A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I were driving down Glendale Boulevard near the 2 offramp when we saw a horrifying and surreal sight. Two children in their Sunday finest came running out into the intersection right where the southbound offramp and Glendale Blvd meet. They couldn’t have been more than 4 years old. They toddled their way into the intersection from the church on the corner toward the underpass when a pickup truck came rushing from the off ramp, then slid to a halt as the driver jumped out to wrangle the kids.
An Accord in the next lane blocked the intersection and a BMW pulled over behind to the curb to help. The person in the car next to me stopped at the intersection and we both put on our hazards to keep any cars behind us from speeding through. Thankfully, the pickup truck driver grabbed the two kids (one under each arm like sacks of potatoes) and carried them to their frantic mother running out from the church. Disaster avoided!
We all breathed a sigh of relief and went on our way.
I left the scene wondering: What nationality, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or political affiliation were all of these strangers who cooperated to come to the aid of these children? What were the nationality, sexual orientation, ethnicity or political affiliation of the kids and their mother? My answer: It doesn’t matter.
Some things are universal in our shared human experience. This episode gave me hope after a week of terrible racial strife, proving when things really matter, we can come together. For the record, the guy in the pickup truck was Latino, the Accord driver was Asian, the BMW driver was African-American, the woman next to me was Caucasian, my wife and I are Asian, while the children and their mother appeared to be Filipino.
This city has almost burned itself to the ground twice in the last 50 years over racial issues. We’re far from perfect in regards to racial and economic class relations. However, we are still here and we are interacting with each other as best we can. We share more spaces and neighborhoods than ever before and we are learning to live with each other. The latest survey of the City of Los Angeles show us that there is no majority.
• Hispanic or Latino (of any race): 47.5%
• Non-Hispanic Whites: 29.4%
• Asian: 10.7%
• Black or African American: 9.8%
• Two or more races: 2.8%
• Native American: 0.5%
• Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander: 0.2%
• Other: 25.2%
Similarly, the state of California has no racial majority, with Whites now a minority.
Contrary to the predictions of the xenophobes, Los Angeles and California’s march to true racial diversity did not result in the end of civilization nor the widespread reverse racism and bigotry predicted. Neither did it result in the crashing of our economy or generate huge self-segregated communities. People just went along with their lives, learning to live with each other through experience, and have all tried our best not to step on each other’s toes. We are not always successful, but we are all still here.
I believe Los Angeles is a test lab for this new racial reality. With Millennials moving into the city core, our formally segregated neighborhoods have become more diverse. Our push for alternate transportation is moving more people to make housing decisions based on commute times rather than the nationality of their neighbors. It is no longer assured that a single race denotes economic success, giving new meaning to the “gentrification” of our inner city neighborhoods (see: “Chipsters” of Boyle Heights). As we all mix and learn about each other, we will find that we are not as different as we think. As Americans our values, hopes, and dreams are surprising similar.
Los Angeles has become a place where racial diversity is the norm rather than an exception. Even today, I can stand on a Metro platform anywhere in the city and not be bothered by silly questions like, “Do you speak English?” or “Where are you from?”. Maybe true racial equality is what I witnessed: people of all backgrounds coming together to help their fellow humankind, regardless of color, creed, or religion.