Amoeblog

California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Little India

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 20, 2011 05:00pm | Post a Comment
YOU'RE MY LOVE SONG IN THE FLOWERS -- LITTLE INDIA


Little India is a small neighborhood within Artesia centered on Pioneer Blvd. However, since the population of Artesia surrounding Little India is more Mexican, Filipino and Chinese (not to mention home to smaller but significant number of Koreans and Vietnamese), the city council and mayor rather lamely compromised, officially designating it the "International and Cultural Shopping District." Catchy, huh? That silliness suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of what a designated ethnic enclave is... that is, a community that retains a cultural distinction from the larger community. Oh well, everyone knows it as Little India, whether it's official or not.




EARLY ARTESIA - DAIRYLAND

Artesia, named after the area's artesian wells, was primarily developed in the 1920s and '30s by mostly Portuguese and Dutch dairy farmers. Later came Dutch-colonized Indonesians. The character of Southeast Los Angeles became increasingly suburban after World War II and most of the homes in the immediate area date from the mid 1940s to the early '50s.


Pioneer Boulevard in the 1950s

As development increased, so did the value of the land and most of the local farmers sold and began moving away to Chino or the Central Valley to continue farming. The Portuguese-Brazilian Portazil Bakery, the Portuguese restaurant The Navigator and the Dutch Artesia Bakery have all closed in recent decades after many years of operation.


There are still vestiges of Artesia's ethnic past with organizations like the Artesia Portuguese DES, Portugal Imports, Artesia Drive In Dairy and California Dairies. In addition, the Portuguese Festa do Espirito Santo still occurs annually.


In the 1970s, the first Indian-American merchants began to move into the older buildings along the boulevard (some which date back to the 1920s -- their architecture and sign shapes give hints to their original purposes). As Little India grew, new mini-malls were built. Most of the newer shopping buildings date back to the 1990s and are ugly, bland, nondescript and vaguely Mexican-looking strip malls so common throughout the region. 


Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of Little India

As with many of ethnic enclaves in Los Angeles, the exteriors of Little India give little hint as to what lies beneath the faded stucco surface. Roll down the windows, however, and the unmistakable smell of Indian food and spices wafts pleasantly through the air. Peek inside the buildings to find crowded, cluttered markets and restaurants that tend to look more like dingy cafeterias or, alternately, garish nightclubs. But before we delve into Little India, allow me to elaborate on the much older history of Indians in America.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF INDIAN-AMERICANS

The history of Indian-Americans is older than that of the USA itself. It began in the 1600s, when the East India Company brought Indian servants to the American colonies, where they were treated, essentially, as slaves. In fact, in 1680, an Indian man and Irish woman gave birth to a baby girl. Being "mixed-race," she was classified as "mulatto," taken from her parents and promptly sold into slavery. After the US achieved freedom from the British Empire, the first recorded Indian immigrants arrived in the 1790s, to work in the maritime industry.

 

Larger numbers of Indians, mostly Punjabi Sikhs, began immigrating to America and Canada's west coast in the early 20th century, mostly to work in lumber mills and on the railroads. There they faced considerable hostility and in Live Oak, California and Bellingham, Washington, they were driven from town by angry white mobs.

 
 
Left: A.K. Mozumdar (second from right) Right: the Asiatic Barred Zone

To make matters worse, the 1913 passage of the California Alien Land Law made non-citizen Asians ineligible to own property. A few months later, even leasing land became off limits to Indians. The same year, Indian-American religious figure A.K. Mozumdar became the first to earn US citizenship after successfully arguing before a district judge that he was “Caucasian” and therefore eligible under the naturalization law that restricted citizenship to free white people. In 1917, the Asiatic Barred Zone Act banned Asians from a large part of the continent from immigrating to the US.

 
 
Bhagat Singh Thind 

In 1923, the case of United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind (a World War I veteran who'd fought for the US) results with Indians' being ineligible for citizenship because, though classified as Caucasian, they're also determined to be "not white." A.K. Mozumdar, along with all naturalized Indian-Americans that followed him, had his citizenship revoked as a result.

  

In 1946, Missourian President Harry Truman signed into law the Luce-Celler Act of 1946, returning the right of immigration and naturalization to a limited number of Indians and Filipinos. In 1965, Texan President Lyndon Johnson signed the INS Act into law, eliminating per-country immigration quotas.

 
Left: 
Kaushal Sharan years after his attack, Right: 
Navroze Mody (middle)

In the 1980s, as more Indians were able to move to the US, they met increased hostility. Gangs like The Dotbusters formed in New Jersey to target Indians with violence and harassment. In 1987, one of their victims, Kaushal Sharan, was beaten with a baseball bat and suffered brain damage. Navroze Mody wasn't so lucky and was beaten to death by the same gang, also in 1987.

   
   Balbir Singh Sodhi                         Frank Roque                             Saurabh Bhalerao recovering from his attack

After the 9/11 Arab Terrorist Attacks, non-Arab South Asians in several cases bore the brunt of inflamed racist hatred. Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh gas station attendant, was shot five times and killed by Frank Roque in Los Angeles. Roque was picked up after boasting at a bar, "They're investigating the murder of a turban-head down the street." In 2002 a Hindu pizza deliverer, Saurabh Bhalerao, was mugged and beaten in Massachusetts for "being Muslim." His attackers, after telling him to go back to Iraq, stuffed him in the trunk of their car. Bhalerao escaped and took a hammer to one of his cowardly assailants before being stabbed as he fled.

California Fool's Gold -- A Southeast Los Angeles Primer

Posted by Eric Brightwell, April 28, 2009 06:52pm | Post a Comment
SELACO - THE SOUL OF SUBURBAN SPRAWL


Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of Southeast Los Angeles County


Introduction to Southeast Los Angeles County

One of my favorite aspects of the Southland is that there is no single, dominant center. Whereas many bemoan the region’s sprawl, I prefer to think of it as a vast, occasionally smoggy theme park, with scattered neighborhoods and cities all exhibiting their own charms just like the rides at “the happiest place on Earth.” But instead of Critter Country, Mickey's Toontown or Tomorrowland, we have the IE (Inland Empire), the Valley (the San Fernando Valley), the Eastside, the Westside, South LA, the Pomona Valley, The Harbor, the San Gabriel Valley, the South Bay, the Santa Monica Mountains, Angeles Forest, the Channel Islands, Northeast LA (NELA), the Antelope Valley, Northwest County, the Verdugos, Downtown, Midtown, the Mideast Side, &c.

Outside of Los Angeles County there's the Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario Metropolitan Area, the Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura Metro Area, more Channel Islands, and Orange County, each with their own regions. But there is one scarcely-discussed region of Los Angeles County that, as far as I know, lacks a name despite its unique character, like that part of Fantasyland around Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. I speak of the communities of southeast Los Angeles County. OK, whilst hardly the epicenter of, well, much of note in the Southland, it’s in no way the complete, cultural no man’s land that its near absolute lack of exposure or press suggests and I hope to suggest that there are actual points of interest or at least note in the area.

Imperfect existing terms

The cities and neighborhoods north of the Harbor area, east of South Los Angeles, west of OC and south of East LA and the SGV are, in the official usage of the Los Country Board of Supervisors, referred to with the unwieldy and colorless moniker “Southeast Los Angeles County.” There are several names that actually apply to the area, but all are problematic for the same reasons -- they don’t correspond either entirely or solely to the area in question. The 562 area code covers much of the area but also parts of Long Beach, Orange County and South Los Angeles, The Gateway Cities is an even larger area, including not only the 562 area but also parts of East Los Angeles, the San Gabriel Valley and the South Bay. Given the historical importance of dairy farming in the area, Paramount, Bellflower, Cerritos, La Palma and Cypress were often collectively referred to as the Dairy Cities or Dairyland, but Cypress and La Palma are in Orange County, so that's out.

Support for Selaco

In order to promote pride and awareness of the area, I coined the term Selaco, roughly an acronym for SouthEast Los Angeles COunty. My thinking was that it would catch on in the way Benelux, WeHo and NoHo have, yet WeCo (for West Covina) sadly hasn’t, regardless of how often I say it. A little research proved, to my surprise, that (as with almost all my attempted neologisms) I was beaten to the punch and there was a small but real precedent for the term "Selaco" or variations already. For example there is SLACYD (Southeast Los Angeles Country Young Democrats), ARCSELAC (The Association for Retarded Citizens of Southeast Los Angeles County), SELACO WIB (The Southeast Los Angeles County Workforce Investment Board) and, most encouragingly, a school in the Selaco city of Downey called Selaco-Downey High. If saying “Selaco” makes you cringe, just keep repeating it until you’re numb. If Selaco had been in use a couple of years ago, the outwardly generic, ultimate suburb with the seedy underbelly would've probably become the title to David Lynch's last film instead of the misleading Inland Empire.


The character of Selaco

The area that makes up Selaco, like almost all of the Southland, passed from the hands of the Tongva, to the Spanish, then the Mexicans, and finally the US. Once part of the US, the area was largely inundated with Dutch and Portuguese dairy farmers. With the expansion of trains and the discovery of oil, many more people moved to the area. During World War II, much of the area became the site of heavy industry and Selaco, along with South Los Angeles, made up the industrial core of the Southland. During and following World War II, areas of Selaco also became heavily suburban and populated by returning GIs and their families. When industry began to relocate, jobs began to disappear and crime rose. In the face of vacating industry and suburban decay, many of the mainly middle class black and white residents moved away to newer suburbs in other parts of the county. A large majority of the new inhabitants were recent immigrants from Mexico. In spite of any apparent heterogeneity, Selaco is in fact fairly diverse. In fact, the so-called ABC region (Artesia-Bellflower-Cerritos) is ethnically and linguistically among the most diverse regions in the country. Being a vast flood plain, it tends to be quite flat geologically, but also architecturally. There are a few taller structures however, probably the tallest being the 10-story Bank of the West in Commerce.
 
 

Artesia

Artesia is named after the area’s many artesian wells, which I vaguely remember learning about in my Rocks for Jocks (Geology 101) class. As it suburbanized, most of the dairy farmers moved to Chino or the Central Valley. The stretch of Pioneer Blvd between 183rd and South is known to most people as Little India. There is a huge number of clothing stores, various varieties of Indian restaurants and lots of beauty salons. Pretty much any night (besides Mondays) the sidewalks are bustling with a mostly south Asian crowd. However, Indians only make up a small percentage of greater Artesia and around Little India there are a large number of Korean-owned businesses. Because there are also large numbers of Azoreans, Chinese, Filipinos and Mexicans, the city compromised and the official name of the area is the unfortunately faceless but thankfully rarely-used "International and Cultural Shopping District."

 
 
Michelle Kwan, most famous as an ice-skater but also an occasional voice actor [Arthur (the cartoon, not the films about the lovable alcoholic), Mulan II and others], operates the East West Ice Palace in Artesia. In addition, the film Rising Shores was filmed in Little India... whoops, I mean the International Peoples' Commercial Consumer Zone of... whatever. Its most famous feature is the water tower atop an artesian well that was featured prominently in Freddy's Dead - The Final Nightmare.
 

Bell


Pioneer James George Bell moved from Missouri to the area, which he subsequently farmed, presided over as the first postmaster, and established himself as a noted Freemason, living in the Victorian, eponymous Bell House. In 1896, he graciously leant his name to the town he lived in. Bell (the town, not the man) didn’t see significant growth until the 1920s. In 1925, the Alcazar Theater opened. Not surprisingly, it later became known as the Bell Theater and subsequently, when James was safely gone, the Liberty Theater before it was demolished in the late 1980s. In the 1960s, 15-year-old George Escobedo of Huntington Park stabbed to death two 17-year-olds in the theater's restroom, Robert Haney of Cudahy and Billie Bogard of Bell Gardens. According to Escobedo, they and two other cornered him and his friend, telling them, “We don’t like surfers round here," at which point Escobedo jabbed them.
 
In other film-related news, AMPAS Executive Director Bruce Davis described Bell as a “Bermuda Triangle for Oscar things” after, in 2000, 55 Oscars were stolen from a City of Bell loading dock... following 4,000 Oscar ballots being misrouted and showing up at Post Office processing center in Bell.

 

  1989’s Intruder and the 2008 short Cure were filmed in Bell.

 
Bell Gardens

In keeping with standard Los Angeles County nicknaming practices, Bell Gardens is frequently referred to as “Bell Garbage" (get it?), although I would prefer "Smell Gardens," but that doesn't seem destined to be. Bell Gardens is also named after James Bell. The “gardens” of its name derives from the many Japanese who, early in Bell Gardens’ existence established vegetable gardens and rice fields in the fertile soil. Beginning in the 1930s, cheap homes were constructed, filled largely by defense plant workers. Bell Gardens is also home to the oldest home in Los Angeles County (Casa de Rancho San Antonio or the Henry Gage Mansion), begun in 1795 by Francisco Salvador Lugo and his son, Antonio María Lugo.
 
 

Bellflower

Unlike other Selaco towns with “bell” in the name, Bellflower most likely derives its name from a mispronunciation of Belle Fleur, a type of apple grown by local pioneer William Gregory. How it became the name of the town is something of a mystery, although it was reportedly foisted upon the unknowing townsfolk by a group of so-called “leading citizens.” It originally experienced a jolt of growth when the famed Red Cars made a stop there and the population grew from about 100 to 1200 in just a few years, with Somerset Avenue becoming the center of excitement in town. Before that, its citizens took joy in being “The home of 200,000 laying hens.” By the 1950s and ‘60s, Bellflower Boulevard was a happening thoroughfare popular with those wanting to cruise and Clark Street was known for its shopping. In large part rejecting malls and chains, Bellflower chose to promote mom-and-pop stores and its small-town vibe. Nicknaming itself “The Friendly City,” many of the residents nonetheless moved away to the more modern suburbs of the SFV, SGV and OC. By the ‘90s, Bellflower was nearly bankrupt. Most recently, the media has returned to “The Friendly City” to follow the adventures of Octomom.


The school scenes of The Invisible Kid, and the short films Picket Guy and Until Next Time were filmed in Bellflower.

 
 

Cerritos

With its connotations of polluted air, deafening noise, gridlock and road rage, it’s hard to imagine a city crowing over its bounty of interstates and congested roadways. Cerritos (aka “The Freeway City”) presumably chose that appellation back when people thought that cigarettes were good for one’s T-zone or that carpets were a good idea. Cerritos, formerly Dairy Valley, became Cerritos in 1967. For the first two years of the ‘70s, it held the distinction of being the fastest growing city in the state. In keeping with the town's tradition of curious priorities, today citizens of Cerritos boast the New Orleans-style architecture of the Cerritos Auto Square (the world’s largest auto mall), the antiquatedly-spelled “Ceritos Towne Center” (built in ’94) and a big mall built in 1971, Los Cerritos Center. In the 1980s, Cerritos became a favored destination for Filipino immigrants, as well as many Chinese and Koreans. In 1986, an air collision above the city killed 82 and the Cerritos Sculpture Garden was created to commemorate the disaster. Public transportation in the city is courtesy of the propane-fuelled Cerritos On Wheels (COW). The four-acre Pat Nixon Park occupies the site of the former First Lady's childhood home and truck farm, where she lived from 1914 until 1931.

 

The city has many ties to the entertainment industry. The Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts opened in 1993 with “Old Blue Eyes” singing four consecutive dates. Cerritos is also the birthplace of Morris Chesnut and the hometown of Roger Lodge. Until Tomorrow Comes, Coneheads, She's All That and Eli's Liquor Store were all mostly or entirely filmed there, as was Thunder’s “Boys Like Girls” music video and the short film The First Time.

Commerce

Straight out of Commerce. In the northwest corner of Selaco, with East LA to the north and South Central to the west, the city of Commerce is often called “City of Commerce" and it is indeed where it takes place, if the "it" in question is... commerce. In 1887, when the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway built its main line through the area, the area quickly became industrialized. In the late 1940s, industrial figures, along with residents of Bandini, Rosewood and Bell Gardens, gave the city its name to encourage commerce. It became a city in 1960 to avoid annexation by Los Angeles or Vernon. Whereas many of the Gateway Cities suffered heavily during the deindustrialization of the next two decades, Commerce remains oriented around manufacture and retail.



The aforementioned outlet mall is the city's recognizable feature. It was built in 1929 to resemble the palace of Assyrian ruler Šarru-kên II (Sargon II) as the new home for Adolph Schleicher's Samson Tire & Rubber Company. Given Hollywood's vague notions about accuracy, it was featured in Ben-Hur.
To the south is the rather less impressive, castle-like Shoe City. The various duchies of Commerce are currently ruled by the court of current Miss Commerce, Leilani Davis. 1975's made-for-TV youth/crime Susan Dey vehicle Cage Without a Key was also filmed there.