Monday, June 16, 2014

Race, space, and municipal power

Roman Hoyos recently reviewed Before L.A.: Race, Space, and Municipal Power in Los Angeles, 1781-1894 by David Torres-Rouff (Yale UP, 2013) at Jotwell. Hoyos writes:
Drawing on critical geography, which draws links between the built environment and social relationships, Torres-Rouff explains how, “In much the same way that race making leads to the formation of new individual and collective identities, place making leads to the transformation of previously neutral spaces into places with particular meanings that contain their own individual and differentiated identities.” (P. 11.) More specifically, he uses this interdependent relationship between race and space to demonstrate how local contests for power over land, labor, and water were integral to the construction of race in early Los Angeles.
The modern period, which began to emerge in the 1870s and 1880s, is where Torres-Rouff’s connection between race and space becomes most interesting. It was in this period that the white American elite gained control of the city council. What Torres-Rouff finds is that the council’s most seemingly innocuous decisions about land—the laying out and paving of streets and the creation of a sewer system—marked L.A. as a modern racially segregated city. These infrastructural benefits were conferred only upon white American neighborhoods, ensuring the political and economic dominance of the white community, while marking the Chinese, Mexican, and other communities of color as not only poor, but as threats to the public health. 

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