Little San Salvador: Identity of Places/Places of Identity in an Innercity Enclave of Los Angeles, California

By Cruz, Marcelo | The Journal of Latino - Latin American Studies, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

Little San Salvador: Identity of Places/Places of Identity in an Innercity Enclave of Los Angeles, California


Cruz, Marcelo, The Journal of Latino - Latin American Studies


Introduction

In the last 30 years, the growth of the city of Los Angeles has created a significant body of literature analyzing economic restructuring, immigration, poverty, polarization, exclusion and their implications for city morphology and urban policies. This paper explores the process of constructing identity and place within the context of Los Angeles as a "world city." As such, many of its immigrants from Latin America, have made Los Angeles their home. Through the use of a case study the paper examines the development of little San Salvador, an inner city enclave or neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. An important part of this development is the relationship between Salvadoran immigrants and the forces of redevelopment and global economic integration in the creation of community.

Significant Salvadoran migration to Los Angeles began in the 1980s, as civil unrest in El Salvador led to the outbreak of civil war. Salvadorans arriving during this period came with a collective memory and social biographies that reflected their homeland and the offensive of 1981 by the FMLN (Farabundo Marti de Liberación Nacional), and the subsequent prolonged guerilla warfare that followed (La Prensa Grafica, 1992). Hostilities did not come to an end in El Salvador until January 16, 1992. During this period, many Salvadorans came to live in the Pico Union/Westlake district, an ethnically mixed working class neighborhood, just west of the Central Business District (CBD) of Los Angeles, transforming it into "Little San Salvador." In so doing, the filtering process of culture (language, music, foods, ways of knowing) created an urban place that identified with being Salavadoreño and in the process created differentiation of place (Abrahamson, 1996, Reville, 1996). However, this construction of place is riddled with tension and conflict.

The construction of place does not take place in a political and economic vacuum. Issues of territoriality and power relationships provide the context of social interaction in the construction of places and spaces (Sack, 1980; Valle & Torres, 2000). Salvadorans in Pico Union/Westlake negotiate with the larger social and spatial structures dominated by the dominant mainstream Anglo society, through a cultural grammar that codifies these social constructions of places and spaces. This paper provides a theoretical framework that uses cultural approaches to redefine urban places and urban morphology dialectically as locales of symbolic meaning in which space is represented through a variety of perceptions that interact with the material built environment. This process, of symbolic transference in turn, aid in the construction of identity. Thus, the construction of place and identity are linked dialectically as identity is influenced and influencing place.

The construction of Salvadoreño spaces/identity in Pico Union/Westlake is done within the broader spatial context of inner city redevelopment efforts of the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) and the modernization and expansion of the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). The leapfrog development of the Central Business District into the Pico Union/Westlake neighborhoods, guided through the CRA, and the regional development plans centered around the construction of an underground subway metro rail, which cuts diagonally across Pico Union/Westlake, are forces that threaten and challenge Salvadoreño spaces. At the same time, Salvadoran immigrants arriving in Los Angeles during the 1980s are a product of years of civil war and political struggle in their home country. Political organizing learned during this experience has informed a generation of young Salvadoran community leaders keenly aware of political processes and community organizing in Pico Union/Westlake. They have been successful, in part, in modifying and resisting large scale redevelopment projects in their neighborhoods.

The argument made in this paper is that this process of continuous negotiation and redefinition of space and place in Pico Union/Westlake between the CRA, the MTA and Salvadoreño identity, not only provides the context, but the text by which a unique Pico Union/Westlake identity is constructed. …

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