East Los Angeles

Do the people of East LA benefit from diversity?

A few years ago I had the opportunity to go on a 2 year mission for my church serving the Latino communities in East Los Angeles. I focused on serving people amongst the areas I lived in. I lived in Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights, Pomona, Pasadena and Tujunga. Each of these areas had a unique demographic which I was able to learn from as I visited at least 15 homes a week and spoke to no less than 50 new people a week outside of their homes. 

 

One evening in Boyle Heights, myself and two others were on our way home on the train station. I was still getting used to the area and its public transportation so I unknowingly got off the wrong station. This wasn’t really an issue because I wasn’t far from home. I walked out of the station and they had police checking people’s payment cards. As I gave mine to a white officer, he scoffed and said “you’re really going to try to work with these animals down here?” From this point on, I began to ask myself if the culturally rich areas I got to be in truly benefitted from the surrounding diversity like I did. 

What I Found

The ethnic enclaves that existed were self sustaining giving them little reason to go outside of them. This even extended to immigrants not learning English and fully assimilating to American culture. 

Adherence to these enclaves reinforced prejudices between races due to lack of regular interaction with neighboring cultures. In some cases, tensions presented themselves between racially based gangs.

Sociologist Elijah Anderson dubbed places of civility where races interact harmoniously as Cosmopolitan Canopies. In East LA, these canopies were centered around food and large events. For example, whites and Hispanics were able to connect through traditional food served at local restaurants. Events such as the Rose Parade unite people from all walks of life to peacefully watch elegant floats cruise passed by them. 

More privileged races could take advantage of immigrants who faced the reality of being deported or separated from their families. This type of exploitation would go unchecked because minorities usually lacked leverage in these types of situations. 

It also becomes difficult for immigrants with higher education to be successful because their education does not match the standards the United States has for higher end jobs. 

The melting pot of East Los Angeles has its own set of problems as segregation has set in with a plethora of immigrants making it their home. On paper, it looks like one of the most diverse places in the world. But even a place like Los Angeles has barriers between cultures and races. Although it's a complex issue that contains other factors such as socioeconomic status and education, as we take time to understand and partake in others cultures we are not only benefitting from diversity but helping break down the walls we may have not even realized were there.