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"And Make the San Fernando Valley My Home:" Contested Spaces, Identities, and Activism on the Edge of Los Angeles


Southern California's San Fernando Valley is a huge expanse of land that comprises the northernmost section of the City of Los Angeles. Although it is currently the home to over 1.8 million residents with roots from across the globe and for several decades has been a city within a city, powerful and competing images of "the Valley" continue to shape public consciousness about this well-known American space. For better or worse, the San Fernando Valley has become a metonym for the rise and fall of post-World War II suburbia. This linear narrative - that privileges the transformation of agricultural fields into industrial plants and residential suburbs that later fell victim to urban sprawl - elides the histories of people of color in favor of broad generalizations about segregation or demographic change.

This dissertation challenges those assumptions and uses the San Fernando Valley as a site to understand the overlapping relationships between race, space, and activism in the twentieth century. I propose that the San Fernando Valley is an instructive site to examine those relationships because of its historically multiethnic neighborhoods that have been shaped by the forces of such as war, metropolitan growth, and economic restructuring. Through an examination of major structural events and their social repercussions, such as the construction of railroads, the rise of the military industrial complex, various exclusionary laws or ballot initiatives, and a complex relationship with the City of Los Angeles, I show how African Americans, Latinas/os, and Asian Americans have claimed the San Fernando Valley for themselves, crafted their own communities, and fought against different forms of inequality. To be sure, their community building, political goals, and tactical strategies goals were informed by their respective racialization and distinctions based on class or migration status. Nevertheless, these individuals fashioned alternative forms of activism, community building, and knowledge that challenge dominant narratives of the San Fernando Valley.

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