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Catching Hell In The City Of Angels
Life And Meanings Of Blackness In South Central Los Angeles
João H. Costa Vargas
University of Minnesota Press, 2006
Since the 1980s, Los Angeles has become the most racially and economically divided city in the United States. In the poorest parts of South Central Los Angeles, buildings in disrepair—the legacy of racial unrest. Moving beyond stereotypes of South Central's predominantly African American residents, João H. Costa Vargas recounts his almost two years living in the district. Personal, critical, and disquieting, Catching Hell in the City of Angels examines the ways in which economic and social changes in the twentieth century have affected the black community, and powerfully conveys the experiences that bind and divide its people.

Through compelling stories of South Central, including his own experience as an immigrant of color, Vargas presents portraits of four groups. He talks daily with women living in a low-income Watts apartment building; works with activists in a community organization against police brutality; interacts with former gang members trying to maintain a 1992 truce between the Bloods and the Crips; and listens to amateur jazz musicians who perform in a gentrified section of the neighborhood. In each case he describes the worldviews and the definitions of “blackness” these people use to cope with oppression. Vargas finds, in turn, that blackness is a form of racial solidarity, a vehicle for the renewal of African American culture, and a political expression of revolutionary black nationalism.

Vargas reveals that the social fault lines in South Central reflect both contemporary disparities and long-term struggles. In doing so, he shows both the racialized power that makes “blackness” a prized term of identity and the terrible price that African Americans have paid for this emphasis. Ultimately, Catching Hell in the City of Angels tells the story of urban America through the lives of individuals from diverse, overlapping, and vibrant communities.

João H. Costa Vargas is assistant professor in the Center for African and African American Studies and the department of anthropology at the University of Texas, Austin.

Robin D. G. Kelley is the William B. Ransford Professor of Cultural and Historical Studies at Columbia University. He is the author of numerous books, including Yo Mama's Disfunktional: Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America.

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Chican@ Artivistas
Music, Community, and Transborder Tactics in East Los Angeles
Martha Gonzalez
University of Texas Press, 2020

As the lead singer of the Grammy Award–winning rock band Quetzal and a scholar of Chicana/o and Latina/o studies, Martha Gonzalez is uniquely positioned to articulate the ways in which creative expression can serve the dual roles of political commentary and community building. Drawing on postcolonial, Chicana, black feminist, and performance theories, Chican@ Artivistas explores the visual, musical, and performance art produced in East Los Angeles since the inception of NAFTA and the subsequent anti-immigration rhetoric of the 1990s.

Showcasing the social impact made by key artist-activists on their communities and on the mainstream art world and music industry, Gonzalez charts the evolution of a now-canonical body of work that took its inspiration from the Zapatista movement, particularly its masked indigenous participants, and that responded to efforts to impose systems of labor exploitation and social subjugation. Incorporating Gonzalez’s memories of the Mexican nationalist music of her childhood and her band’s journey to Chiapas, the book captures the mobilizing music, poetry, dance, and art that emerged in pre-gentrification corners of downtown Los Angeles and that went on to inspire flourishing networks of bold, innovative artivistas.


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Chicana Liberation
Women and Mexican American Politics in Los Angeles, 1945-1981
Marisela R. Chávez
University of Illinois Press, 2024

Mexican American women reached across generations to develop a bridging activism that drew on different methods and ideologies to pursue their goals. Marisela R. Chávez uses a wealth of untapped oral histories to reveal the diverse ways activist Mexican American women in Los Angeles claimed their own voices and space while seeking to leverage power. Chávez tells the stories of the people who honed beliefs and practices before the advent of the Chicano movement and the participants in the movement after its launch in the late 1960s. As she shows, Chicanas across generations challenged societal traditions that at first assumed their place on the sidelines and then assigned them second-class status within political structures built on their work. Fueled by a surging pride in their Mexican heritage and indigenous roots, these activists created spaces for themselves that acknowledged their lives as Mexicans and women.

Vivid and compelling, Chicana Liberation reveals the remarkable range of political beliefs and life experiences behind a new activism and feminism shaped by Mexican American women.


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Chicanas and Chicanos in School
Racial Profiling, Identity Battles, and Empowerment
By Marcos Pizarro
University of Texas Press, 2005

By any measure of test scores and graduation rates, public schools are failing to educate a large percentage of Chicana/o youth. But despite years of analysis of this failure, no consensus has been reached as to how to realistically address it. Taking a new approach to these issues, Marcos Pizarro goes directly to Chicana/o students in both urban and rural school districts to ask what their school experiences are really like, how teachers and administrators support or thwart their educational aspirations, and how schools could better serve their Chicana/o students.

In this accessible, from-the-trenches account of the Chicana/o school experience, Marcos Pizarro makes the case that racial identity formation is the crucial variable in Chicana/o students' success or failure in school. He draws on the insights of students in East Los Angeles and rural Washington State, as well as years of research and activism in public education, to demonstrate that Chicana/o students face the daunting challenge of forming a positive sense of racial identity within an educational system that unintentionally yet consistently holds them to low standards because of their race. From his analysis of this systemic problem, he develops a model for understanding the process of racialization and for empowering Chicana/o students to succeed in school that can be used by teachers, school administrators, parents, community members, and students themselves.


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Cinema between Latin America and Los Angeles
Origins to 1960
Horak, Jan-Christopher
Rutgers University Press, 2019
Historically, Los Angeles and its exhibition market have been central to the international success of Latin American cinema. Not only was Los Angeles a site crucial for exhibition of these films, but it became the most important hub in the western hemisphere for the distribution of Spanish language films made for Latin American audiences. Cinema between Latin America and Los Angeles builds upon this foundational insight to both examine the considerable, ongoing role that Los Angeles played in the history of Spanish-language cinema and to explore the implications of this transnational dynamic for the study and analysis of Latin American cinema before 1960. The volume editors aim to flesh out the gaps between Hollywood and Latin America, American imperialism and Latin American nationalism in order to produce a more nuanced view of transnational cultural relations in the western hemisphere. 

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City of Dignity
Christianity, Liberalism, and the Making of Global Los Angeles
Sean T. Dempsey
University of Chicago Press, 2023
City of Dignity illuminates how liberal Protestants quietly, yet indelibly, shaped the progressive ethics of postwar Los Angeles.
Contemporary Los Angeles is commonly seen as an American bulwark of progressive secular politics, a place that values immigration, equity, diversity, and human rights. But what accounts for the city’s embrace of such staunchly liberal values, which are more hotly contested in other parts of the country? The answer, Sean Dempsey reveals, lies not with those frequent targets of credit and blame—Democrats in Hollywood—but instead with liberal Protestants and other steadfast religious organizations of the postwar era.

As the Religious Right movement emerged in the 1970s, progressive religious activists quietly began promoting an ethical vision that made waves worldwide but saw the largest impact in its place of origin: metropolitan Los Angeles. At the center of this vision lay the concept of human dignity—entwining the integral importance of political and expressive freedom with the moral sanctity of the human condition—which suffused all of the political values that arose from it, whether tolerance, diversity, or equality of opportunity. The work of these religious organizations birthed such phenomena as the Sanctuary Movement—which provided safe haven for refugees fleeing conflict-torn Central America—and advocacy for the homeless, both of which became increasingly fraught issues amid the rising tides of neoliberalism and conservatism. City of Dignity explores how these interwoven spiritual and theological strands found common ground—and made common impacts—in the humanitarian ecosystem of one of America’s largest and most dynamic metro areas.

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Class Struggle in Hollywood, 1930-1950
Moguls, Mobsters, Stars, Reds, and Trade Unionists
By Gerald Horne
University of Texas Press, 2001

As World War II wound down in 1945 and the cold war heated up, the skilled trades that made up the Conference of Studio Unions (CSU) began a tumultuous strike at the major Hollywood studios. This turmoil escalated further when the studios retaliated by locking out CSU in 1946. This labor unrest unleashed a fury of Red-baiting that allowed studio moguls to crush the union and seize control of the production process, with far-reaching consequences.

This engrossing book probes the motives and actions of all the players to reveal the full story of the CSU strike and the resulting lockout of 1946. Gerald Horne draws extensively on primary materials and oral histories to document how limited a "threat" the Communist party actually posed in Hollywood, even as studio moguls successfully used the Red scare to undermine union clout, prevent film stars from supporting labor, and prove the moguls' own patriotism.

Horne also discloses that, unnoticed amid the turmoil, organized crime entrenched itself in management and labor, gaining considerable control over both the "product" and the profits of Hollywood. This research demonstrates that the CSU strike and lockout were a pivotal moment in Hollywood history, with consequences for everything from production values, to the kinds of stories told in films, to permanent shifts in the centers of power.


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Classic Hollywood
Lifestyles and Film Styles of American Cinema, 1930-1960
Veronica Pravadelli
University of Illinois Press, 2015
Studies of "Classic Hollywood" typically treat Hollywood films released from 1930 to 1960 as a single interpretive mass. Veronica Pravadelli complicates this idea. Focusing on dominant tendencies in box office hits and Oscar-recognized classics, she breaks down the so-called classic period into six distinct phases that follow Hollywood's amazingly diverse offerings from the emancipated females of the "Transition Era" and the traditional men and women of the conservative 1930s that replaced it to the fantastical Fifties movie musicals that arose after anti-classic genres like film noir and women's films.
Pravadelli sets her analysis apart by paying particular attention to the gendered desires and identities exemplified in the films. Availing herself of the significant advances in film theory and modernity studies that have taken place since similar surveys first saw publication, she views Hollywood through strategies as varied as close textural analysis, feminism, psychoanalysis, film style and study of cinematic imagery, revealing the inconsistencies and antithetical traits lurking beneath Classic Hollywood's supposed transparency.

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The Coveted Westside
How the Black Homeowners' Rights Movement Shaped Modern Los Angeles
Jennifer Mandel
University of Nevada Press, 2022
From the middle of the nineteenth century, as Euro-Americans moved westward, they carried with them long-held prejudices against people of color. By the time they reached the West Coast, their new settlements included African Americans and recent Asian immigrants, as well as the indigenous inhabitants and descendants of earlier Spanish and Mexican settlers. The Coveted Westside deals with the settlement and development of Los Angeles in the context of its multiracial, multiethnic population, especially African Americans.

Mandel exposes the enduring struggle between Whites determined to establish their hegemony and create residential heterogeneity in the growing city, and people of color equally determined to obtain full access to the city and the opportunities, including residential, that it offered. Not only does this book document the Black homeowners’ fight against housing discrimination, it shares personal accounts of Blacks’ efforts to settle in the highly desirable Westside of Los Angeles. Mandel explores the White-derived social and legal mechanisms that created this segregated city and the African American-led movement that challenged efforts to block access to fair housing.

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Cultivating Health
Los Angeles Women and Public Health Reform
Koslow, Jennifer
Rutgers University Press, 2009
At the dawn of the Progressive Era, when America was experiencing an industrial boom, many working families often ate contaminated food, lived in decaying urban tenements, and had little access to medical care. In a city that demanded change, Los Angeles women, rather than city officials, championed the call to action.

Cultivating Health, an interdisciplinary chronicle, details women's impact on remaking health policy, despite the absence of government support. Combining primary source and municipal archival research with comfortable prose, Jennifer Lisa Koslow explores community nursing, housing reform, milk sanitation, childbirth, and the campaign against venereal disease in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Los Angeles. She demonstrates how women implemented health care reform and civic programs while laying the groundwork for a successful transition of responsibility back to government.

Koslow highlights women's home health care and urban policy-changing accomplishments and pays tribute to what would become the model for similar service-based systems in other American centers.


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Cupboards of Curiosity
Women, Recollection, and Film History
Amelie Hastie
Duke University Press, 2007
In Cupboards of Curiosity Amelie Hastie rethinks female authorship within film history by expanding the historical archive to include dollhouses, scrapbooks, memoirs, cookbooks, and ephemera. Focusing on women who worked during the silent-film era, Hastie reveals how female stars, directors, and others appropriated personal or “domestic” cultural forms not only to publicize their own achievements but also to reflect on specific films and the broader film industry. Whether considering Colleen Moore’s thirty-six scrapbooks or Dietrich’s eccentric book Marlene Dietrich’s ABC, Hastie emphasizes how these women spoke for themselves—as collectors, historians, critics, and experts—often explicitly contemplating the role their writings and material objects would play in subsequent constructions of history.

Hastie pays particular attention to the actresses Colleen Moore and Louise Brooks and Hollywood’s first female director, Alice Guy-Blaché. From the beginning of her career, Moore worked intently to preserve a lasting place for herself as a Hollywood star, amassing collections of photos, souvenirs, and clippings as well as a dollhouse so elaborate that it drew extensive public attention. Brooks’s short essays reveal how she participated in the creation of her image as Lulu and later emerged as a critic of film stardom. The recovery of Blaché’s role in film history by feminist critics in the 1970s and 1980s was made possible by the existence of the director’s own autobiographical history. Broadening her analytical framework to include contemporary celebrities, Hastie turns to how-to manuals authored by female stars, from Zasu Pitts’s cookbook Candy Hits to Christy Turlington’s Living Yoga. She discusses how these assertions of celebrity expertise in realms seemingly unrelated to film and visual culture allow fans to prolong their experience of stardom.


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