Central American Migration

Between the 1980s and the early 1990s, approximately 20% of El Salvador's population, one million total, fled the country, according to the Central American Resource Center in Los Angeles. Fifty-two percent, roughly 300,000 refugees of a civil war that tore the country and region apart, settled in Los Angeles.

Central America was the last vestige of the Cold War when Ronald Reagan proclaimed that the Soviet Union (and Cuba) were behind "all the unrest of the region." The U.S. not only assisted El Salvador's military junta to fight against the rebel FMLN (Farabundo Mardi National Liberation Front) leftist gorillas, but also organized and funded the Contras in neighboring Honduras to fight against the Socialist Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

The social hemorrhage created by the wars in Central America dramatically altered the local demographics in Los Angeles, especially inner city neighborhoods such as Highland Park, where property values had fallen and single family houses were torn down and replaced by denser housing projects. New residents from El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua took up residence in Highland Park as schools and social service agencies were loosing funding. This challenging environment put a strain on many of the first generation immigrant families as they worked to establish their homes and community alongside the more established Mexican-American residents.

Although it took time for new and old residents alike to calibrate their social interaction and negotiate the use and understanding of the neighborhood, a shared immigrant history, common cultural customs, language and the reclamation of public space, has begun to shape and build the face of a new Latino metropolis.

A refugee family from El Salvador waits at a bus stop after being released from a detention center.


Overfilling the Basin
The large number of new migrants after WWII forced a change in the physical and cultural character of the city and its smaller neighborhoods, including Highland Park.


Immigrant Culture
The traditions and "ways of living" that Central Americans and other immigrants brought to Los Angeles enriched the city's cultural texture and provided a new complex hybrid culture.


An Asian Minority
Growing up as one of few Asian kids in Highland Park, Yim Tam felt isolated from the rest of her predominantly Latino classmates.


Public Space in a Private City
Eric Avila explores the origins of Los Angeles as a 20th century city, and the desire for a different urban experience that prioritized privacy over public space.

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