Monday, November 29, 2010

Big trouble in Little Bangladesh


The Los Angeles Times has an article on the challenges faced by Little Bangladesh, the nascent ethnic enclave that was officially carved out of the much larger, more dominant, and far-longer established Koreatown.

In addition to Koreatown Koreans' opposition to L'il Bang's efforts to get a bigger piece of the pie, the Bangladelenos (um... that's Bangladeshi Angelenos) must work at filling out the space it was given:
Community leaders applied for the neighborhood recognition more than a year ago. At first, the goal was much grander: to designate a 56-square-block area from 3rd to Wilshire Boulevard and from Western Avenue to Vermont Avenue — an area generally considered part of Koreatown — as Little Bangladesh.

The Korean community, which had not previously sought an official designation for the area, countered with its own application. And when the City Council voted on the matter in August, the Bangladeshis got only a four-block stretch of 3rd Street between Alexandria and New Hampshire avenues as their own.

But that strip doesn't yet have the look or feel of a Little Bangladesh. Most stores in the area cater to a Korean or Latino clientele, and many of the dozen or so Bangladeshi stores are blocks away. Aside from a handful of restaurants and grocery stores, the neighborhood features almost no other Bangladeshi shops or services: no clothing boutiques selling salwar kameez, the traditional two-piece attire worn by both men and women; no jewelry shops for bangles; no souvenir shops; no salons offering henna and threading services. And since it closed about a year ago, no community center either.

Since they began their effort, local Bangladeshis have been trying, with limited success so far, to open and relocate businesses to the area, both to show their presence and to provide needed services for the thousands of lower- to middle-income Bangladeshi immigrant families who live there.
I have mixed feelings about such ethnic enclaves. If they come about "organically," as Koreatown did (and Little Bangladesh as well), that's fine, as long as they aren't ghettoized. That is, it's great to have a cultural gathering place of sorts (specialty supermarkets, fine restaurants, places of worship, karaoke in that language, etc.) for an ethnic or cultural group in a city or metropolitan area whose members might be spread out over a larger area, but not only should it not exclude people who are not a part of that group, I believe it should also act as a bridge to them.

Ethnic enclaves are not just a chance to come together, but also a chance to share one's culture with everyone else. I wrote of similar sentiments here, especially as it relates to signage, which I think should always include English:
Because of that I support efforts to require that public signs (e.g., on businesses, etc.) place English as dominant or equal to whatever other language the sign might be in. At the very least, signs intended for the public should not be exclusively in a language other than English.

I happen to know that 여행사 means "travel agency" and 순두부 means "tofu stew," but Mr Crow may not. And that means he will not venture into those places and instead will feel isolated from his own surroundings. Shopping centers with signs like this one from the staged Korean shopping plaza in CSI will only lead to ethnic stratification, and that's good for no one.
People shouldn't be made to feel like strangers in their own neighborhood.


  1. I would also agree that the Bangladeshi's are asking for too much too soon. There are not enough Bangladesh businesses in any concentrated point any where in the city. However, because they are persistent and noisy they get more than the Indians. If anything, it's the Indians in Artesia that should get an official designation. Their businesses have been there in good concentration for decades.

    I also see it from a sales tax revenue standpoint. I read somewhere that Korean businesses in Koreatown contribute $90 million in sales tax revenue to the City of Los Angeles. That kind of revenue generation most certainly should be protected and cultivated.

    Ethnic neighborhoods should hold their weight economically in my book in either tourism or sales tax revenue generation if it is to earn recognition by a city government.

  2. I think the Bangladeshis' fear may have been that if they didn't act now then they may have missed their moment forever.

    I don't agree with you that money should be an overriding concern for neighborhood recognition, which is as much social as it is economic. There are valuable contributions of a non-monetary nature (sociologists like to call it social capital) from these things as well. While the US is hopelessly a "money talks" society, it shouldn't be such that unless it's money talking the government won't listen.

    At any rate, the official designation can be seen as nurturing a seed that's already been planted, even if it's just a little bud right now.

    As for Little India, you and I as Californians know that Artesia is not part of the City of Los Angeles, but I'll just point it out here for anyone else. The Koreatown/L'ilBang brouhaha is purely CoLA, whereas the City of Artesia is a completely different municipality (even if it is in Los Angeles County).

    It's up to Artesia, though they, like Garden Grove with the Koreatown designation, may wish to forego such a singular image-making designation. If Artesia becomes Little India, it can't also be Little anything else. Garden Grove in Orange County, which is much bigger than tiny Artesia, can't really be anything else Town if it is officially OC Koreatown.

  3. Kush,

    I disagree with you. If an ethnic enclave isn't pulling it's weight economically or culturally, then it shouldn't be recognized anymore. Now, this may incentivize ethnic enclaves to be tourist traps. Understood and a potential danger.

    However, ethnic enclaves live in an America that appears hostile to their existence. One way to balance these things out defuse criticism is to point out an objective indicator to their value.

  4. Regarding Artesia and the Little India designation. Good point. Artesia is tiny and Little India would occupy quite a bit of it.

    I say the Indians withhold their sales taxes to the city of Artesia that the city uses to provide public services to all its inhabitants and then see how fair it is to withhold designation to the Indian business community. That should send a clear message... ;)

  5. Edward wrote:
    I disagree with you. If an ethnic enclave isn't pulling it's weight economically or culturally, then it shouldn't be recognized anymore.

    I don't disagree exactly. I'm simply saying that financial contribution (e.g., taxes) should not be the only consideration or even the primary consideration. There are many ways that such a place can contribute culturally, so I'm more comfortable with that kind of prerequisite.

    I also think it's important to consider that the synergy of the population presence and the official designation can be a way to boost financial contribution to the city if it leads to more economic activity.

  6. Oh, and although I'm for an official designation of a Little India, I am not for a Little Bangladesh. Why should a city government officially recognize an ethnic neighborhood if said ethnicity itself is not willing to invest in said neighborhood?


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