Another contemporary classic of urban studies from Davis (Ecology of Fear, not reviewed), herald of the good and bad—but mostly bad—times ahead.
Davis argues that Latinos are poised to be the largest, most important, and most overlooked minority in US cities. Citing numerous studies, Davis shows that immigrant Latinos and Hispanic-Americans are well on their way to surpassing African-Americans as the largest minority in the US, creating massive, $30-billion regional markets and revitalizing the cities they now call home. In Los Angeles Latinos tend to create parks in their neighborhoods (as opposed to the less centralized strip malls favored by old-guard developers). In New York they settle in the Bronx, following in the footsteps of the Irish and Italian immigrants who came there a century before. Davis is at his best when he describes the overlooked consequences of this migration. He argues that many Latinos experience “syncretic” existences, meaning they live simultaneously in the US and in their homelands. Here we discover a kind of magical urbanism: Indian tribes discussing important village business on conference call—one set of elders in Brooklyn, one in Mexico. But, despite these changes, Davis argues that the future of the Latinos (and therefore of the US) is filled with conflict. Like other minorities, Latinos have suffered as the manufacturing base of large US cities has disappeared overseas. Unlike other minorities, however, Latinos have not regained the ground they lost in the past few decades. In 1959, US-born Mexicans in Southern California earned 19 percent less than non-Hispanic whites; in 1990, that gap had widened to 31 percent. Disinvestment in big city school systems, and a lack of bilingual education have reduced Latinos’ chances at breaking the cycle of dependence. Davis, a good Marxist, ends his apocalyptic message on a hopeful note, however: he points to new, Latino-led union efforts as the best agents for change.
A wake-up call for anyone who cares about the future of American cities.