Redefining Asian America: Japanese Americans, Gardena, and the Making of a Transnational Suburb

Kashu Realty had branches in Crenshaw, Wilshire, Los Feliz, and Monterey Park | Google Street View

Naomi Hirahara never "got" Raymond Chandler. The dark, mistrustful view of Los Angeles that Chandler's work so embodied seemed foreign to the award-winning mystery writer. "He has set a tone for stories about the darkness under L.A.'s glitz for 80 years, but I can't relate to the paranoid view Chandler had of my Los Angeles, or his fear of 'the other,' or how his loner detective Philip Marlowe navigated his investigative cases without the weight of family or community," she confessed in a recent article. Rather the Pasadena-born Japanese American writer knew a life of family and strong immigrant networks. L.A.'s sense of reinvention, not alienation, she confided to readers, was its real … [Read more...]

Surfing for Freedom: Black Surfers and Reclaiming Cultural History in Los Angeles

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In 1991's surfing bromance "Point Break," former Big Ten quarterback and F.B.I. agent Johnny Utah infiltrates a notorious ring of "surfing bank robbers" led by the late great Patrick Swayze's Bodhi (short for Buddhavista of course). They play beach football, go night surfing, and eventually end their relationship in a confrontation on an Australian beach as 100 foot waves from a fifty year storm crash on the beach. "Point Break's" ridiculousness has long been acknowledged, from Keanu Reaves performance -- "I am an F.B.I. agent!" -- to Swayze's mix of extreme sports and white Eastern mysticism; yet the film, and others like it, also perpetuate a problematic vision of surfing and a form of … [Read more...]

Taylor Swift, 1989, and the Magic of Nostalgic NYC

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In October 2014, Taylor Swift dropped her fifth album, 1989. Less than a month later in November, she performed the first track off 1989, “Welcome to New York.” Letterman guffawed, the crowd gasped, and Swift looked like the seasoned artist she is, confidently belting out the song’s chorus with hand claps and poise galore. Without a doubt, “Welcome to New York,” like many of the songs off the album, nails all the peaks and valleys one would expect from an earworm by Ms. Swift, and it opens with the kind of universal experience that any Midwesterner new to the city can understand. That first trip to the “village,” the crowds of fellow young people all jostling to see and hear what movies and … [Read more...]

Mo Bobos, Mo Problems: Looking Back at David Brooks’s Bobos in Paradise 15 Years Later

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Revisiting a work of pop sociology is almost always a jarring experience. Frederick Lewis Allen’s early postmortem of the 1920s, for instance, treated the Florida real estate boom as one of that decade’s most salient themes—not exactly what we think of when we think of the Roaring Twenties. Similarly, Alvin Toffler’s breathless language about hippies and happenings in Future Shock seems dated today, even as we continue to be as anxious about the quickening pace of technology and “information overload” as the gilded corporate-whisperer Toffler was back in 1970. In a different way, David Brooks’s Bobos in Paradise offers a remarkable pulse-reading of America’s elite in 2000. In fact, it's a … [Read more...]

Letting It All Burn: How A 2013 “Best of” serves as a reminder of 2014’s “Worst of”

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“This police department here in Philadelphia could invade Cuba,” Mayor Frank Rizzo told reporters. “What I’m saying is that we are trained and equipped for war.” Rizzo’s appraisal might have been made nearly 30 years ago, but it now seems eerily prescient. With the events of the last few months, few films from the past couple years capture the current angry zeitgeist like Let the Fire Burn (2013) a documentary investigating the disastrous May 1985 confrontation between the Philadelphia Police Department and the back to earth, black power, anti-technology, commune/organization known as MOVE. After all was said and done, three city blocks, about 60 houses, lay in ruin and eleven MOVE members, … [Read more...]

Freeway Takeovers: The Reemergence of the Collective through Urban Disruption

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[Editor's Note: Last night citizens in Chicago shut down Lake Shore Drive in protest over the Staten Island grand jury's refusal to indict the police officer responsible for the choking death of Eric Garner. Yet in SoCal, protesters have been using the freeways as a vehicle for protest and political awareness for decades. UCSD PhD candidates Troy Araiza Kokinis and Jael Vizcarra explain the goals, meaning and context of these protests and others like them.] Driving along the Interstate 5 in Southern California makes commuters privy to the militarization of port cities like San Diego. It is not unusual to encounter a tank headed to Camp Pendleton or a truck filled with “1.4 Explosives.” … [Read more...]

Noiring LA: Mildred Pierce, The Reckless Moment, and Reinforcing Postwar Suburban Gender Roles

The Pierce's home in Glendale, CA

"Often like a ghost in the shadows, the mother haunts film noir," observed Kelly Oliver and Benigno Trigo in 2003. "She is mentioned but never seen, yet she leaves her traces throughout film noir. Paralleling the dichotomy of the bad omnipresent or bad absent mother, in film noir the mother is everywhere and nowhere."1 Yet, as the two critics note, a handful of film noirs placed mothers and women at their center, ultimately both pushing back against noir restraints, but still reinforcing domestic, gender, and racial normatives of the day. In two such films, "Mildred Pierce" and "The Reckless Moment," Los Angeles and its suburbs provide the backdrop for film noir's judgment on the role of … [Read more...]

“The Plan Keeps Coming Up Again”: Conspiracy Theories, Policing 1970 D.C., and Creating Model Neighborhoods in Model Cities (Best of UHA, Part 4)

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Today's post wraps up our coverage of the Urban History Association's Seventh Biennial Conference in Philadelphia.  You can find overviews of other great panels on everything from "cartographies of protest" in Boston to the Mafia-like dark arts of the PTA here, here, and here.  If you want to check out Kenneth Jackson's bikini bod, though, you'll have to settle for TMZ. Kwame Holmes, "Paranoia as Prescience: The Plan, Black Conspiracy Theory and the History of Black Displacement in a Post-Civil Rights Chocolate City" "Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you,” wrote Joseph Heller in the novel, Catch 22.  Few places reflect this reality like 1970s … [Read more...]

The Power of Public Shaming: Cartographies of Protest in Boston and PR Stunts for Public Housing in the ATL (Best of UHA 2014, Part 3)

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In part three of ToM’s UHA coverage, the role of media in shaping advocacy and protest occupies center stage. Whether advocating for Atlanta public housing or protesting Massachusetts’s plans for new highway construction, politicians and activists cannily manipulated media to their own ends. Refreshingly, in each case, agency was rewarded with victory or, in the case of Katie Marages Schank’s talk on Maynard Jackson and the Bankhead Court Project, a temporary reprieve.   Karilyn Crockett, “Maps, Newspapers, Press Releases and the Anxiety of Movement Building: Struggles within the Boston Anti-Highway Movement, (1966-1987) “Pack up, I’m strayed, Enough/Oh, say, say, say say…. Wait, … [Read more...]

The Magic of Crabgrass: Thirty Years Later, An Appraisal of Kenneth Jackson’s Crabgrass Frontier (Best of UHA 2014, Part 2)

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"If I had added everything I'd still be writing it," eminent historian of U.S suburbanization and Columbia Professor Kenneth Jackson reflected during the UHA’s 2014 roundtable discussion honoring the upcoming 30th anniversary of his 1985 work, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States. A packed house of historians dressed in their “urbanist best” greeted Jackson who admitted to being a bit “overwhelmed by the turnout but pleased for many reasons.” One can take for granted the enormity of Jackson’s most famous work Crabgrass Frontier (CF). Today, it seems common knowledge that federal policy in the form of redlining and racial bias in mortgage infrastructure … [Read more...]

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