Cultural Diversity in Local Politics
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
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
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 ws 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
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...