If you drive north on Vermont Avenue, beginning just west of Compton, you travel through the Latino-dominated community surrounding USC, pass Koreatown and end up gawking at ritzy homes at the base of the Hollywood Hills. Too often, however, these diverse Los Angeles communities are extremely isolated from one another.
Such de facto segregation deals a huge blow to the cultural life of Los Angeles. So many Angelenos, including USC students, fail to take advantage of all that this multicultural playground has to offer, but they should.
At the seventh-annual Los Angeles Archives Bazaar hosted at USC on Saturday, researchers, journalists and students gathered to discuss, learn and exchange information about the history of the L.A. area.
In a Daily Trojan article on the event, students expressed feelings of general lack of awareness regarding L.A. history, as well as shock at the powerful influence of white supremacy in the city during the ’60s and ’70s — despite California’s reputation as a progressive state.
This demonstrates two important realities about the insular nature of USC as a community within Los Angeles. Foremost, many students are not knowledgeable about L.A. history, which might be a direct result of their lack of engagement with the diverse communities and cultures that are part of this history.
Number two, students seem to have forgotten how racial divides continue to influence the city. Los Angeles has a long and unpleasant history specifically with racial conflict. Twenty years ago, when the L.A. riots were happening just down the road, such violent and even deadly racial tension was impossible for the university to ignore.
It might not be as sever today, but this divide is still illustrated by the racial distribution of persons between the different neighborhoods of Los Angeles.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Leimert Park, a few miles southwest of campus, is 74 percent black or African-American, while Boyle Heights — just east of Downtown — has a population that is 92 percent Latino. Caucasians make up 85 percent of the Hollywood neighborhood Beverly Crest, with Asians coming in second at just 5 percent.
These are extreme examples, but almost every neighborhood in Los Angeles has a clear majority of one ethnic group or another. In fact, the University Park neighborhood is one of the city’s most diverse.
Such insular ethnic communities can sometimes act as safe havens for immigrant groups seeking cultural security. Isolation, however, can still create a disconnect between the neighborhood and the rest of the city. Controversy has erupted, for example, over the construction of a Walmart in Chinatown. The company claims that the community wants a large grocery store in the area, but it might not have considered that the community around the neighborhood might have very different interests from those actually living in Chinatown.
The city’s communities don’t have to be so separate. Students should take advantage of the cultural diversity of Los Angeles rather than comply with the lines drawn between cultural and racial communities. There is nothing stopping students from taking a bus to the Lula Washington Dance Theatre on Crenshaw Boulevard to take an African dance class from the woman who choreographed Avatar or from visiting the many Korean barbecue restaurants just a few miles from campus. There is no reason why students should not pay a visit to Little Ethiopia, sample some Armenian fare in Glendale or get to know the vibrant Latino community that characterizes the independent restaurants and small businesses of our very own neighborhood.
The boroughs of Los Angeles have kept people of different cultural backgrounds apart from one another for decades, but they have also fostered incredible cultural resources waiting to be tapped. College is the perfect time to explore the new ideas, hobbies, foods and practices offered by multiculturalism. Take this time to knock down the barriers created by geographical segregation and experience your city.
Francesca Bessey is a sophomore majoring in narrative studies and international relations. Her column “Open Campus” runs Wednesdays.