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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Challenging the Sociological Notion of the 'Ghetto': A Case Study of South Los Angeles

  • Author(s): Martinez, Cid
  • et al.

Just as the inner cities of America were transformed by the great African American migrations from the South, immigrants from Latin American countries, such as Mexico, have begun to change the contemporary urban landscape. As early as 1990, the Mexican and Central American population was close to edging out African Americans as the largest ethnic population in South Central Los Angeles. This paper relies upon ethnographic fieldwork to assess the impact of Latino neighborhood settlement on politics in the ghetto. An examination of two key and interrelated institutions – local L.A. City chartered Neighborhood Councils and a local Catholic church – shows that even though Latinos are the majority population, they have had a minimal impact on politics in South L.A. when measured in terms of their participation in Neighborhood Councils. Moreover, the comparatively high rates of participation among African Americans in Neighborhood Councils can be understood, in part, as a direct response to the influx of Latino immigrants into South L.A. As result of their marginal position in local politics, Latinos have developed an alternative set of institutions that serve as sites of civic engagement. In light of the findings of this study, a new concept of the ghetto is needed to explain the significance of “two worlds” that coexist in South L.A.

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