Back in the day, Orange County's segregated ways kept non-white folks in their place. Brea used to be a “sundown town,” meaning blacks had to get out at dusk—or else! Whites didn't want the Mexican Bernal family moving into their Fullerton neighborhood until he beat them in court. Anaheim's Pearson Park had a segregated pool policy. And, of course, five Mexican families sued in Mendez, et al, v. Westminster to fight segregated OC schools. But those days are long gone, right?
A new UCLA study published last week begs to differ, finding that even with rising diversity, OC isn't becoming an integrated shade of orange, especially when it comes to Mexicans. With legal segregation in the ash heap of history, whites surveyed still spoke candidly of their preference to live, play and send their kids to school far away from Latinos (read: Mexicans). Oh, and they're still scared shitless of being in SanTana!
Celia Lacayo, a postdoctoral scholar at UCLA's Institute of American Cultures, surveyed 40 self-identified OC white residents back in 2010 for her study. Being a woman of color, she had two white graduate students do the in-depth interviews to have the randomly sampled participants feel more comfortable airing their true views. Chosen at random, the whites surveyed ranged from 25 to 61, with most being middle- to upper-class professionals. They split almost evenly along political lines, with the slightest majority identifying as conservatives. All but two already lived in mostly white neighborhoods.
Now, Orange County is definitely a-changing. Fifteen percent of its white residents left between 1990-2010. At the same time, its Latino population exploded by 80 percent, only outpaced by Asians whose numbers grew at a 120 percent clip, becoming the third-largest Asian-American population in the U.S. Latinos still largely live in segregated neighborhoods and attend segregated schools. How did these white folks feel about the new OC? Lacayo's study found that they held attitudes that viewed Latinos as a cultural “threat,” while not harboring the same views toward OC's Asians. “Academia wasn't trying to hear this for a really long time,” Lacayo tells the Weekly. “They wanted Latino immigrants to be the next Irish assimilation model.”
As mentioned before, most of those surveyed live in predominately white neighborhoods. “Obviously, I wouldn't feel comfortable living in a neighborhood that was mostly Hispanic,” Chrissy, a 43-year-old hair stylist, said in the study. “I would feel completely out of place.” Before people ascribe that to a benign preference, check out what Chrissy and others said about the one place they stay away from most in OC: SanTana! “It's a little more crime there, a littler trashier spot,” Chrissy added. “Hispanics can be dirty in their neighborhoods and gang-y as well as Blacks.”
Carl, a 64-year-old city planner used to live in SanTana but left. “Most of all the people I grew up with, basically all their parents moved out of town because it was turning into a third-world country,” he said. While 34 respondents out of the 40 admittedly avoided SanTana at all costs, 38 held favorable view of OC Asians. SanTana may be scary, but Irvine is just fine. “We definitely could see the difference if you drive through Santa Ana and Irvine,” said Todd, a 30-year-old real estate agent. “Irvine is more of an Asian population. The streets are cleaner.”
But why the Asian comparison? “I initially only asked about Latinos,” Lacayo tells the Weekly. “What came out is the grounded information that when whites talked about Latinos, the way that they further made their arguments was to compare them to Asians. I know that part's going to be controversial, but this is what white people are saying, it's not what I'm saying.” Of course, Asians still face racism in OC—Jennifer Murphy's “Neenja” song, anyone?
Back to the Mexis: practically all whites interviewed expressed fears about busing Latino kids into majority white schools. “I just want the kids to be comfortable,” says Nicole, a self-employed 48-year-old. “I don't want them to feel like a Black kid or a Mexican kid goes to [Newport] Harbor [High School] and feel all intimidated and weird.” Buying into the “model minority” frame, they praised Asians, though, while expressing negative stereotypes about Latinos with comments like, “The Asians come in and they're freaking motivated. Hispanics aren't.”
The study found that whites didn't particularly care to share beaches or public parks with Mexicans, either, echoing the views of infamous Newport Beach council member Dick Nichols. “The Mexicans go to the beach, and I don't know why they always swim in their clothes,” said Mark, a 42-year-old repo company owner. Hey, Mark: that's only the most popular question ever for the Weekly's ¡Ask a Mexican! column! “They have a wet dirty blanket and they'll drag it; and they'll stop on the boardwalk,” Mark continued. “And it's like get out of the way. How stupid are you?”
Well, if whites in the study don't like Mexicans at the beach, they sure hope beach city neighborhoods won't become integrated with them. “I think coastal cities will remain predominately white,” said Lola, a 25-year-old marketing director. “I mean, it's beautiful. I hope it never changes.”
So what do all these views mean? The study concludes that such attitudes reinforce de facto segregation for Latinos, and show no will from white respondents to challenge its residential and educational forms. “As Orange County has gone majority-minority, most whites are having a hostile reaction,” Lacayo tells us. “In terms of segregation, it's a mechanism for whites to keep their power even as their numbers are going down. We already know separate isn't equal.”
Stay classy, OC!
Hate this story? Leave a comment on the Weekly's brand new Hate Hotline: (714) 550-5984!
Gabriel San Román is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and the tallest Mexican in OC. He also once stood falsely accused of writing articles on Turkish politics in exchange for free food from DönerG’s!