In Highland Park, as in other Latino barrios of Los Angeles, gentrification has produced an undeniable but little appreciated side effect: the end of decades of de facto racial segregation. It’s possible to imagine a future in which “the hood” passes into memory. Racial integration is on the upswing; for that, a cry of “Viva gentrification!” is in order.
The point was driven home to me the other day, when I stepped into that same bodega and saw a fair-skinned child of about 6 wandering past the stack of tortillas. It’s one thing to see a 20-something white dude walking with freshly picked organic lettuce in his backpack. But the presence of this girl in that small retail space, filled with Spanish chatter, pork rinds and other symbols of Mexican-ness, bespoke a deeper shift.
I imagined the stentorian baritone of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the loudspeaker above us: “I have a dream that one day, in the shadow of Stone Mountain of Georgia, and in the barrios of Los Angeles on the Pacific, little white girls and little brown girls …”
Yes, gentrification is something we smart and cultured people are supposed to denounce as an insidious force. To see working- and middle-class families driven from their homes by real estate speculators is to witness a kind of cultural murder. I’m down with the 95-year-old poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, for instance, when he denounces the “corporate monoculture” and skyrocketing rents that are turning San Francisco into “an artistic theme park without artists.” ….