Tag Archives: South Gate

South Gate Rising – my N.Y. Times column

I came to South Gate for the first time in 1997 and 1998 to write about Chalino Sanchez, the slain narcocorrido singer whose career began at El Parral, a narco-music club in the town.

In 2000, I returned as South Gate was pioneering the outrageous and crummy PRI-style politics that stained the newly Latino cities southeast of L.A. for the following decade. I left the town a few weeks later gravely concerned that the implications of the emergence of a Latino majority would mean the same kind of insane, mutant politics would spread to all of Southern California.

So I’m very happy to be able to write the column that appears in today’s New York Times about South Gate and the changes that I perceive in the southeast cities – some more than others, but all connected to a general acceptance by Mexican immigrants of their future and place in this country.

The Saga of South Gate, btw, became a chapter in my second book, Antonio’s Gun and Delfino’s Dream. The political culture that emerged there over four municipal election cycles was based, as I say in my NYT column, on preposterous, looney campaign fliers that were nonetheless believed by many voters in that town.

I’ve included below a slideshow of some of those fliers for the historical record and to give an idea of how wacky things got. These are mostly from the 2001 municipal election in which Albert Robles and his cronies won a council majority. For the full story, check out the chapter in my book.

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Filed under California, Los Angeles, Mexico, Migrants, Southern California

Cal Worthington, a legend passes. Se habla Espanol

I grew up listening to, and memorizing the commercials of, “Cal Worthington and his dog Spot.”

Cal is now dead. At 92.

Worthington, of course, was anathema to animal-rights folks, as he paraded seals, lions, tigers, hippos, etc, all named Spot before viewers of late-afternoon Westerns on Channel 11 or 9 or 5, urging them to “Go See Cal” with that Beverly Hillbilly banjo going loco behind him.

Cal Worthington was the last, or longest-lived (or both) of the Southern-accented used car dealers who came with the first waves of white migration from the South and Midwest to LA.

You might remember Ralph Williams: “Hi friends, Ralph Williams, Ralph Williams Ford.” He was another.

There were more. Just can’t remember them right now. One guy was not like them. Bob Spreen. Remember him, with the mellow tone? “Bob Spreen Cadillac. Where the freeways meet in Downey.” Like he was from, like, Indiana or some place, but definitely not from Oklahoma.

At first, these Southern car dealers never mentioned Spanish, then as years passed they couldn’t avoid it and began tagging each commercial with a roughhewn “Se Habla Espanol.” Then they just faded away.

Now the South Gate Boulevard of Cars is dotted with used car lots owned by Arabs and Cubans, and staffed by Mexicans selling to other Mexicans.

And now Cal is dead. How can we go on?

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Filed under Business, Culture, Los Angeles, Mexico, Migrants

COMPTON: In SoCal, the best stories come from smallest towns

I’ve long thought that in Southern California, the best stories come from the small suburbs — particularly those just to Compton Fashion Centerthe southeast of Los Angeles, which have become a vast Mexican-immigrant suburbia.

Their names belie a wild and wholly politics: Maywood, Huntington Park, South Gate, Bell, Bell Gardens, Hawaiian Gardens.

These towns are unprecedented in American immigration history. Other immigrant groups advanced politically and economically into America at the same time, and almost always in big cities, where their numbers were large but not dominant: New York, Chicago, Boston, Miami and others.

Mexicans long ago put down economic roots here in Southern California, usually when most were living in Los Angeles. But politically they are neophytes. However, they now live in these small suburbs I mentioned above, where they make up the vast majority of the population.¬† (More on why that is later….) I don’t believe this is true of any other major immigrant group in American history.

But this is why these towns have produced such astonishing and bizarre stories of municipal governance.

As it happens, Compton (pop. 97,000) is one of them and varies from the others only in the fact that the population being slowly displaced is black and not white.

Today’s LAT article (not mine) on its mayoral election chronicles one of those great small-town LA stories … which almost involved child TV star Rodney Allen Rippy.

Former mayor Omar Bradley, under whose administration the $4999 city expense check was notoriously invented (lookRuben's Bakery, Compton that one up), is running against a young woman, Aja Jones, with serious municipal credentials but not the emotional connection to black voters. So somehow Omar Bradley is again a political force in Compton.

Almost always, the reason these towns turn out such remarkable stories has to do with Mexican immigration.

In this case, Compton, the town where gangsta rap was born, is now 70 percent Hispanic, but both mayor candidates are black.

That’s because Mexican immigrants cannot, or choose not to, vote. So a very small percentage of the population has any say over who runs the town. Were there more Mexican immigrant civic participation, these two candidates likely wouldn’t even be in the running.

Very similar to what the other towns went through in the 1990s, which were once white but then transformed into almost entirely Mexican-immigrant suburbs.

But more on that in other posts….

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Filed under California, Los Angeles, Migrants

LOS ANGELES: A Recycling Plant in South Gate

I was out in South Gate recently visiting Carlos Herrera, who owns Interior Removal Specialist, a company that takes out the interior of offices that are about to be remodeled.

His mother, a Mexican immigrant, started in the junk collection business years ago, as a way she stumbled on to raise her children alone. In time, she had trucks and drivers. Carlos has continued on in her footsteps.

This place is amazing — piles of drywall, rows of desks and office chairs. Next door is a plant that recycles most of the tin cans used in LA County, most of which will end up in China, I assume.

I’m always fascinated by recycling. So much stuff that once was used — all at the other end of the economy, the one we almost never see.

It’s why I like places like South Gate and Vernon. Their ruggedness makes them photogenic and their stories make them mermerizing.

Here are some photos.

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Filed under Business, California, Los Angeles, Photography, Southern California