In March, we will welcome Hillary Jenks. She will be presenting
Mervyn Dymally and the Politics of Suburban Multiracialism in Reagan-Era Southern California
In Southern California's South Bay, hub of the region’s aerospace economy, Japanese Americans and African Americans purchased homes and became civic leaders in the neighboring suburban cities of Gardena and Compton during the 1950s and 60s. During the 1970s the two suburbs' trajectories diverged, with Compton experiencing massive levels of white flight and disinvestment while Gardena capitalized on Japanese corporate investment and a carefully balanced diversity: in 1975, the city's population was 52% white, 15% Latino, 20% Asian, and 13% African American. Beginning in 1980, the area gained a Congressional representative capable of addressing these contradictions - Mervyn Dymally, an immigrant from Trinidad with a Muslim Indian father and a Catholic Trinidadian mother, who at one point was working illegally in the United States after overstaying his student visa. Dymally drew on his heritage and experiences to connect with the residents of his district, forge unexpected alliances, and pursue progressive policy goals, including Japanese American redress. This case study explores the challenges and rewards of building multiracial coalitions in California's diverse suburbs, and the impact of the Reagan era on that political and social landscape.
Historian Hillary Jenks is an assistant professor in the University Honors Program at Portland State University whose scholarship focuses on comparative racialization and metropolitan community formation in the twentieth-century United States. She received her Ph.D. in American Studies and Ethnicity from the University of Southern California in 2008. Professor Jenks is currently revising her award-winning dissertation into a book, Home Is Little Tokyo: Race and Metropolitan Development in Twentieth-Century Los Angeles. Using the ethnic enclave of Little Tokyo and the suburb of Gardena in Southern California as case studies, this work argues that racially inscribed spaces such as barrios, ghettos, and enclaves have been central to shaping the distinctive physical and symbolic landscapes of the metropolitan U.S. West. Her next project, The Color of the City: Urban Revitalization and Regional Identities, 1950-2010, will examine the significance of historic preservation and environmental legislation in redirecting investment capital towards central cities over the latter half of the twentieth century.
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