BY David E. Hayes-Bautista and Gregory Rodriguez
In late July the beating of a Latino youth by an African American police officer in an L.A. suburb reignited talk of a rift between Latinos and blacks. An op-ed in the August 14 Los Angeles Times alleged a "worsening friction" between the two groups, echoing an October 1992 Atlantic Monthly cover story ominously tided "Blacks vs. Browns." At the core of these claims is a belief, articulated in the Atlantic story, that a "grim" competition exists between Latinos and African Americans. Yet in communities all over Southern California-particularly in the L.A. suburb of Inglewood-these groups are forging a peaceful future in the face of population shifts.
Situated between South-Central L.A. and the Los Angeles International Airport, Inglewood may be the most demographically volatile nine square miles in California-The city of more than 110,000 was predominantly white in 1970; by 1980 it was predominantly black. Although it is home to many professionals and is part of a triangle of contiguous communities that make up one of the largest concentrations of middle class African Americans in the United States, white flight has left Inglewood with a bad reputation. Director Lawrence Kasdan used the city as a symbol of urban hell in his 1991 movie Grand Canyon. For years it has been referred to as "Inglewatts."
Still, Inglewood's formidable tax base-which includes the Hollywood Park horse racing track and the Great Western Forum, the home of the Los Angeles Lakers and Kings-have kept it from going the way of other cities that whites have abandoned. Blacks there have nearly half the poverty rate of blacks in the rest of L.A. County. In Morningside Park, the city's most heavily black district, and the area with the most homeowners and registered voters, African Americans who moved in since the 1970s are better educated than the whites who left.
0ver the years, as whites have continued to leave, upwardly mobile blacks have moved out of the city's poor and blue-collar neighborhoods, and Latinos have moved in. When Alfredo and Virginia Gonzalez came to Inglewood in 1976, they were attracted by the affordable -housing prices. Theirs was the second Latino family on the block. Within a decade more than 25,000 Latinos arrived, mostly Mexican immigrants, and the number of Latino homeowners tripled. "They're not running from us, and we're not running from them," says Virginia Gonzalez. "We've never had problems here. The blacks have always treated us well." African American officials, many of whom recall white resistance to their own arrival, are sensitive to issues of race and ethnicity, says Father Paul Montoya, the pastor of St. John's Catholic Church. A second-generation Mexican-American, Montoya feels the city's black leadership has tried to include Latinos, and he has been preaching civic participation in his Spanish Masses. "It takes time for both people and institutions to respond to such a dramatic change in the population," he says.
In the meantime, black and Latino children are growing up together-and despite news reports that labeled a gang fight at Inglewood High School this spring a "mini race riot," ethnic tensions are not tearing the diverse student body apart. "My parents didn't raise me to get along with only one race," says Armando Macias, an 18-year-old senior whose best friend is African American. Inglewood High's black principal, Dr. Kenneth Crowe, is so confident in the health of the school's learning environment that his son, who lives with him outside the district, is enrolled there.
Two policies adopted in Inglewood during the last year by black and Latino officials suggest that a post-minority consciousness is taking hold. On March 18 city officials introduced Southern California's most comprehensive juvenile curfew program, the brainchild of a Latino councilman, Jose Fernandez, and three-term African American Mayor Edward Vincent. Under the new ordinance, after 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends, anyone under 18 years old found on the street without a specific destination and unaccompanied by an adult guardian is taken to the police station and kept there until his parents pick him up. By all accounts the curfew is keeping children off the street at night. During the first weekend more than eighty kids were hauled in. On a recent Friday, only three kids, all of whom had had previous run-ins with the law, were picked up.
Fernandez, who was born in Cuba but raised in Inglewood, feels that the city's ethnic and socioeconomic makeup allows for blacks and Latinos to come together and subvert what many here see as the larger culture's laissez-faire morality. His heavily blue collar Mexican immigrant constituency applauds the curfew because it supports the Latino view of family and responsibility. African Americans, meanwhile, see the curfew as exactly the sort of "back to basics" approach they want. Now that whites are a minority in Inglewood, there is less concern that a curfew will be used to abuse the civil rights of nonwhites. In Inglewood, at least, law and order is no longer a code phrase for racism. In 1988 the city became one of very few in California to raise its property tax rates so it could put more police on the street.
The other popular local move to combat crime and youth delinquency is the decision by KACE-FM to to Ice gangster rap off its playlist-the only radio station in Southern California to do so. Program Director Rich Guzman, a Latino whose first job in radio was hosting a Tex-Mex show in Racine, Wisconsin, said he felt the rhythm-and-blues station could no longer play music that denigrates women, promotes drug and alcohol abuse and dignifies gunslinging. Mark Gunn, KACE'S African American music director, agreed. While neither blames music for society's ills, they don't see a need to play songs that glorify and-social behavior.
To date, no white-owned R&B station has followed their lead, but that does not surprise them. Nor does it daunt them. "No outside agency in the world is going to solve our problems," says Gunn. "It's all about self Self-discipline and self-reliance. People are waking up."
David E. Hayes-Bautista is director of the Alta California Policy Research Center. Gregory Rodriquez is a research associate at the center.