All They Will Call You: A Look at the Lost History of Deportation and a Tragic 1948 Flight

All They Will Call You (The University of Arizona Press, 2017) is Tim Z. Hernandez’s attempt at telling the stories of those whose lives were lost in a plane crash in the Los Gatos Canyon, in California’s Central Valley, on January 28, 1948. And telling these stories is needed. Prior to this account the accident and its victims were popularized in the words of Woody Guthrie, who wrote the words to one of the most popular folk songs ever, “Plane Wreck Over Los Gatos (Deportee).” This response, as needed as it was—Guthrie wrote the poem that would become the song as a way of correcting what he saw as an erasure motivated by racism in newspaper accounts of the accident, most of which declined … [Read more...]

Charles and Ray Eames: How Wartime L.A. Shaped the Mid-Century Modern Aesthetic

During the mid-1990s, while working evenings and weekends on her PhD dissertation on 18th-century Philadelphia, veteran Library of Congress archivist Margaret McAleer found inspiration in what one might consider an unlikely place: the papers of legendary Los Angeles-based, 20th-century designers Charles and Ray Eames. Ray Eames, who died in 1988, had bequeathed the collection to the library, and McAleer was assigned to organize the manuscript portion of the collection in advance of a 1998 exhibition on the designers.[1] She dove into its endless contents. “I was so inspired by their creativity and passion,” she noted in a recent interview. “They developed unique, fresh perspectives on … [Read more...]

From Villa to Pacquiao: Filipino Boxing in L.A. and the Power of a Transnational Punch

Nearly one year ago last may, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd "Money" Mayweather Jr. battled 12 rounds in what was billed as the "fight of the century." The two fighters carried a long history of antagonism into the ring, though perhaps much of this could be attributed to Mayweather, whose trolling of the Filipino boxer over the years sometimes veered into racism. Pacquiao's loss to Mayweather, a unanimous decision, seems unsurprising in retrospect, especially considering the latter's status as arguably the greatest defensive boxer of his generation. Don't cry for Manny though, the Las Vegas fight racked in $400 million. Granted, it's been a tough year for Pacquiao, his homophobic comments a couple … [Read more...]

Black History Month Part III: Race, Taxes and Schools in Compton, CA

“To be educated in my Baltimore mostly meant always packing an extra number 2 pencil and working quietly,” writes Ta-Nehisi Coates in his recent work, Between the World and Me. “Educated children walked in single file and on the right side of the hallway, raised their hands to use the lavatory, and carried the lavatory pass when en route. Educated children never offered excuses – certainly not childhood itself. The world had no time for the childhoods of black boys and girls. How could the schools?”[1] Coates’ work, amounts to a long rueful, cautionary love letter to his son, describing his own upbringing in West Baltimore, coming of age at The Mecca (aka Howard University in Washington, … [Read more...]

Donald Trump’s (and America’s?) Latino Problem: Oranges, Immigration, and Labor in Southern California

When Donald Trump bellowed his now-famous screed against immigration, accusing Mexican migrants of crime, disease, and more or less undermining America, howls could be heard across the nation in response to what many saw as racist, cynical demagoguery. For California and Los Angeles, his comments hit home particularly hard. After all, this past June it was announced that in July 2014, at nearly 15 million, Latinos surpassed whites as the state's largest ethnic group. Of the 55 million plus Latinos nationally, California's share of Hispanics ranked first among all other states, with Los Angeles County tops within the Golden state.1 From piñatas to the unmentionable, Mexicans and Mexican … [Read more...]

A Clear Blue Vision: L.A. Light Rail and Twenty Five Years of the Blue Line

In a 2012 interview with transit scholar Ethan Elkind, Richard Stanger, former Los Angeles County Transit Commission rail development director, credited the 1988 film "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" for popularizing the theory that "car companies had deliberately destroyed the once great Los Angeles Streetcar system," thereby setting in motion a strain of nostalgia for the defunct Pacific Electric/Los Angeles Railway (P.E./L.A.R.) that led to greater public support for rail transit. 1 Set in 1947 Los Angeles, the movie, as the Thom Anderson-directed documentary "L.A. Plays Itself" notes, "offers itself as a cartoon version of 'Chinatown'," swapping water controversies of the latter with the … [Read more...]

The Somme at 99: WWI, Death, and the Trap of Technology

“The nearer to the Front one goes, naturally, the more blasted the countryside becomes. Beyond Roeselare, the land grows crater scarred, crisscrossed with collapsing trenches and pocked with burnt patches where not even weeds take root. The few trees still standing here and there are, when you touch them, lifeless charcoal. The skein of green on the land seems less nature revivified, more nature mildewed … farmers still daren’t plow the land for fear of unexploded ordinance. One cannot pass by without thinking of the density of men in the ground. Any moment, the order to charge would be given, and infantrymen well up from the earth, brushing off the powdery soil. The thirteen years since … [Read more...]

Noiring L.A.: Double Indemnity, Black Dahlia, and the Fears of Postwar America

Last night marked the second season debut of HBO's True Detective. If last year's Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey tinged season one led the audience through a metaphysically drenched Louisiana swamp thriller while sparking a McConaissance and nostalgic longing for the work of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert W. Chambers's "Yellow King", season two seems to be a call back to the most American of films, the California noir. Judging from episode one pseudo kingpin Frank Seymon (Vince Vaughn), spartan Ventura County detective Ani Bezzerides (Rachael McAdams), damaged highway patrolman Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch), and corrupt Vinci investigator Ray Velcoro (Colin Ferrel) appear … [Read more...]

From Small Farming to Urban Agriculture: El Monte and Subsistence Homesteading

"People want to get outdoors ... and the small farms home gives them that opportunity," Ross H. Gast told an audience of San Diegans in 1933. "It is a good home in good and bad times and a place to save earnings with an incidental production of food supply." The writer--an editor at the Los Angeles Times' Farm and Garden Magazine and El Monte resident--had long advocated for the "small farm lifestyle," a return-to-the-land movement that stretched back to the turn of the century. "The way I see it, the small farm home is not just a piece of property but a mode of living, one that is being adopted generally in Southern California," he noted. Through Gast and others, the Los Angeles Times had … [Read more...]

California Triangulation: Science, Religion, Industry, and the Birth of the Research Park

Last April HBO launched one of its newest series, the Mike Judge-produced "Silicon Valley," documenting the "wacky" experiences of workers in Northern California's famed tech center. This, and movies like 1999's "The Pirates of Silicon Valley," are simply two examples of how Hollywood has mined the research area for humor and pathos. Originally established in the 1950s as Stanford Industrial Park (SIP), the area cast a long post-WWII shadow over the fusion of science, industry, academia, and government. "In an age when governments, businesses, and universities all sought to encourage science-based research and development, people from around the world recognized Stanford's industrial park … [Read more...]