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Aurea Montes-Rodriguez Headshot

After The Riots: Building South L.A. Through Black And Brown Unity

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When the streets erupted on April 29, 1992 I was in high school and on my way home to South Los Angeles. Our bus wouldn't or couldn't take us further into our community because the rioting had already broken out in different major streets along the route. My brother and I had to traverse the streets where both Latinos and African Americans were taking out their pent-up frustration based on decades of poverty and sense of hopelessness on their own neighborhood.

Up until the civil unrest, Latinos were an invisible and ignored population in South L.A. even though by 1990 both Latinos and African Americans made up 47% of the population each. My family was one of the first to move into a largely African American neighborhood in the early 1970s. As immigrants from Mexico, my parents had to work long hours and multiple jobs to put food on the table - and even then we were still sometimes wanting. I remember my early childhood being spent in the care of our elder African American neighbor, a retired schoolteacher who took in my brother and myself - two latchkey kids - into her home while our parents were busy working.

While the media focused on the tensions between the African American community and Korean storeowners, very few paid attention to the faces of the Latinos that kept showing up in the live footage of the uprising that sparked on the intersection of Florence and Normandie. Yet more than half of those arrested during the riots and in the aftermath were Latino.

That afternoon of April 29th I walked home from school with my brother and witnessed the looting and rioting on the streets first-hand. I remember seeing that the "looters" were taking basic necessities that spoke to the ugly reality that many of us lived in: a deep poverty felt by Latinos and African Americans alike.

In those tragic days of the unrest, many things were said about a community burning itself down. As an adult who chose to stay and work in the community that saw me develop as an activist, I came to the realization that South L.A. took to the streets not just because of Rodney King, but because things had been building for years; decades. The poverty we lived in, the almost daily experiences of police abuse that went undocumented, and the crack cocaine epidemic that ravaged South L.A. created an inevitable storm that broke out when people said "enough is enough."

Today Latinos are invisible no more. Latinos today are the majority minority in Los Angeles, and this is true for historically black South Los Angeles where Latinos make up more than 60% of the population.

That is why it is critical for Latinos today to reflect on the past and on the legacies of our African American neighbors and allies as we continue the struggle to rebuild our community from the ashes. African Americans have trailblazed in the key areas of civil rights, breaking down many barriers in South L.A. and beyond. Our black leaders, neighbors, friends and allies are people whom we need to work with together, hand in hand, if urban communities like South L.A. are to thrive.

I am proud to work for an organization like Community Coalition, a social justice non-profit that focuses on black and brown unity to develop residents to become leaders and create positive change in South L.A. From our origins in 1990, Community Coalition understood that nothing significant would be accomplished without the coming together of brown and black residents who were more than just neighbors - we are allies in the struggle to rebuild South L.A.