that matter to younger people — especially in rough times.”Fresno took the number 24 slot on a list of 100 best places for those under thirty-five.

Many say that California’s fifth largest city has always suffered from an identity crisis. Others say that this is not necessarily a bad thing. Equidistant from Los Angeles and the Bay Area, Fresno attracts citizens from its larger cousins who find themselves fed up with hour-long commutes and skyrocketing home prices. Here is one of the few places in California where you can find San Francisco Giants lawn banners jabbed into yellowing patches of grass while, across the street, a dusty Ford F-150 sports a decal proudly proclaiming that its driver “bleeds Dodger Blue.” Here you find a regional dialect that often fuses idioms and verbal ticks from both the Bay Area and metropolitan Los Angeles; sentences are sprinkled with liberal amounts of the adjective hella (from the North) while use of the definite article the when referencing local freeways (an LA staple) has become increasingly common.

Fresno, like its vernacular, like the fertile soil of the Great Basin—carved when an ancient ocean plate called the Farallon surrendered to the more aggressive North American Plate as Pangea broke apart during the Jurassic period—is constantly chafing against external forces determined to define it, to alter it.

Despite its strategic location, its deep agricultural roots, and its close ties with the farmworker movement of the sixties and seventies, in many ways Fresno remains stubbornly un-Californian, reveling in its misfit status. It is home to one of the largest Hmong populations in the United States. It is where in the sixties a man named Boogaloo Sam created “popping,” described as “a dance that combines rigid robotic moves with loose flowing moves.”Cher attended Fresno High School briefly before quitting at sixteen to pursue her dreams. The name Fresno means “ash tree” in Spanish, and it’s where Chrissy Snow on Three’s Company was born and raised, and to where she was ultimately banished when Suzanne Sommers, the actress who played her, was enmeshed in contract disputes with the show’s producers.

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The topography of Los Angeles and the Antelope Valley, courtesy of NASA/JPL/NIMA.

Before relocating there, I thought of cities like Fresno as places people moved from, not places people moved to. “Fresno is not small. The city has more than half a million residents and is larger than the state capital, Sacramento. But because it’s in the heart of farm country, it lacks big-city glamour. What it does offer is a more compact power structure that allows even the young to make a difference.”4

I remember a relief map of California I made in the fourth grade. I pressed my thumb into the mixture of paste and flour to form the Central Valley. Then, using brown food coloring and water, I painted in wide fields of alfalfa and rows of lettuce and cabbage. I imagined people, cars, small towns, a schoolyard with swings and a metal slide, its patina worn and dull not from neglect but from years of friction, the kind of use that tells you that things as innocuous as playground equipment could be loved.

In the documentary, The City Addicted to Crystal Meth, widely viewed by Brits, reporter Louis Theroux examines the damaging affects the drug has had on Fresno. At the time of its airing on the BBC in August of 2009, the city had the highest number methamphetamine users in the nation.“It is quite charming—and this was an extraordinary film, a sad portrait of a very different California from the one you see in Entourage,” wrote Sam Wollastan for The Guardian about Theroux’s documentary.

I had always dreamed of owning my own home. When I was a kid there was no such thing as privacy. When you have ten older siblings, there isn’t much opportunity to cultivate this luxury. I used to dream of space, of empty rooms and a quiet kitchen, a big yard with a giant tree, its branches rocking in a soft breeze carrying the scent of blooming jasmine and freshly shorn grass. I’d lie in a hammock and read and sleep to the sound of birds chirping and the low, lonely bark of a neighbor’s dog.

In 2005, I was fresh out of graduate school and living with my husband, Kyle, in a cramped apartment in Riverside. I was a part-time instructor teaching composition and creative writing classes. I kept an eye on my aging mother who lived nearby in a large house all by herself. I would shuttle her from her doctor appointments to her dentist appointments, grading papers in the lobbies while I waited. At night, I would work on my first novel, sitting at a desk in a dark corner of the bedroom in our small, shabby place. I remember thinking, If only I could get away from the stress of my family, be far enough away from the drama but close enough to drive if there were an emergency. If only we could afford a house.

In 2007, after my first novel was published, I decided to go on the job market. When I came across the announcement for the teaching position at Fresno State, there was only one thing I knew about Fresno: raisins.

On 22 January 2016, The Fresno Bee reported that the county’s unemployment rate for the previous year was the lowest it had been in nearly a decade. “In Fresno County and its neighboring Valley counties, annual unemployment has fallen in each of the past six years, dropping to levels not seen since the early part of the 2007–2009 recession.”7

According to United States Census Bureau, in 2015 52.4 percent of the population of Fresno County was Hispanic or Latino.8

Despite its large Latino population, despite its long history of cultivating artists of color, I was the first Chicano writer ever hired to teach in the MFA program in creative writing at Fresno State.

Call it regional snobbery, but many of my LA friends could not comprehend why I decided to move to Fresno.

“Really?” they asked.

“I’d commute from here,” another friend suggested. “You don’t actually want to live there, do you? Stay in LA and drive up just to teach your classes, man.”

The car was crammed full of boxes, and our dog sat on Kyle’s lap. As we cleared the Tejon Pass, I saw before us a wide valley floor, stretched flat. I remembered the relief map I’d constructed back in elementary school. I imagined a giant thumb parting the sky, the rivulets and swirls of my fingerprint denting the land to form rivers and thin roads that looped around and around one another.

Fresno is located in the fertile San Joaquin Valley in the central part of California, about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The terrain in Fresno is relatively flat, with a sharp rise to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains about 15 miles eastward. The weather is usually sunny, with over 200 clear days each year. Summers are typically hot and dry, while winters are mild and rainy. Spring and fall are the most pleasant seasons.

Area: 99.1 square miles (2000)

Elevation: 328 feet above sea level

Average Temperatures: January, 39.6° F; August, 94.1° F; annual average, 62.5° F

Average Annual Precipitation: 9.86 inches9

The heat was like a blast furnace that first June. Two weeks of triple digit temperatures. Thankfully, the house we were renting had a swimming pool. In between unpacking boxes of books, we swam for hours. I used to love watching the cypress trees lining the perimeter of the backyard bending and swaying in that hot, dry breeze.

Located on Shaw Avenue, just east of Highway 99, the Forestiere Underground Gardens is a series of subterranean tunnels, grottos, and patios that were designed and built by a Sicilian immigrant named Baldasare Forestiere. It took him over forty years to complete, and he used only hand tools throughout its construction. “Forestiere worked without blueprints or plans, following only his creative instincts and aesthetic impulses. He continued expanding and modifying the gardens throughout his life. Baldasare Forestiere died in 1946 at the age of sixty-seven. After his death, the Underground Gardens were opened to the public as a museum.”10 He built it as a way to cool off during the brutal Central Valley summers. The Forestiere Underground Gardens is on the National Register of Historic Places and draws hundreds of visitors year after year.

Coming from Los Angeles, there were some perks to relocating to Fresno:

  1. Hardly any traffic
  2. Lower cost of living
  3. A slower pace of life

I didn’t have time to miss Los Angeles that first semester. I was too busy getting a handle on my new job. Between teaching classes and committee meetings, there was hardly a moment to take in my surroundings. During that time, my mother grew increasingly ill. My sisters and I decided not to tell her that I had relocated. Me being the baby of the family, her favorite child, we thought it would devastate her to know I had packed up and headed north. Immediately after she passed away, I had dreams of her holding the relief map I had made as a kid. In the dream, she squeezed it hard. Dried tan and green-colored chunks broke apart and fell to the ground. She’s scolded me, her face red, her forehead beaded with sweat. “Why did you leave?” she asked. “You weren’t supposed to leave. What were you thinking?”

I should have told her. My mother never knew I left. She died thinking I was still near her.

In a story dated 9 March 2015, Men’s Health ranked Fresno number 1 on its list of drunkest cities in America. “Our statistical sobriety checkpoint shows that the inebriated people there have one of the highest death rates from alcoholic liver disease (per data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention),” they wrote.11

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Mt. Pinos and the Carizo Plain in the distance, courtesy of NASA/JPL/NIMA/USGS.

Men’s Health included the following details on measures used to determine Fresno’s “dangerous drinking” ranking:

Deaths from Liver Disease: 2nd
Deaths in DUI Crashes: 16th
Binge Drinking: 33rd
DUI Arrests: 4th
Harsh DUI Laws: 80th
Grade: F12

We’ve also been voted among the “dumbest cities” in the United States. On 26 July 2016, the Fresno Bee ran a story citing a national poll that ranked cities in the San Joaquin Valley on their list of least educated areas. WalletHub, which initiated the poll, “compared the top 150 metropolitan statistical areas based on the percentage of adults with a college education and other factors such as the quality of the area’s public schools and universities. Overall, Fresno ranked 145th, just ahead of Modesto at 146th, Bakersfield at 147th and Visalia/Porterville at 148th.

I am not out to dis a place like Fresno. That’s never been my style. Nor am I here to praise it, to paint an inauthentic picture of the city as an idyllic community untouched by problems plaguing it and similar inland cities of California. It’s true that we have a high number of drug abusers, that we drink a lot, and that lack of access and money has prevented some of our citizens from reaping the benefits of higher education. But I can also tell you about the friends I’ve made here, scholars from some of the most prestigious schools in the country. I can tell you how famed novelist Julia Alvarez once taught at the same university I did. I can tell you about the history and legacy of writers like William Saroyan and Gary Soto, and Mark Arax today. I can tell you about Diana Marcum, The Los Angeles Times reporter who covered the Central Valley and who, in 2015, won a Pulitzer Prize for her unflinching coverage of the devastating effects of the drought on farmers, field hands, communities, and families. I can tell you how I’ve picked apricots in the summer, washed them in my kitchen sink, and eaten to my heart’s content. I can tell you that I lived here for nearly ten years, and I was never robbed. I can tell you that I bought my first house and that it was built in 1941, and there’s a tall oak tree full of squirrels and woodpeckers and blue jays that live and raise families in the green canopy above my roof. I can tell you about the dogs I’ve rescued and the one that I lost here and cried over for days. I can tell you that this place, like any other place, is full of contrast and contradiction.

My husband and two dogs have remained there for the year while I ease my way back into a life in Los Angeles. Because I’m returning to the Eastside and the greater San Gabriel Valley, locations holding so many memories—both good and bad—my emotions have run the gamut, vacillating between moments of extreme fear and trepidation to hope and nostalgia. It’s all wrapped up together, coming at me in waves, simultaneously hot and cold, up and down, dark and light. I laugh when I drive by the 7–11 where a high school friend of mine and I scored our first six-pack of beer when we were fifteen, then I cry when I turn left down another street and find myself at the exact spot on Valley Boulevard where my father took his last breath on a cold January evening in 1989.

The past few years, as I’ve commuted back and forth between Los Angeles and Fresno for work between two state universities and as I’ve served on the board of California Humanities, our statewide humanities council, I’ve learned about geographical variances, that we’re not all the same, that we all have stories to tell, and that my notion of California stretches far beyond the factories and freeways of the San Gabriel Valley, far beyond the stucco houses and empty lots of the Inland Empire, where I spent my twenties and thirties, and even beyond the strawberry fields, the orange groves, and the almond orchards and vineyards of the Central Valley.

It’s appropriate for Californians, I think, this constant moving, just like the earth that occasionally rumbles and shifts and flows right beneath our collective feet.

Notes

1 http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/1/3/fresno-ranks-highlylivableforyoungpeople.html

2 http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/1/3/fresno-ranks-highlylivableforyoungpeople.html

3 http://blogs.uoregon.edu/jerkrumpop/popping/

4 http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/1/3/fresno-ranks-highlylivableforyoungpeople.html

5 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_City_Addicted_to_Crystal_Meth

6 https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2009/aug/10/louis-theroux-crystal-meth

7 http://www.fresnobee.com/news/business/article56100350.html#storylink=cp

8 http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/0627000,06019#headnote-js-b

9 http://www.city-data.com/us-cities/The-West/Fresno-Geography-and-Climate.html

10 http://historicfresno.org/nrhp/forest.htm

11 http://www.menshealth.com/health/drunk-cities

12 http://www.menshealth.com/health/drunk-cities

Alex Espinoza is a novelist known for works such as Still Water Saints. A professor at California State University, Los Angeles, as well as the director of their MFA Program in Creative Writing and Literary Arts, he was born in Mexico and raised in Los Angeles.

Articles

Neither Here Nor There: Engaging Mexico City and Los Angeles

Dana Cuff
Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris

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Cyclist cutouts heightening awareness in Boyle Heights. Mockup by Jeannette Mundy.

“Much of urban history research has sought to pair or categorize cities on the basis of complementarity of existing source material. But these categorizations should be disrupted by a creative use of sources, and increasing inclination to fuse different sources and the adoption of original methods emerging from different interdisciplinary scholarship.” 1

Since time indeterminate, narratives have constructed distant cities for readers—from ancient Pausaneas’s portrayals of second-century Athens, to Baudelaire’s and Benjamin’s accounts of a changing nineteenth-century Paris, to Steinbeck’s depictions of industrial landscapes in early twentieth-century Monterey, to Kerouac’s background of gritty alleys, bars, and flop houses in mid-century San Francisco. Such intriguing urban environments have dominated the imagination of historians, geographers, novelists, and poets. The accounts, often written by outsiders traveling through or living for some time in a city, take the form of urban biography—single-site case studies that examined the relationship between space and society at a distinct point in time.

Urban biographies described cities, their everyday situations, and their architecture according to their uniqueness and distinct features. They include humanist and historically specific works like Walter Benjamin’s Moscow Diary from 1927, which begins with a two-page reflection about how he really got to know his hometown Berlin only after visiting the Russian city.Benjamin’s characterizations of Moscow, as well as Naples, acknowledge his own Northern European frame of reference and demonstrate that the understanding of one city never stands in isolation.

If sole-city narrative implicitly depends on comparative urban “other,” how should we think about similarity and difference? What constitutes a fruitful pairing? Fundamentally, urban comparisons rest on a construction of two independent objects viewed in relation to one another, even though cities are difficult to objectify and their similarities as well as differences are boundless. These are issues that scholars, including ourselves, have struggled with in order to better understand the settings of metropolitan life.

Early twentieth-century versions of comparative urbanism generally spanned vastly different cities by relying on the cotemporaneous theories of modernity and development.Urban anthropology, history, geography, ecology, and sociology were born from their parent disciplines to conceptualize and even promulgate a more modern, progressive, cosmopolitanism. With the rise of urban studies in the twentieth century, theories about cities—rather than the cities themselves—framed relationships among them so that the American sociologist Robert Park could discuss London, San Francisco, Osaka, and Bombay in a single sentence.In this instance, Park’s notion of a “world-city” served as an abstract structure or theory to scrutinize any individual metropolis.

However, in an era of globalization, transnational flows, and cross-border relationships and influences, this single-site focus became increasingly unsatisfying. Scholars who considered it “parochial” and “ethnocentric”questioned its utility and argued that “the day of the individually posed idiosyncratic study of a town that has no particular analytical purpose…is now on the wane.”In the wake of this, over the last four decades, comparative urbanism has flourished, triggered by a desire to identify, compare, contrast, or juxtapose parallel phenomena that happen in multiple socio-spatial contexts and likely influence one another. Starting in the 1970s, a number of scholars began touting the need for comparative urban research that opens the eyes to broader urban phenomena that can be compared across municipal boundaries and national borders.Underlying comparative approaches is the notion that urban imaginaries—this is, cities as they are imagined, contemplated, and written about—are “‘sites of encounters with other cities’ mediated through travel, migration and the circulation of images, goods, and ideas.”8

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Children reclaiming the street for play in Mexico City. Photograph by Ryan Hernandez.

Comparative studies require identification of similarities and differences of at least two entities and use the city or the nation-state as their unit of analysis. But they are also criticized as overly constrained by fixed entities and arbitrary divisions such as municipal or national boundaries. In reality, urban networks and influences are dynamic, diverse, and transcend such boundaries.The emphasis on comparison may also bring along the danger of homogenizing differences and disregarding local particularities in favor of extracting universal lessons to urban issues and problems.10

The flaws of comparative studies have been further exposed by postcolonial theorists critical of studies of nonwestern cities and their residents by scholars from the west, which they argue led to culturally inaccurate, even exoticized, representations and understandings of those regions.11 They criticize the kind of patronizing view, for example, that may see Shanghai as the image of Los Angeles’s future, which in turn points the way for the even more “undeveloped” Mexico City. Geographer Jennifer Robinson argues that urban models of both difference and similarity are inadequate: “The persistent incommensurability of different kinds of cities within the field of urban theory is out of step with the experiences of globalization, and the ambitions of postcolonialism suggest that simply universalizing western accounts of cities is inappropriate.”12 Contemporary urbanists cannot and should not imagine that global cities are converging to become more alike, nor exoticize their differences. This conundrum has not slowed the production of comparative urban research.

In more recent years, a transnational perspective has gained favor in urban studies. This arose in response to criticism that comparative urbanism suffers from a static perception of the urban.13 In contrast, transnational approaches focus on interdependencies, movements, and flows across borders in regions and subregions.14 The goal of such approaches is to understand urban settings and experiences, as composed by multiple regional, ethnic or institutional identities and forces.15 In other words, transnational urban studies wish to take down arbitrary divisions between entities so that both their interconnections as well as collisions become more apparent.

For transnational studies to build on the work of previous generations of scholars, urban data and ethnographic evidence that was collected and limited by administrative borders must be reexamined so that “transnational forms and processes are revealed.”16 This requires employing multiple methodological lenses and traditional and nontraditional units of analysis to study the metropolis that may derive from different disciplinary fields. This is where Urban Humanities enters, with its blended trajectories and influences from urban planning, architecture, and the humanities.

If theories of globalization rest on constructs of the state, networks, economic flows, and data, transnationalism emphasizes human connections and their socio-spatial impacts, including migration, immigration, border crossings, political refugees, practices of economic exchange, as well as multicultural artistic influences and hybrid urban landscapes. Rather than flows and networks, urban humanities considers interweavings, intimacies, conflicts, collectivities, and engagement among different people and their socio-spatial contexts. If comparative urban studies lead, in the simplest sense, to ideas of same and different, a transnational urban humanities helps to better understand past and presently linked practices between urban settings and culture.

There are three interrelated ways that urban humanities go beyond conventional comparative urban studies and contribute to our understanding of the urban. The first concerns fused practices of scholarship by which we explore the human dimension of transnationalism. This fusing of different data sources and methodologies from fields of study such as film, mapping, spatial and social ethnography, and public arts interventions helps enrich the description and understanding of the urban (see for example the ideas of Banfill, Presner, and Zubiaurre in this issue of Boom). The second contribution can be described as the projective imperative of urban humanities—that is, the obligation of urban scholarship to open up possibilities and envision alternative and better futures. This is distinct from the modern project’s interest in globalization and innovation, and from the development model’s particular focus on improvement through policy for those deemed deserving. For urban humanities, the emphasis on possibility rests on comprehending a complex past in relation to an intricate present, in order to construct a potential future that is neither obvious nor shared without immersive debate. The latter is part of engaged scholarship, the third quality of an urban humanist approach. Urban humanities scholars working in cities uphold their own agency along with that of others, as intrinsically political, ethical, and positional. To some extent, the projective and engaged character of urban humanities expands upon those very qualities of architectural design practices. A focus on thick methods, open possibility, and engaged scholarship builds upon Benjamin’s thinking about cities by resisting conventional objects of comparison like nation or state. Instead, critically framed questions and more nuanced understandings of the connectivity and influences among urban places are favored.

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Photographs of participants at a Boyle Heights bicycle advocacy event. Photograph by Lucy Seena K Lin.

To flesh out this perspective, consider two studies, one in Mexico City and the other in Los Angeles. Both cities erode notions of “here” and “there” that underlie conventional comparative urban studies, because like other polyvalent locales they comprise multiplicities on nearly every dimension of analysis. Their intimate interconnections extend through centuries, connections made literal through conquests, immigration, environmental issues, and economies, to name a few. That connective tissue sets the context for two activist studies of spatial justice in specific urban streets: research in Mexico City about reclaiming neighborhood streets for children’s play, and in Los Angeles, about heightening awareness of bike commuters of necessity, for workers whose primary means of transportation is biking.

From the Mexican governmental organization Laboratorio para la Ciudad, the construct of “legible policy” was adopted to create new urban imaginaries in which streets dominated by automobile traffic could be opened to new uses by neighborhood children and other residents and bike commuters. Families living in a Mexico City neighborhood called “Doctores” joined in a series of street closures in which playing children took the place of the regular automobile traffic, exposing connections between shop and garage owners, multigenerational residents, and street vendors. The temporary closures were consistently marked in the city with signage, banners, and chalk drawings covering the pavement to make legible to neighbors the policy that streets were safe for play.

In the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, Mexican American artists and cyclists allied to make visible their advocacy of safer streets. In collaboration with the local organizations Self Help Graphics and Multicultural Communities for Mobility, UCLA’s urban humanists proposed life-size portraits of individual bicycle commuters be installed along commonly used roads. The portraits could be collaged together with maps, personal narratives, and traffic data to make legible the need for policy to create safe bike paths and increase awareness about a marginalized group of Angelenos.

Urban humanities scholars partnered in both undertakings, deploying traditional research strategies such as data gathering and analysis, alongside critical cartography, spatial ethnography, and creative urban interventions such as street closures to create play space. Lessons flowed in both directions, from Mexico City to Los Angeles and back again, as graduating students returned to project sites to continue their work during the summer. Each project offered activists and residents a glimpse of a new possible future in their neighborhood. The Doctores experience temporarily demonstrated that the unexpected was possible: children could take control of the street. In Boyle Heights, an inventive study made a vulnerable population visible for political urban action and in so doing startled a possible future into view.

Urban humanities attempts to sidestep pitfalls that urban studies has long been prone to: essentialism, homogenization, and the erasure of differences between cities. It also does not seek to become an exercise in futurism. For this reason, it employs engaged scholarship and community input and action to mold its proposals. It deploys a range of thick methods to understand and create possibilities for everyday metropolitan life. Rather than holding cities up as objects for comparison, our efforts link cities through practices that rely on extended engagement. That is, urban humanities seeks deep understanding through the shared actions of scholars and citizens moving within and between cities. Rather than urban solutions per se, the projects are offered as public propositions that will evolve through iterations that may lead to more permanent change. If the urban humanities evolve into a bona fide field of study, they may disrupt not only urban studies but current academic structures as they produce not only transformative urban ideas but also new forms of scholarship that could enrich the study of cities.

Notes

1
N. Kenny and R. Madgin, “‘Every Time I Describe a City’: Urban History as Comparative and Transnational Practice,” Cities Beyond Boarders: Comparative and Transnational Approaches to Urban History, N. Kenny and R. Madgin, eds. (London: Routledge, 2015), 14.

2
Walter Benjamin, One-Way Street and Other Writings, Edmund Jephcott and Kingsley Shorter, trans. (London: NLB, 1979), 177–78.

3
Jennifer Robinson, “In the Tracks of Comparative Urbanism: Difference, Urban Modernity and the Primitive,” Urban Geography 25.8 (2004): 709–23.

4
Robert E. Park, Human Communities: The City and Human Ecology (New York: The Free Press, 1952), 133.

5
J. Walton, and L.H. Masotti, eds. The City in Comparative Perspective: Cross-National Research and New Directions in Theory (New York: Sage, 1976).

6
H.J. Dyos, “Editorial,” The Urban History Yearbook (Leicester: Leicester Unversity Press, 1974), 3.

7
Walton and Masotti.

8
Kenny and Madgin, 5.

9
M.P. Smith, Transnational Urbanism: Locating Globalization (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2001).

10
R. Madgin, Heritage, Culture, and Conservation: Managing the Urban Renaissance (Saarbrucken: VDM Verlag, 2009).

11
E. Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1979).

12
Robinson, “In the Tracks of Comparative Urbanism,” 709–723.

13
D. Cohen and M. O’Connor, “Introduction: Comparative History, Cross-National History, Transnational History—Definitions,” Comparison and History: Europe in Cross-National Perspective (New York: Routledge, 2004), ix–xxiii.

14
C.A. Bayly, S. Beckert, M. Connelly, et al. “AHR Conversation: on Transnational History,” American Historical Review 111.5 (2016): 1440–64.

15
S. Khagram and P. Levitt, “Constructing Transnational Studies,” The Transnational Studies Reader: Intersections and Innovations (New York: Routledge, 2008).

16
Ibid.

Dana Cuff is a professor, author, and scholar in architecture and urbanism at University of California, Los Angeles, where she is also the founding director of cityLAB, a think tank that explores design innovations in the emerging metropolis.

Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris is the associate dean of academic affairs and urban planning professor at University of California, Los Angeles. Her research focuses on the public environment of the city, its physical representation, aesthetics, social meaning, and impact on the urban resident.

Articles

Outselling the Beatles in 1966: LA’s forgotten musical genius

Peter Cole

As music critics release “best of 2016” lists, who can name the most popular musician in America fifty years ago? The Beatles? The Rolling Stones? Wrong. The Supremes or another Motown act? Nope. Bob Dylan? Johnny Cash? The Beach Boys? No, no, and no.

Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass Brand sold about fourteen million LPs in 1966. Anyone who has rifled through old records at thrift stores and rummage sales has seen his albums. Most famously, Whipped Cream and Other Delights featured a young woman covered in (apparently) nothing but whip cream.

No musician sold more records in 1966 than this pop trumpeter. His first ten albums, all released in the 1960s, reached the Top 20. Even more impressive, in 1966 Alpert had five albums in the Billboard Top 20 simultaneously, a Guinness World Record never since repeated. For one week, four of the Top 10 albums were Alpert’s and three of the top four!

Alpert blended multiple sounds perhaps only possible in his native Los Angeles, a city connecting diverse cultures for a century now, though the cover art didn’t hurt.

The origins of Ameriachi

Alpert combined surf rock, West Coast cool jazz, and Mexican mariachi to create a new pop sound. In the late 1950s, surf emerged as a southern California subgenre of the still-emerging rock ’n’ roll. Think Dick Dale, who graduated high school in El Segundo near Los Angeles, and his scorching, staccato guitar riffs on “Misirlou” (1962).

Cool jazz, especially its West Coast variant, also influenced Alpert. Miles Davis defined the sound on albums like Kind of Blue (1959). A growing Los Angeles-based jazz scene, including Stan Getz and Gerry Mulligan, adapted cool just as Alpert started playing professionally.

However, those Mexican horns, so distinctive and, at that time, so unusual for non-Mexicans to hear, probably were what listeners heard first.

In 1962 Alpert visited Tijuana where he attended a bullfight and heard a mariachi band. Inspired, he took that sound back to the studio. Playing all the parts himself, he quickly released The Lonely Bull under the name Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass. After achieving some success and tour requests, he hired musicians to populate his band.

His style quickly became known as “Ameriachi,” a perfect name for his transnational music. In one 1966 interview, Alpert described it as, “a sort of fusion of the mariachi sound of Mexico with a jazz undercurrent.” His songs included “Mexican Shuffle” and “Spanish Flea,” but “A Taste of Honey” typifies his iconic sound.

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Herb Alpert, 1966, via Wikimedia

Perhaps shockingly, neither Alpert nor anyone in the Tijuana Brass Band was Mexican or Mexican American. In fact, he joked in concert that his band consisted of “four lasagnas, two bagels, and an American cheese.” Four Italian Americans, two Jewish Americans, and one Anglo American. Alpert was a bagel.

Los Angeles: cultural borderland

Alpert hails from Los Angeles, home to a rich and diverse set of cultures. In the 1950s, that included a thriving, multiethnic community in Boyle Heights, on LA’s eastside. Alpert’s parents, Eastern European Jewish immigrants, gave birth to Herbert there in 1935. Boyle Heights was known as a multicultural, working class enclave with many Mexican Americans and Japanese Americans cheek to jowl with Jewish folks. The sort of place where Jews in the socialist Workmen’s Circle and garment workers’ union advocated a leftist politics that embraced the diversity of immigrants and working class peoples. Historian George Sanchez goes as far as to argue that Boyle Heights maintained this diverse, radical culture into the 1950s, when Alpert came of age.

Though not literally on the Mexican border, Los Angeles might as well be. Just a few hours drive south sits Tijuana, the definitive border town in the American imagination. Of course, the Mexican-US border is an arbitrary line drawn by politicians far removed from this region. People have crossed and recrossed this border endlessly and still do. Or, as some Mexicans declare, “We didn’t cross the border, it crossed us.”

Los Angeles always has been culturally, demographically, and economically tied to Mexico. The Southern Pacific Railroad—the “Espee” Line—terminated in LA with connections to Sonora down to Jalisco. In his book Becoming Mexican American, Sanchez notes that Spanish-language radio stations broadcast to Mexico from Los Angeles as early as the 1920s. LA remains the unofficial capital of Mexican Americans in El Norte.

Alpert in 1966

Undeniably, Alpert stood at the top of the heap in 1966. Record sales don’t lie. Whipped Cream and Other Delights sold six million platters, the best-selling LP that year. “A Taste of Honey” won the Grammy for “Best Record of the Year.” Also in 1966, Going Places, featuring “Spanish Flea,” and a third album, What Now My Love, all went to #1, the latter for nine weeks. All told, Alpert sold around fourteen million albums in 1966—way more than, yes, the Beatles.

Confirmation of his domination of the pop charts came when Alpert recorded the title track (composed by Burt Bacharach) for the first-ever James Bond film, Casino Royale, in 1967.

Selections from My Jazz Album Collection

Cultural Appropriation?

For this success, what “right” does Alpert have to “take” Mexican music, shear it of some of its native authenticity, and repackage it for non-Mexican audiences? It’s an important question.

Clearly, Alpert merged Mexican horns into his own sound; but artists incorporate elements of different cultures all the time. Picasso and Gauguin did it. The Talking Heads did it. Dizzy Gillespie and countless other jazz artists did so. Commercial success should not be the measure by which such “mashups” are considered theft or respectful.

As a native Los Angeleno born and raised in culturally diverse Boyle Heights, his neighborhood included countless Mexican Americans and was inextricably twined to Mexico. His visit to Tijuana in 1962 was not his first to that city, but was when it inspired him to incorporate Mariachi horns into his own music.

Alpert’s music even gained some popularity in Mexico. His album Whipped Cream and Other Delights was reported as, “One of the top 10 records in sales in Mexico City.” In 1967, he played a benefit concert in Tijuana before a sold-out crowd of 14,500 people, where he and his band recorded a one-hour program for television’s CBS.

Alpert, of course, was hardly the only American to embrace Mexican and other Latin musical traditions. “Tequila,” a Cuban-mambo slash instrumental rock song by the Champs, a LA session group, reached #1 in 1958 and has been repeatedly covered ever since. The LA-based rock music group, Love, channeled Alpert’s Ameriachi sound to create an iconic hit with “Alone Again Or” (1967), which continues to amaze. Further north, in San Francisco, Mexican-born Carlos Santana had a big hit covering Puerto Rican Tito Puente’s “Oye Come Va.” The long list of country singers, from Marty Robbins to Johnny Cash, who incorporated Mexican horns also springs to mind. Arguably, doing so is an acknowledgement of the impact of and respect for Mexican culture in the United States.

Music hardly is the only site of cultural “mashups,” as the recent LA creation, Korean tacos, confirms. They are a product of a city in which vastly different peoples live near each other and increasingly come together. Who doesn’t love the very idea of the Korean taco? But that mélange does not happen just anywhere. Rather, it emerges in cities like Los Angeles, where peoples and cultures meet and mesh.

Though Alpert’s music was very commercialized—i.e. wildly successful—we need popular musicians pushing boundaries. Whether such efforts are considered “appropriation” or respectful integration remains an ongoing conversation.

After the Sixties

Alpert continued to record, successfully, but perhaps more importantly created and managed a music label, A&M Records, with business partner Jerry Moss. A&M signed, recorded, and distributed an impressive array of musicians including Wes Montgomery, Joe Cocker, Quincy Jones, the Carpenters, Carole King, Cat Stevens, The Police, and many more. He even met his wife, who sang backup for Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66, via A&M, which first brought Mendes to American audiences.

After selling A&M to Polygram in 1989 for half a billion dollars, Alpert became a philanthropist. He has donated tens of millions of dollars, especially to promote music education in his hometown. According to his website: “The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music focuses on cross-cultural experimentation and musical diversity with an emphasis on music and influences from around the world.” Earlier this year, he donated another ten million to Los Angeles City College that will provide all music majors with tuition-free education, additional private lessons, and additional financial support. In his words, “I love that LACC has helped so many low-income students who have financial challenges but have a strong commitment to education and to self- improvement.” Through such generosity Alpert strives to keep music, the arts, and education alive, accessible, and evolving in his native Los Angeles.

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Herb Alpert receiving the Medal of Honor for the Arts, 10 July 2013. Photo by Pete Souza via Wikimedia Commons.

Long-forgotten but shouldn’t be

Today, when considering the greatest American musicians of the 1960s, many spring to mind. The Doors in LA. The Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead in San Francisco. Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix in New York. Stevie Wonder and the Jackson 5 in Detroit. These and many others, much loved and respected, have seen their stars continue to shine.

Still, none were nearly as commercially successful as Alpert in 1966. So, despite John Lennon’s legendary boast that the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus,” Alpert actually was “bigger” than the Beatles if only for a moment. No doubt, he has faded from popular memory. The proof, today, lies in record bins across the land, where it is rare to not find a Herb Alpert album. Believe me, I’ve tried.

So, though every collector has seen—and passed—his LPs, let us not condemn him to the dustbin of music history, “easy listening.” Instead, think of Herb Alpert’s stunning popularity, fifty years ago, as confirmation of Los Angeles as a vibrant city where cultures come together to produce something new and wonderful. Alpert represents the best of an increasingly multicultural America arguably defined, since the 1960s, more by Los Angeles than New York. Proof that borders are meant to be crossed or sometimes even ignored. Proof that it’s better to tear down walls than build them.


Peter Cole is a professor of history at Western Illinois University. He is the author of Wobblies on the Waterfront: Interracial Unionism in Progressive Era Philadelphia and currently at work on Dockworker Power: Race, Technology, and Unions in Durban and the San Francisco Bay Area. He writes extensively on the history of labor unions, port cities, race matters, and politics. He tweets from @ProfPeterCole

Copyright: © 2016 The Author(s). This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Articles

The 43: Remembering Ayotzinapa

Maricela Becerra
Lucy Seena K. Lin
Gus Wendel

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Consuelo Flores’s altar created for Self Help Graphics’ exhibition ‘‘The 43: From Ayotzinapa to Ferguson.’’

Tragedy does strange things to our conception of proximity. Sometimes we can connect more easily to another’s suffering in a different country than we can to a tragedy a few miles away. In the expanse of Southern California, where the experience of urban space is fragmented into disconnected islands of community, what does a mass shooting in San Bernardino, at the urban periphery, mean to someone living in the city of Los Angeles proper? How do Angelenos process an act of violence toward a queer, primarily Puerto Rican, community at an Orlando nightclub? Post-feminist cultural theorist Judith Butler, when writing about the conditions for a “grievable life” makes an “appeal to a ‘we,’ for all of us have some notion of what it is to have lost somebody.”What can we hope to recover by offering our grief across territories in search of a collective memory in this current era of cultural plurality and technological interconnectedness? Los Angeles, as one of the world’s centers of artistic and cultural production, is a laboratory for interrogating the role of art, informality, and grieving in the global twenty-first century. The case of the forty-three disappearedstudents from Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College in Mexico—a tragedy that reverberated throughout the world—has illuminated Los Angeles’ particular role in the production of collective memory.

On 26 September 2014, forty-three students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College disappeared from Iguala, a city in the state of Guerrero, Mexico. Guerrero is a largely rural state with a majority indigenous population, many of whom leave their home region as economic migrants in search of jobs in other Mexican cities and in the United States. With the bodies of two students recovered to date, forty-one students remain missing. Gema Santamaría, Professor of International Studies at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, claims that the Mexican government’s lack of transparency and efficacy in the investigation process reflected its lack of accountability in the aftermath. Indeed, public perception increasingly viewed local law enforcement and the federal government as complicit in the disappearances. “Ayotzinapa ‘fue el Estado’ inasmuch as it was and continues to be the result of impunity and systematic practices of abuse within different levels of government.”3

In Los Angeles, mourning for the students has taken the form of what we call “anti-memorialization,” whereby traditional forms of memorialization are upended through informality, ephemerality, art, and the digital realm, in order to politicize and bring attention to an injustice. While informal memorials have existed as long or longer than their formal counterparts, anti-memorialization moves these informal memorials into the contemporary reality of a digitally networked world and pushes them from private mourning to public activism.There was also an outpouring of protests, demonstrations, and informal memorials throughout Mexico in response to the disappearances, with the largest demonstrations numbering in the tens of thousands on the streets of Mexico City. The global response was no less overwhelming: groups of students, local organizations, artists, activists, and other mourners posted their rituals and protests online to signal their solidarity with the friends and families of the disappeared students, and with the Mexican nationals demanding accountability from their government. The reactions and the incident itself went largely unreported by formal local and global news outlets and instead leapfrogged into the digital realm, where a keyword search of “Ayotzinapa” produced numerous links to a variety of alternative online-style reportage, including blogs, political media sites, YouTube pages, and Twitter feeds and hashtags. The Global Anti-Memorial Map for Ayotzinapa’s 43 locates and catalogs the cities where the anti-memorialization activities were presented first in physical form and then posted and shared online. The public anti-memorials ranged from mass protests, demonstrations of candlelit ceremonies, public performances to the recurring motif of empty school-style chairs that symbolized the missing bodies. Documented and archived on the Internet, these acts represent the beginning of a globally oriented collective memory of mourning and protest.

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Consuelo Flores’s altar created for Self Help Graphics’ exhibition ‘‘The 43: From Ayotzinapa to Ferguson.’’

Seven months after the disappearance of the forty-three students, families and other activists installed a metal sculpture reading “+43” on Mexico City’s Paseo de la Reforma. Along the sidewalk, the phrase “Porque vivos se los llevaron, vivos los queremos!” (“Because they were taken alive, we want them back alive”) was painted. The installation of “+43” was accompanied by no formal ceremony; there were no government officials present. Rather, the installation of what the activists called an “anti-monument” was a public challenge to the Mexican government that had failed to provide any answers. The anti-monument expresses the public’s refusal to accept death as the final condition. Moreover, the anti-monument’s appropriation of public space, just blocks away from formal memorials to Mexican history Ángel de la Independencia and the Monumento de la Revolución, contests the national discourse of what is worth remembering. With the large metal sculpture by an anonymous artist came a warning: if the Mexico City government removed the anti-monument, they would be seen as accomplices of the crime.Several people volunteered as guards of the anti-monument in order to keep it safe.

In Los Angeles, as in Mexico City, the proliferation of anonymous street art, in the form of stenciled and spray-painted icons of the number “43,” political text, and unplanned sidewalk altars nearly two years after the reported disappearance, reflect ongoing informal calls for justice. In an art installation by Consuelo Flores, images of each of the forty-three students are interspersed with floating cutouts of flora and fauna, all suspended above a shrine of red handprints on paper sheets and stones placed in a formation that surrounds a single, black fabric-covered desk to symbolize the student status of the disappeared. The piece was part of an exhibit sponsored by Boyle Heights–based arts organization Self Help Graphics and Art entitled 43: From Ayotzinapa to Ferguson. The exhibition anti-memorializes not just the forty-three students from Ayotzinapa, but victims of police brutality in the United States as well, linking the two social movements across national borders. This anti-memorial was part of a larger, three-part exhibition, Ayotzinapa: A Roar of Silence, which took place over sixteen weeks and involved three other local arts organizations dedicated to social justice: Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC), Center for the Study of Political Graphics, and Art Division.

Embedded in 43: From Ayotzinapa to Ferguson is a cosmopolitan orientation, initiated by the international call for poster art by the Oaxacan-Mexican artist and activist Francisco Toledo to universities, museums, and art communities. The request was Toledo’s way of grieving with mourners around the world, and his action prompted local and global linkages that amplified the otherwise isolated anti-memorialization acts through the organization of political arts spaces in Los Angeles. The coalition among the four arts organizations, prompted by the Center for the Study of Political Graphics in Culver City, is movement-building akin to the sort of organizing in which political activist groups engage. As a group, these organizations assumed the mantle of public accountability even as they contended with their own missions, communities, political and aesthetic principles, and precarity as small, struggling organizations.Shown sequentially, the exhibitions amounted to what the LA Times called an “arts festival of protest” by providing a platform for artists to memorialize the victims, for the immediate public to participate in the related programming, and as a cry for Angelenos to resist structural injustice.

The local and global proliferation of anti-memorials undoubtedly places pressure on those responsible—in particular the complicit Mexican government—to provide answers, to hold someone accountable, and in short, to act. Yet the extent to which the Mexican government cannot ignore its citizens’ demands would seem to depend on the intensity and duration of those demands. In other words, it depends on the degree to which the mourning of the event translates into permanent, collective memory.

According to French philosopher and sociologist Maurice Halbwachs, the theory of collective memory alludes to the idea that “knowledge about the past is shared, mutually acknowledged, and reinforced by collectivities such as small informal groups, formal organizations, or nation states and global communities.”In light of the 2014 event, collective memory has been shaped and defined by cultural or “collective trauma.” The collective memory of trauma is the “memory of an event or situation that is laden with negative affect, represented as indelible, and seen as threatening to a society’s existence or violating its cultural presuppositions.”8

The instances of ongoing violence in Mexico, government culpability, and state-sanctioned violence are not new to Mexico’s history. In 2013, according to the country’s national statistics institute, 93 percent of crimes in Mexico go unreported.During the Ayotzinapa investigation in Iguala, approximately 129 unidentified bodies of disappeared individuals turned up in mass graves unrelated to the Ayotzinapa students.10 Journalist Cesar Martinez wrote that the 1968 student massacre at Tlatelolco, and the forty-three Ayotzinapa students represent the two cultural traumas that have most permeated “Mexican society, political discourse, and civilian dialogues,” in the sense that these events have “usurped a society’s fears and memorialized them as an indicator to prevent a similar case from occurring.”11 To what extent has the collective memory in the aftermath of Mexico’s two “biggest” traumas led to collective action and social change, so that such traumas may never again take place?

Martinez argues that the “collective memories” of 1968 and 2014 have produced art, formal and informal monuments, and film, but no concrete legal accountability for the perpetrators.12 Knowing this, we must ask, is legal accountability the only type of accountability that is valuable to track in these events? In the case of the exhibition at Self Help Graphics, art is the mechanism through which awareness is raised by creating a participatory public, one that invests itself in social change over the long run. While high art is often complicit with the negative externalities of globally networked capital, this kind of participatory, socially engaged, and bottom-up art can be a powerful force for good. In other words, it takes time—and art can be a vehicle through which memory is sustained through time. This is especially important when accounts of “what happened” become increasingly contested.13 It might be better to say, then, that it is the quality and diffusion of the memory of the forty-three students that will ultimately determine the degree to which justice is served. Contemporary memory production, or anti-memorialization, sustains the memory of structural violence to drive the search for justice using tools of the digital age.

Los Angeles has become a key hub in the mourning for Ayotzinapa through its three-part exhibition which extended and amplified its place as a global tragedy. The exhibitions moved the anti-memorials into the gallery, effectively transforming the products of grief and outrage into objects of cultural and aesthetic import. These actions are not to monetize or to fetishize grief. On the contrary, their place in a respected art institution in Los Angeles, a city widely recognized as a cultural capital, state that the issue is important, and that the community of those affected extends from a handful of families in Guerrero to you, a visitor to this gallery.14 Self Help Graphics further localizes a globally diffused mourning by inviting forty-three Southern California–based artists to take part in 43: From Ayotzinapa to Ferguson. The artwork they produced grieves for not only Ayotzinapa victims, but also Los Angeles and the United States, with their histories of institutional violence against people of color. Given the large population of people of color—both immigrants and native-born—Los Angeles as a place embodies this in a heightened sense. In addition, Los Angeles is home to a substantial Mexican population, and specifically communities of indigenous Mexicans from the rural states of Oaxaca, Chiapas, Veracruz, and Guerrero.15 For these communities residing in the United States, they receive news of kin and kith in Mexico digitally, primarily from their online social networks. This is also how information of their transnational communities disperses, creating pathways moving between the local and global. The timeliness of the exhibition speaks to Los Angeles’ unique capacity as a migrant-concentrated, metropolitan node and a center for cultural and artistic production to respond with anti-memorialization, and an exhibition designed to travel beyond its geographic boundaries.

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Ayotzinapa anniversary march in Mexico City, September 2015. Photograph by the Organization of American States Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, via Flickr.

The deluge of submissions to Francisco Toledo, totaling 700 pieces of poster art from locales like Iran, Denmark, Poland, Lebanon, Cuba, and Argentina, and the global manifestation of anti-memorial events, collectively represent the emergence of an extensive interconnected transnational network. This network understands the need for acts of solidarity and the knowledge that the aggregation of voices affects how movements, and, therefore, social change takes place. At a fundamental level, the need for global mourning, for a collective memory, and for what theorist Paul Gilroy calls a “cosmopolitan hope”16 to pursue a globalized humanistic existence is made abundantly clear. This is the learned need for solidarity of a cosmopolitan global community interconnected by digital culture that expresses their agency from below rather than waiting for or expecting that their governments and legal systems will enact the necessary justice. The 43: From Ayotzinapa to Ferguson exhibit is a reminder that when communities here and abroad come together to mourn and demand justice via art, the work produced not only serves as a reminder to reflect on these tragedies, it is a deliberate call to action for us all.

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A Day of the Dead offering to the disappeared Ayotzinapa students in Las Vegas. Photograph by Marco Mora-Huizar, via Flickr.

Notes

1 Judith Butler, Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (London: Verso, 2004), 2.

2 Desaparecido (the Spanish word for “disappeared”) has a different connotation in Mexico than its English translation. In Mexico, “disappeared” is an active verb rather than a passive adjective. To call the forty-three students “disappeared” is to suggest that someone actively made them disappear.

3 Gema Santamaría, “Ayotzinapa: An Unheard Cry for Justice,” OpenDemocracy, 25 June 2016, https://www.opendemocracy.net/democraciaabierta/gema-santamar%C3%ADa/ayotzinapa-unheard-cry-for-justice.

4 For more on the new relationship between digital networks and political activism, see Manuel Castells, Networks of Outrage and Hope (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2015).

5 David Vicenteño, “Colocan ‘Antimonumento’ 43 en reforma por normalistas de Ayotzinapa.”

6 “We’re building threads of unity in order to survive,” Bernstorff says, “because we’re all small organizations, with similar struggles. We don’t survive alone; we survive as a unit.” Deborah Vankin, “A poster exhibit stopping in LA gives voice to Mexico’s missing 43 students,” LA Times, 16 February 2016, http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-ca-cm-43-students-missing-sparc-20160221-story.html.

7 M. Halbwachs, On Collective Memory (Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 1992), 42.

8 Neil J. Smelser, “Psychological Trauma and Cultural Trauma,” in Jeffrey C. Alexander, Ron Eyerman, Bernard Giesen, et al., Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity (Berkeley, University of California Press, 2004), 31–59.

https://news.vice.com/article/suspected-student-massacre-illustrates-depth-of-lawlessness-in-mexico.

10 https://news.vice.com/article/ayotzinapa-a-timeline-of-the-mass-disappearance-that-has-shaken-mexico.

11 César Martínez, “68, 43: Analyzing the Collective Memories and Cultural Traumas of Mexico’s Most Infamous Atrocities,” 68 43, 4 May 2015, https://mexico6843.wordpress.com/68-43-analyzing-the-collective-memories-and-cultural-traumas-of-mexicos-most-infamous-atroicities/.

12 Ibid.

13 Andreas Huyssen, Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), 28, 4.

14 See again Castells’ Networks for more on the roles that community and what he calls “togetherness” play to spark political change.

15 Lisa Kresge, Indigenous Oaxacan Communities in California: An Overview (Davis: California Institute for Rural Studies, 2007).

16 “The challenge of being in the same present, of synchronizing difference and articulating cosmopolitan hope upward from below rather than imposing it downward from on high[…].” Paul Gilroy, Postcolonial Melancholia (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), 67.

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Before a Justice for All march in Washington DC, December 2014. Photograph by Elvert Barnes, via Flickr.

Maricela Becerra is a Ph.D. student in the department of Spanish and Portuguese at University of California, Los Angeles. Her research focuses on the post-memories of the Tlatelolco massacre in contemporary Mexican authors, and the exchanges between the Chicano student movement in Los Angeles and the Mexican student activists in 1968.

Lucy Seena K. Lin is a master’s student in Urban and Regional Planning at University of California, Los Angeles. Her research examines cultural production in everyday practice and in building resilience and vitality of communities.

Gus Wendel is pursuing a master’s degree in urban and regional planning at University of California, Los Angeles. He is interested in the ways that visual culture informs planning and design, the politics of place and space, and urban planning history.

Articles

Vol. 6, No. 3, Fall 2016

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URBAN HUMANITY

Read the latest from Boom California, Volume 6, Number 3, Fall 2016.  All articles from this issue are free and open to read.


Contributors

From the Editor’s Desktop
Jason S. Sexton

The Boom List
What to do, see, read, and hear this fall in California
Boom Staff

What Are the Urban Humanities?
Anthony Cascardi, Michael Dear

Urban Humanities and the Creative Practitioner
A manifesto
Dana Cuff, Jennifer Wolch

A Boom Interview
In conversation with Jonathan Crisman and Jason S. Sexton
Karen Tei Yamashita

Practicing the Future
Exercises in immanent speculation
Jonathan Crisman

The 43
Remembering Ayotzinapa
Maricela Becerra, Lucy Seena K. Lin, Gus Wendel

Monumental Hydraulics
Diego Rivera’s Lerma Waterworks and the water temples of San Francisco
Rafael Tiffany, Susan Moffat

Relocating Romare Bearden’s Berkeley
Capturing Berkeley’s colorful diversity
Lauren Kroiz

A Boom Interview
In conversation with Jennifer Wolch and Dana Cuff
Mike Davis

The Battle of the Bulb
Nature, culture and art at a San Francisco Bay landfill
Susan Moffat

Waves of Data
Illuminating pathways with San Leandro Lights
Greg Niemeyer

Hanging Out with Cyclists
Noam Shoked

Seeking Literary Justice

La Caja Mágica in Boyle Heights
Maricela Becerra, Cat Callaghan, Will Davis, Grace Ko, Benjamin Kolder, Alejandro Ramirez Mendez

Neither Here Nor There
Engaging Mexico City and Los Angeles
Dana Cuff, Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris

Learning the City
Developing new networks of understanding

Jonathan Banfill, Angélica Becerra, Jeannette Mundy

The Inside-Out Museum/The Inside-Out University
A Conversation
Walter Hood, Shannon Jackson

Urban Humanities Pedagogy

The classroom, education, and New Humanities
Jonathan Banfill, Todd Presner, Maite Zubiaurre

Articles

Proposition 47

by Marisa Arrona

Reimagining justice, opportunity, and healing

From Boom Summer 2016, Vol 6, No 2

Rochelle Solombrino was sixteen when she got her first DUI, the same age as her first suicide attempt. A year later, she nearly died from alcohol poisoning. When she was twenty-four, she almost died of a heroin overdose.

“I was on a suicide mission,” Solombrino, now forty-nine, says ruefully. “It wasn’t normal to think like that, but, back then, it was hard to understand what ‘normal’ was.”

She had her first drink at age six and was encouraged by an uncle to start smoking marijuana at a young age. Her stepfather sexually molested her.

She also knew she was gay, but because her family was conservative, and included an uncle who was a conservative pastor, she was scared to be true to herself. Alcohol and drugs were the only things she knew would numb her pain. By fourteen, she had tried not only marijuana but also PCP, LSD, and cocaine.

It should be little surprise, then, that Solombrino’s story includes a period of incarceration. After being arrested a number of times for nonviolent crimes such as petty theft, drug possession, and disorderly conduct driven by her addictions, she was sentenced to eighteen months in state prison. Solombrino became a victim of California’s misguided prioritization of incarceration over crime prevention programs like drug treatment.

“It never made any sense to me that people like myself who were convicted of nonviolent crimes were serving time in the same place as people serving twenty-five-to-life sentences for violent crimes,” she says.

Solombrino’s story is not unique.

Over a three-decade period from 1981 to 2011, the money California spent on prisons and on incarcerating people increased by more than 1,500 percent. During this time, the state also reduced the number of behavioral health treatment beds by nearly half. Meanwhile the recidivism rate skyrocketed to nearly 70 percent, meaning two out of three people released from prison committed new crimes landing them back in prison within three years.

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CHANGE YOUR RECORD CHANGE YOUR LIFE SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 27, 2015 HELD AT EXPOSiTION PARK 2015 Photo by Valerie Goodloe

At a fair in South Los Angeles, people get help applying to have their records changed.

Much of our criminal justice system has proceeded aggressively with the idea that locking up criminals for as long as possible is the most effective way of dealing with crime. But it has become increasingly clear over the years that this approach has failed.

No matter how tough we made the punishments, too many people have cycled in and out of our justice system, But we know now there are much better ways to improve public safety than locking up people like Solombrino in our jails and prisons where they not only don’t receive rehabilitation services but then, upon release, are prevented from successfully reentering society because of their criminal records. After decades of soaring prison costs and recidivism rates, it is imperative that California does whatever it takes to improve our approach to safety and justice.

We have learned a lot over the years about how to deter crime and change criminal behavior. While prison is the proper punishment for the most violent criminals, it often does more harm than good for people convicted of nonviolent offenses, increasing the chance they will keep committing crimes, perpetuating the cycle.

Many California voters believe this, which is why 60 percent of them in November 2014 approved Proposition 47, a measure that changed simple drug possession and five petty-theft crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. Polling done a year after the law went into effect shows that support for Prop. 47 has grown to 67 percent.1

In strong complementary ways, the law helped continue to address the severe overcrowding in the state prison system that the Supreme Court ruled in June 2011 was unconstitutional, and which led to a court-ordered population cap. In the eighteen months since the law went into effect, the population of the state’s overcrowded prison system has been reduced by more than 5,000 people.2 Similarly, California’s overcrowded county jails have also seen their populations reduced as a result of Prop. 47: a recent report by the Public Policy Institute of California found that in the first year after Prop. 47 was approved, jail populations decreased by about 9 percent.

The initiative has also saved the state and counties tens of millions of dollars—money mandated by the law’s language to be reallocated to community-based crime-prevention programs like drug and mental health treatment that help break the cycles of crime, risk prevention, education programs for at-risk schoolchildren, and trauma recovery services to help victims of crime. Now that Governor Jerry Brown’s Department of Finance has calculated the savings generated by Prop. 47 during the first full fiscal year the law has been on the books, the money will be put into the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund and dispersed early next year to local jurisdictions by the Board of State and Community Corrections as part of a grant process.

To be sure, Prop. 47 did not decriminalize misdemeanors, nor did it take away law enforcement’s ability to hold defendants accountable. Law enforcement and the legal system can still arrest, detain, and jail for up to a year someone convicted of a misdemeanor—including the six crimes impacted by Prop. 47. If someone is convicted of multiple misdemeanors, that person can be sentenced to multiple years in jail.

Significantly, the law is also retroactive, meaning that anyone in California with a felony conviction on his or her criminal record for one of the six low-level crimes impacted by Prop. 47 can apply to the courts to have that felony reduced to a misdemeanor. It’s the largest opportunity in the history of the United States for people to change past felony convictions on their records—indeed, as many as one million Californians may be eligible.

In California today, nearly 5,000 restrictions are placed on people with felonies on their criminal records, and more than half of those restrictions are employment-related. Someone with a felony conviction on his or her record, no matter how old it is, cannot obtain a cosmetology license or receive college grants, for example. As a result, many people find it hard or impossible to secure and maintain employment, housing, financial aid to go back to school, and other factors that are key to achieving economic security and family stability.

Solombrino knows this well. Upon being released from prison, she was enrolled in a twelve-step program at Fred Brown Recovery Services in San Pedro, which helped significantly as she found her feet back in society. After successfully completing the program, she started working for Fred Brown, first as a sober-living manager at one of its residential homes and then as an office manager. Today she is the operations coordinator for the entire organization.

Having experienced sober living for seven years now, Solombrino is saving to buy her first home. Four years ago, she achieved a major milestone: getting her driver’s license back. She bought herself a used Jeep—her dream car.

But her criminal history became an issue last year when Fred Brown applied for a county contract. To qualify, no one on the organization’s staff could have a felony conviction on their record. Suddenly, despite all the work she’d done to turn herself around and get her life back on the right track, Solombrino was in danger of having all of it taken away.

But then, at a job fair, she met Prop. 47 advocates who told her about the chance she had to reduce her old felony convictions to misdemeanors. She confirmed that she was eligible and immediately filed an application for relief under Prop. 47. Hers was one of nearly 250,000 applications that have been filed to date.

“I was feeling completely defeated before Prop. 47,” Solombrino says. “Even though I’d done all of this positive stuff in my life, the county could’ve taken away my job even though I’d already paid my debt to society.”

The experience was reminiscent of one from years earlier, when Solombrino applied for Section 8 housing but was denied because of her criminal history.

“That was another defeat,” Solombrino says. “That was just another reason to get drunk.”

Increasingly, policymakers are recognizing the futility of sitting around and waiting for crime to happen and then going after the people who commit those crimes. They’re beginning to invest more into programs that seek to prevent crime from happening in the first place.

In Los Angeles County, for example, the Board of Supervisors has created a task force comprised of officials from the Probation and Sheriff’s departments, as well as other key county representatives. They were tasked with developing a plan for reaching out to as many people as possible in Los Angeles who are eligible to change an old felony on their record to a misdemeanor. County leaders are also working to create jobs and provide services to people once they have received Prop. 47 relief. They’re keeping tabs on the amount of money Prop. 47 saves the county, and they are engaging community members to help decide how that savings will be reinvested.

But in Los Angeles and jurisdictions across the state, more needs to be done.

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Rochelle Solombrino

 

Proposition 47 requires new approaches, and everyone in the justice system needs to be committed to adapting to the change in state law.

Local justice agencies should be expanding best practices in diversion, targeted deterrence, supervised probation, treatment, collaborative courts and neighborhood problem solving, and other strategies that can help protect public safety without wasting costly state prison beds.

Prop. 47 is a historic opportunity to get smart about our justice resources. Adapting to reform is what Californians voted for, what they expect, and what needs to happen now. The old way of doing things busted our budgets and didn’t do anything to improve the health and safety of our communities. Returning to the ways of the past will only waste resources and fail to stop the cycle of crime. We can do better than we’ve done in the past, and Prop. 47 is beginning to show the way.

“I can positively say that although I began my road of recovery from active addiction the day I entered treatment at Fred Brown Recovery Services, it wasn’t until I embarked on Prop. 47 that I started to truly believe I wasn’t a bad person trying to get good, but a good person trying to get well,” Solombrino says. “I began to feel real hope that I could clear the wreckage of my past, redeem myself, and restore my future.”

Notes


1. The California Endowment, Californians Back Prop. 47; Want Investments in Prevention,November 2015 (available at www.calendow.org/survey-californians-back-prop-47-want-investments-in-prevention/).


2. State of California, Office of Governor Edmund G. Brown, California State Budget 2016–2017(available at www.ebudget.ca.gov/FullBudgetSummary.pdf), 44.

Articles

Reflections from Inside

Carlos Adrian Vazquez, Jr.

Editor’s Note: Tucked away in the northern part of the San Fernando Valley at the intersection of the 5 and 210 freeways sat sixteen-year-old Carlos Adrian Vazquez, Jr. in Sylmar’s Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall. He was facing thirty-five-years-to-life for a gang-related murder.

His is an all-too-common story of California youth living fast and dangerous, searching for identity, causing trouble while hoping to survive, and getting caught up. Nearly two years in, he eventually pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, giving him an eleven-year prison sentence that he’s begun serving in state prison now at age eighteen.

While in juvenile hall, Carlos benefited from a stream of volunteers including some of California’s leading juvenile justice reform advocates—Scott Budnick of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition and Javier Stauring among them. Rev. Michael Kennedy with the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative encouraged Carlos through Jesuit meditation practices, which helped Carlos begin to transform his life. Through these things, and by taking responsibility for the pain he caused, Carlos began actively seeking forgiveness from a number of places—society, his family, the family of his victim, God, and even Pope Francis, to whom Carlos wrote after encouragement from Kennedy. To Carlos’s surprise, on 21 January 2016, the Pope wrote him back.1

The forgiveness Carlos sought was something he’d already begun to experience inside, in part through the writing with help from volunteers with InsideOUT Writers. Through self-reflection, he began recounting his story, pinpointing major disappointments, and resketching his narrative in ways that have helped him cultivate humility, understanding, and empathy. Carlos’s writing provides a unique look at restorative justice in action from the perspective of one young offender trying to turn his life around in prison. What follows are excerpts from a twenty-two-page autobiographical essay by Carlos, written in his own hand.

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Carlos writes that, in elementary school, he was “surrounded by positive influences” that enabled him to learn and grow, understand his limits, and become “a less self-centered child.” He started to change when, as a preteen, he was confronted by what he calls “bubble poppers,” people who put him down and told him he would never achieve his dream of becoming a professional soccer player.

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The magnet program Carlos was in would not graduate a student who failed any class, and Carlos managed to pull his grades up in all but one: English. The teacher told him that no matter what he did, he would never pass the class. He did not graduate from high school.

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Carlos had a few minutes with his lawyer before being ushered into court, where, in a brief hearing, he learned his case would be filed to adult court. He never had a hearing to determine whether he was likely to rehabilitate himself in the juvenile system.

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In his first months in jail, Carlos fought repeatedly with the other incarcerated juveniles and was put in “The Box” as punishment. Scott Budnick visited him there often, and he told Carlos he believed in him and that he would not give up on him. Carlos writes that “not only did he give me my life back, he gave me hope again.” Later he writes, “If you’re reading this Scott my boy, I got nothing but love for you.”

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Carlos credits Rev. Michael Kennedy for beginning to heal his “corrupted soul” through prayer and meditation. Kennedy also sparked Carlos’s interest in reflecting and writing about his own life by giving him pamphlets asking him to consider the pain of his childhood and the pain he inflicted on others.

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Through conversations with Javier Stauring, Carlos learned to take responsibility for his role in the murder. He explains that he and many of the people he is incarcerated with defend their actions by saying “it wasn’t me,” because they weren’t the ones holding the knife or the gun that caused the fatal injury. But now he understands that that is not a valid defense, legally or morally.

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With the help of his therapist, Carlos explored his early childhood and the rage for which he could find no outlet other than violence. For a time, Carlos blamed bad parenting for his violence, until a conversation with a friend helped him see things differently. “People stop feeding you and you start feeding yourself these lies. It’s your mind and mentality that has you thinking like that,” the friend told him. Carlos writes that “reality felt like a slap in the face. My mind wanted to deny it because it’s always been use to denying the truth.”

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Note

1. “Pope replies to letter from juvenile gang member jailed in Los Angeles,” cnn.com, 4 March 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/03/03/us/pope-francis-mercy-letter-los-angeles-juvenile-inmate.

 

 

 

 

 

Articles

Healing the Broken

by Javier Stauring

From Boom Summer 2016, Vol 6, No 2

In more than two decades of working with incarcerated children, their families, and victims of crime, I have seen a lot of change in American crime and punishment. Recently, the chant of “tough on crime” has become “smart on crime” and a bipartisan issue. It is now politically safe to advocate that those with nonviolent and drug-related offenses be released from prison. I am profoundly grateful for the positive changes that allow some of our brothers and sisters to come home. However, some of these people should never have been in prison in the first place. Passing laws to give them a better chance of being released from prison is less an act of generous humanitarianism than an attempt for society to regain its sanity and correct some terrible legislation.

The United States is the only country in the world that sentences children to life in prison without the possibility of parole, but that horrifying practice is beginning to wane. Over the past five years, state and federal Supreme Courts have ruled that mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles is unconstitutional, and California has enacted legislation that allows most of those sentenced to life as juveniles to petition for a new sentencing hearing. The hope generated by these efforts, giving a second chance to those who committed serious crimes at a young age, is transformational. This pendulum shift is the hard-won result of the organizing and advocacy efforts of passionate, resilient people who have lived with the ramifications of the gross failures of our justice system.

When a teenager is sentenced to life in prison with no chance of ever securing release, it is a signal that society has given up on that person. But what good does that do the wider community from which he or she came? It creates a new family destroyed by crime, ripped apart by loss. When you consider that most victims and perpetrators of crime come from the very same communities, it compounds the tragedy. I have met too many moms who visit one son in prison on Saturday and another son in the cemetery on Sunday. Instead of inflicting further injury on already traumatized communities, we must find a way to help them heal. This has been my life’s work, first as a chaplain at Central Juvenile Hall in Los Angeles, then as a minister at the Office of Restorative Justice of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and finally as executive director at Healing Dialogue and Action.

Juvenile Justice in Los Angeles

Photograph of Javier Stauring by Joseph Rodriguez/Redux.

David hardly ever gets any visitors. All his relatives have moved back to Mexico. But Javier comes to visit, and that means a lot.
“I never had a father, so Javier filled that spot. At first I was suspicious, but he didn’t give up on me. He kept in contact. He tells me things I never heard before. He gives me hope and has the expectations of me that I don’t even have for myself. Javier makes me feel that I have not been forgotten.”
Calipatria State Prison, Calipatria, CA 10.14

In our society, some try to reconcile a fixation on extreme punishment by making simplistic claims such as, “I stand with the victims.” The implication is that, in the name of justice, we should pick a side: the victim or the offender, the good person or the evil one. But it’s not that simple.

At Healing Dialogue and Action, we bring together the families of murder victims and the families of youth who were tried as adults and given lengthy adult prison terms; the two groups that every written and unwritten rule says should never meet. Every convention asserts that they have nothing in common; the criminal justice system reinforces the belief that they have only opposing interests.

Healing Dialogue and Action starts with the idea that families of victims and families of offenders have experienced loss, violence, trauma, disenfranchisement, and being voiceless in a system that affects their lives. We believe those experiences harm people emotionally and physically. Our model is grounded in the concept that both personal interaction and the opportunity to act for the greater good through advocacy create pathways of healing.

At a recent Healing Dialogue and Action gathering, I sat in a small circle with six mothers who shared stories of loss, pain, and the desire to heal. Three of the mothers had children who were murdered, and the other three had children who were sentenced to life in prison for participating in a murder. Juana described the unimaginable day in which her life changed forever when her twenty-three-year-old daughter and four-month-old granddaughter were murdered. Next, it was Monica’s turn to share, although she could barely speak after listening to Juana. Monica said, “I feel like I don’t deserve to cry because my son murdered someone; you, Juana, deserve to cry because your children were taken from you.” Monica went on to talk about the paralyzing guilt she felt, which made it impossible for her to leave her house for two years following her son’s trial. Juana then got up, embraced Monica, and said, “Of course, you deserve to cry. You lost your son as well, and I want to do whatever I can to help you bring your boy home one day.” Two mothers, connected by shared pain, listening to each other with open hearts, leaning on one another and finding a piece of themselves in each other to become the best version of human beings we could all aspire to be.

Despite the inconceivable pain shared by Monica, Juana, and our brothers and sisters in prison, I have hope. My hope comes from accompanying young children who grow to realize they are more than the labels placed on them. It comes from attending to the families of homicide victims and being inspired by their ability to transform their loss and help others heal. It comes from accompanying resilient men and women who have spent decades in the most dehumanizing places ever built and who refuse to give up on their humanity. It comes as a product of the many lessons learned from the people who’ve taught me who God is.

These lessons include a number of principles that have shaped my work in seeking justice in California among both victims and offenders, so called. They may indeed serve as theses for our future as we seek a more just California.

Crime plus punishment does not equal justice. While vengeance and retribution might show the measures of our resolve, compassion and love are the measures of our humanity.

The greatest impact crime and our systemic response to crime have on our society is immense human suffering.

The severe effect of our justice system on both the offender and the victim parallels the pain and trauma that is endured by family relationships and communities of both.

Communities cannot regain health simply by throwing people away when they violate laws.

The government is responsible for maintaining order; it is the communities’ responsibility to build peace. The moral turf of justice cannot be left to law enforcement and politicians.

The cliché is true: hurt people hurt people. But similarly, healed people also heal people.

To build a justice system that promotes healing of people that are hurt by crime, we need to move into closer proximity to the individuals who are wounded.

There is no “us” and “them.” There is only us.

In closing, my greatest hope comes from praying that our society will one day realize the gift that people who have suffered the most have the greatest potential to teach us about our own humanity. If crime hurts, justice should heal.

 

Articles

Latino Urbanism

by David Butow

From Boom Spring 2016, Vol 6, No 1

Editor’s note: In his 1994 review of the newly redesigned Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles, architecture critic Leon Whiteson noted that LA is an “intensely private” place where public spaces “seldom serve as real meeting places for the population of a fractured city.” It was hoped that the park’s design, by Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta and landscape architect Laurie Olin, with its bold colors and forms and nods to local history, would be a public gathering place for both the mostly Anglo community that worked west of the park and the mostly Latino commercial district just to the east. In his review, Whiteson asked, “Can an act of architecture change a city’s ingrained social habits?” The answer, at least the one provided by Pershing Square, was no. Whether it was the lack of trees and shade, awkward access points, or a general allergy to Legorreta’s postmodern design, people did not flock to the park.

But can social habits change a city’s architecture? James Rojas, an urban planner who pioneered the idea of “Latino Urbanism,” says that’s exactly what is happening in California’s cities and around the country. Latino Urbanism describes the myriad ways that immigrants from Latin America are remaking American cities to feel more like the places from which they came. It describes a culture in many ways the opposite of the “intensely private” city Leon Whiteson described, with an emphasis much more on sociability and extending private and commercial realms outside and onto the street. Perhaps there’s no better example of this than LA’s CicLAvia—modeled on Bogotá’s Ciclovía—the open streets festival that brings tens of thousands of pedestrians and cyclists out onto temporarily closed streets.

Latino Urbanism is remaking California not by demolishing and rebuilding—as Legorreta’s Pershing Square did—but by adapting what already exists. Metal fences are erected in front of low-slung ranch houses, murals are painted on shop fronts, informal markets crowd sidewalks, and the streets spring to life.

We sent photographer David Butow around California to capture some of this spirit.