This paper explores the limits and potentials of ethnic and racial coalition building in Los Angeles. The demographic changes that have occurred in Los Angeles during the past twenty years have been extraordinary, both in scope and diversity.
The area has witnessed a literal boom in population growth, increasing from 7 million in 1970 to 8.8 million in 1990. (US Bureau of the Census) However, it is the dramatic change in ethnic and racial diversity of the population which has caught most observers attention.
Los Angeles has taken on a new form in terms of its racial diversity, moving from a biracial to a multiethnic setting. The non-Hispanic White population has declined from its 71 percent share in 1970 to a narrow numerical plurality of 41 percent of the county's population in 1990.
Meanwhile, the Latino and Asian Pacific population witnessed a doubling -- from 15% to 39% -- and near quadrupling from 3% to 11% of their population shares respectively. Meanwhile, African Americans, while slightly growing numerically, were a constant share of the county population (11%) during this period. (Oliver and Johnson:57-94) Thus, on the eve of the twenty-first century, Los Angeles has one of the most ethnically diverse populations of any metropolitan area in the country.
What does this ethnic diversity mean for multiethnic coalition building in the politics of Los Angeles County? Does the changing demography increase the opportunity for ethnic cooperation? Or, has the ethnic changes increased rather than decreased the prospects of interethnic conflict?
After the 1992 riots, a clarion call was issued from all corners for the emerging multiethnic majority to take its rightful place in the politics and leadership of the city. A multiethnic coalition, it was
suggested, could lead the
city to a new multicultural future.
This call was clearly built on the assumption that three divers groups African Americans, Asian Pacific Islanders and Latinos could come together and pursue a coalition built on their common interests.
But what do we do know about the prospects of multiethnic coalitions? There is voluminous literature on urban politics. However, this literature has been shaped principally by the question of racial politics. (Browning, Marshall and Tabb) That is, how have traditional urban politics, read White politics, been affected or impacted by the role of Blacks on the urban scene.
Probably the most influential work on Black/White urban political coalitions was Carmichael and Hamilton's Black Power. (Carmichael and Hamilton) In this work, as in most of the literature, the foundation of coalitions were based on common interests.
They argued that all political relations are based on common self interest benefits to be gained and losses to be avoided. From this perspective, Carmichael and Hamilton argued, there were no permanent friends or enemies for Blacks in their struggle for freedom and power only temporary alliances when self interests coincide.
Thus, they rejected the notion that White liberals, whose ideological orientation was favorable to Black aspirations, should be viewed as reliable and enduring allies. Rather, they were perceived as one among many which could be either potential allies or potential adversaries on the road to power.
Carmichael and Hamilton's emphasis on interests and ideology alone, when extended to the multiethnic scene of Los Angeles, portends a rather bleak future for multiethnic coalitions.
Alliances forging common interests are not readily evident or clear among the diversity of racial and ethnic groups in Los Angeles. Moreover, class and ethnic divisions between and within ethnic and racial groups have structured competing and cross-cutting interests that, on the face, appear to be overwhelming.
Ethnic groups, for example, have diverse interests based on such factors as...