East Los Angeles (also known as the Eastside) is the portion of the City of Los Angeles, California that lies east of the Los Angeles River and Downtown Los Angeles, Lincoln Heights, west of the San Gabriel Valley and the unincorporated area of East Los Angeles, California and City Terrace, California, south of Cypress Park, and north of Vernon, California and City of Commerce, California.
The short form for the region, “East L.A.,” is an imprecise term which can mean different things depending on usage and context. As a geographical term, it can refer to either the region described here or the unincorporated community of East Los Angeles.
As a cultural term, “East L.A.” has developed to refer to the predominantly Hispanic communities lying east of the city of Los Angeles, centered around the unincorporated area of East Los Angeles and City Terrace and the Los Angeles district of Boyle Heights.
To distinguish this area from the broader eastern area of the City of Los Angeles, a collection of neighborhoods and communities lying within Los Angeles city boundaries, and to emphasize the differences in character between the two areas, locals have come to use the term “Eastside” (on the example of “the Westside”) for the area within the city boundaries.
The East Los Angeles region has long had a very high concentration of Hispanic residents, primarily of Mexican descent. Since the early 20th century, it has been the focus of the Hispanic population in Los Angeles County. This was not always the case: areas of northeastern Los Angeles had heavy Anglo populations until the 1930s, when the development of whites-only areas in Mid-Wilshire and the West Side drew away most of the area’s Anglo population. In the southern portions of the region, there were also large and diverse non-Hispanic populations; Boyle Heights was heavily Serbian, Jewish, and Japanese, and Lincoln Heights was heavily Italian. However, most of these groups moved to segregated suburbs after World War II, and Mexicans who had been forced into Hosing projects such as Boyle Heights “Estarada Courts”
(later the site of the infamous VNE Projects) seized the opportunity to move into the region’s housing at low prices. With the exception of a small but distinct Filipino population in areas such as Eagle Rock, Glassell Park and Atwater Village, the region was primarily Mexican American by 1950.
The areas surrounding the unincorporated area of East L.A. formed the political and cultural heart of Mexican-American life in Los Angeles County during a period when the overall population of the county was mostly white (non-Hispanic) and often quite hostile to Latinos. Much of the violence of the Zoot Suit Riots occurred in the region. Today East L.A. is populated mostly by immigrants of Mexican descent, and their American children.
Many second and third-generation Hispanic or Central Americans have since moved from East Los Angeles to other parts of Southern California. This movement began soon after World War II, with middle-class families settling in San Gabriel Valley suburbs such as Baldwin Park and Alhambra. From the 1970s onward, Orange County, the San Fernando Valley, the Inland Empire, and the Gateway Cities region of southeast Los Angeles County have also been major destinations for upwardly mobile Latino families. Meanwhile, recent immigrants from Mexico and Central America have settled in the low-income parts of East Los Angeles where the parents of many U.S.-born Hispanics once lived. At the same time, there are parts of “greater” East L.A., such as the cities of Montebello, Whittier and Pico Rivera, where many U.S.-born Hispanics still live. Since the 1970s, many Hispanic immigrants have moved into areas that had previously been heavily African American, in areas such as Compton, Lynwood, and the Watts district of Los Angeles, while in those areas in which Hispanics moved out, Chinese Americans moved in.
Since the late 1990s, gentrification has started to occur in formerly working-class pockets of East Los Angeles, and middle-class pockets in the northwest of the region, although mainly in the region’s northern portions.
Eagle Rock has seen a considerable influx of upper-middle-class white and Filipino residents drawn by the area’s architecture and schools, the latter of which are some of the best in the Los Angeles Unified School District. High housing prices in other parts of Los Angeles are leading whites to settle in pockets of northeastern Los Angeles such as Glassell Park, Atwater Village, and Highland Park, as well as Montecito Heights, Mt. Washington, and Elysian Valley, as an affordable alternative to Silver Lake.
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