Boyle Heights

Historical Context of Boyle Heights

Mariachi Plaza in Boyle HeightsFrom the turn of the century through 1930, Los Angeles experienced the largest population boom of any American city. Thousands of nonwhite and foreign-born newcomers were forced to settle in East Los Angeles due to the combined segregation efforts by the local government and the real estate industry. By the 1920s, Boyle Heights had evolved into a working-class, multiethnic neighborhood far more diverse than most U.S. cities; Latinos, Asians, African-Americans, Russian Molokans, Armenians, Italians, and the largest settlement of Jews west of Chicago lived and worked together side by side.

In the post-WWII era, the Jewish community moved out and the Mexican community immigrated in larger numbers. However, the people who remained or came into Boyle Heights in these years were committed to coalition building and preserving the neighborhood’s diversity and thus, fostered multiculturalism into the 1960s. In fact, Boyle Heights was one of the few neighborhoods in the history of the United States that strived to be truly multicultural.

From the late 1960s on, Boyle Heights became predominately Latino but has remained committed to political activism and community building. The Walkouts of 1968, the Brown Berets, the United Farm Workers Union, and the Immigrant Rights Movement have made Boyle Heights one of the centers of Latino activism in the U.S. Throughout the years Boyle Heights’ residents have faced such issues as access to education, gang violence, immigration policies, environmental pollution and gentrification. A recent New York Times article on the neighborhood coined the term “gentefication” referring to young Latinos returning to Boyle Heights to invest in local businesses. The question of whether an evolving Boyle Heights can preserve its unique culture and history along with a desire to create new opportunities for its residents is one that many communities throughout the country are currently facing.