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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 2 .

La Vida Latina En L.A.: Urban Latino Cultures
Gustavo Leclerc, Raul Villa & Michael J. Dear

California: Sage, 1999
214pp. Index. Pb.: ISBN 0-7619-1620-2.

I admit that the first thing I read in La Vida en L.A: Urban Latino Cultures was the comics - but in this book the pi ctures paint a thousand words. Lalo Alcaraz's "La Cucaracha Urban Sketch Journal" (83-90) shows in a few frames how much of Chicano culture, embodied in Alcaraz's antihero, a disaffected chicano cockroach, is appropriated by mainstream America and then thrown back in the faces of Los Angeles' Latino population: gangsta shorts (on sale at a hip boutique for $95.00), tribal (once gang) tattoos, Colombian coffee and tacos, Virgin of Guadalupe kitsch. Middle class whites build gated communities and denounce minorities as 'separatists,' even as they adopt their fashion, foods, popular culture, and art. Alcaraz's combination of wry cultural pride and indignation is echoed in the other contributions to La Vida en L.A., such as Richard Alexander Rodríguez's analysis of essentialized ideas of the Latino past (often by non-Latinos) versus real, contemporary expressions of latinidad in architecture, urban design and the arts (185-198). This collection offers telling descriptions of people's struggles for resources, territory and cultural preservation in one of the U.S.A.'s largest cities, both in size and in Latino population. La Vida en L.A. is an illuminating combination of poetry, performance art, music reviews, family and oral histories, and illustrations, alongside rigorous academic essays on the area's history and present condition. It would be difficult to mention all 29 contributing authors in a short review, but particularly noteworthy are the introductory essay by Gustavo LeClerc and Michael J. Dear (1-6), Raúl Villa's analysis of place struggles (7-18), and Teresa Chávez's family and local history (91-103). Rubén Martínez's "Más allá de las mamonerías" (157-166) is a fascinating account of the challenge that a transnational Latino angeleno can have negotiating between a rural, indigenous Mexican past and an urban, high-tech, American present in a simple trip "home." Photoessays "Los Paleteros," by Camilo José Vargas (112-116) and "Seeking Oblivion in Los Angeles," by Reynaldo Arena and Ramona Ortega (165-168) vividly depict working class Latino life. The selections are brief but by no means skimpy, a testament to good editing that could make this volume useful for teachers. However, the issues raised will interest readers at all academic and professional levels. Two of the contributions seem somewhat out of place: Rogelio Villareal Macías' apocalyptic vision in life in another burgeoning Latino megalopolis, Mexico City (169-176), and John A. Loomis' analysis of identity and marginalization in Cuban architect Walter Betancourt's work (175-184). One could infer that they have been offered for comparison, but their connection to "the life in L.A." is not obvious. Though most selections are entirely or predominantly in English, some are entirely or predominantly in Spanish. No translations are given, which could limit the volume's usefulness for the monolingual. Nevertheless, the greater part of La Vida Latina en L.A. is broadly accessible, making it required reading for those who seek a multifaceted presentation of the past and present of L.A. through the eyes of its Latino population.

Kristina A. Boylan, University

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