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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Putting Ethnicity on the Map: The Making, Contesting, and Assessing of Claims for the Formal Recognition of Ethnic Places

  • Author(s): Choi, Moon Young
  • Advisor(s): DeSipio, Louis
  • et al.

This study is about efforts to formally recognize ethnic places, or areas of noted ethnic spatial concentration. What we now see with efforts to formally recognize ethnic places is a sense of voluntary spatial concentration that is also actively claimed and asserted - i.e., voluntary concentration in its perhaps most heightened form. Formally named and demarcated ethnic places may be commonly seen, but this is not to say they arise without contention and conflict, nor that such efforts for recognition are always successful. If what we now see are not just ethnic spatial concentrations but formally recognized ones, this probes the question of how and why these come to be so. Studying formal recognitions necessitates a discussion regarding claims. How and why are claims for the formal recognition of ethnic places made, contested, and assessed? What key factors influence these processes? Why is official recognition sought? Why is it opposed? Why do some bids for formal recognition succeed while others fail?

I first conduct an in-depth study of the City of Los Angeles, which houses the majority of formally recognized ethnic places in southern California. I then conduct case studies of four ethnic places, in three southern California city contexts: Koreatown and Little Bangladesh in Los Angeles, Cambodia Town in Long Beach, and "Little India" in Artesia. In analyzing how and why claims for the formal recognition of these places are made, contested, and assessed, I examine the influence of the legislative and bureaucratic context, issues relating to legitimacy, and the composition and actions/strategies of proponents and opponents.

Ethnic places tend to be commercially oriented. They tend to be racially/ethnically diverse, especially with respect to their residential base, but often also with respect to the business community. Claims to formally recognize ethnic places tend to be most opposed in contexts where there is a competing history and claim to that place - i.e., when there is a strong sense of "investedness" by others in the community. In this, the policy context matters, in terms of whether precedents exist, as does whether sufficient outreach to the surrounding community has been conducted.

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