Out of the Margins: Shifting Demographics Change Face of US Campaigns
The United States, traditionally a land of immigrants, is on the verge of historic change, with non-Caucasian Americans poised to become the majority in the coming decades. Obama’s recent victory has already shown how demographic shifts will change the political landscape.
Estrada Courts, a small housing project in eastern Los Angeles, looks about as Hispanic as half of southern California today. The symmetrical rows of low-income housing along East Olympic Boulevard, a 10-minute drive from downtown Los Angeles, are home to immigrants from Latin America, especially Mexico, but also El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Laundry flaps in the wind on long clotheslines between the buildings, barbecue grills used to make churrasco, Latin American grilled meat, stand in front of the doors, and when school is out large numbers of children play outside. Spanish is the language they speak at home. The elaborate murals painted in bright colors on bare walls in the area tell the story, in their own way, of why Mitt Romney couldn’t win the 2012 presidential election in the United States.
Estrada Courts, a development of 414 residential units in two- and three-story row houses, was built in the 1940s, and was soon filled with war veterans and their families. The residents those days couldn’t have imagined that the walls would once be decorated with ornate images of the Virgin Mary, kitsch from the Cuban Revolution, complete with pictures of Che Guevara, and all the other brightly-colored art of Chicano painters.
Until the 1960s, the surrounding neighborhood of Boyle Heights was far more mixed and less Hispanic than it is today. Jewish immigrants lived there, as did a large Japanese community. There were immigrants from Yugoslavia, Armenia, Russia and even a few Irish.
Bit by bit, they moved away to better neighborhoods, were displaced by urban renewal projects or simply died off, leaving behind no or too few descendants, and Mexicans moved in to fill the vacuum. They came across the nearby border in growing numbers, legally or illegally, searching for a new and better home. Today, about 100,000 people live in Boyle Heights, and 95,000 of them have Hispanic roots. President Barack Obama’s reelection was decided in places like Boyle Heights.