Boyle Heights is a Chicano neighborhood only a couple of miles east of booming downtown Los Angeles. It’s dumpy, but not hugely homicidal because the Mexican gangs keep the blacks out (the 2000 Census found Boyle Heights to be 94% Hispanic and only 0.9% black). So it has become a natural choice for gentrifying white people getting squeezed out of the Arts District in DTLA by rising rents.
California Today: A Gallery Flees and Neighborhood Activists Cheer
CALIFORNIA TODAY MARCH 15, 2017
Often referred to as the Ellis Island of Los Angeles, the neighborhood east of downtown known as Boyle Heights has been the first stop for several waves of immigration. Since the 1940s, it has transformed into a largely Mexican-American enclave and the center of Chicano culture and activism in the city.
The “Ellis Island” reference is a dog-whistle that Boyle Heights was heavily Jewish a century ago. But the Jews all white-flighted, and Boyle Heights has been not all that immigrant ever since Chicanos figured out many decades ago that low rents in an extremely convenient central location surrounded by several generations of your people were a pleasant combination. (Recent immigrants tend to be relatives from the Old Country of well-established residents.)
As other parts of Los Angeles have seen real estate prices climb steadily, many in Boyle Heights have expressed concern about gentrification, particularly after several art galleries moved into an industrial stretch. The battle between the galleries and activists reached a peak last fall when someone spray-painted a vulgar statement condemning “white art” on the door of one gallery and a hate-crime investigation was opened.
“This persistent targeting, which was often highly personal in nature, was made all the more intolerable because the artists we engaged are queer, women, and/or people of color,” they said on their website. “We could no longer continue to put already vulnerable communities at further risk.”
Defend Boyle Heights, one of the activist groups that has called for a boycott of the galleries, said that it considered the closing a victory and that it hoped other galleries would soon follow suit.