RACE MATTERS WHILE TODAY THE VALLEY IS HOME TO SOME OF THE CITY'S MOST ETHNICALLY DIVERSE NEIGHBORHOODS, RACIAL TENSIONS REMAIN, AND THE STRIDES MADE HAVE COME AT A GREAT COST TO MANY.
Idealistic, bold and ready for change, Everto Ruiz knew the day he demonstrated for better minority representation with hundreds of other students at San Fernando Valley State College, things would never be the same.
More than 200 students were arrested that day in 1969, but later that year the administration finally conceded and opened a Chicano and Pan-African studies department, one of several incidents that marked a turning point in race relations in the San Fernando Valley.
``It was a tense moment.'' Ruiz said. ``We were trying to change a community that had been the same, homogenous.''
The compromise didn't happen easily and confrontations among different races continued for decades in the Valley, complicated by issues of class, geography and equity.
Despite high-paying defense and auto industry jobs for blacks, Latinos and Asians, minorities remained segregated in the Northeast Valley during much of the postwar boom. The legacy of redlining lingers still today, with many West Valley neighborhoods - those founded in the late 1950s and early 1960s, remain mostly white and high poverty rates persist in the Northeast Valley, where early development was focused.
The Valley today is evolving, with more whites fleeing the area in large numbers and Latinos pouring into the Central and West Valley. More and more, African-Americans are moving into all parts of the Valley, though they are leaving its poorest areas on the east end.
And the Middle Eastern influence is pervasive. Armenians from Lebanon and Iran who moved into the Glendale area during the late 1970s and early 1980s are now the dominant influence in the city's culture.
Iranians and other Persians who fled their homeland during the Islamic Revolution of 1979 settled in the Valley, opening grocery stores and restaurants along some of the areas biggest commercial districts.
``From the outside, people still tie the Valley with its racist reactionary past,'' said David Diaz, professor of Urban and Chicano Studies at California State University, Northridge, which once was called San Fernando Valley State College. ``But population changes have mitigated all that.''
Though ethnic tensions exist, the institutionalized racism and ethnic politics that shaped so much of the Valley have eroded. Today, the San Fernando Valley is home to some of the city's most ethnically diverse neighborhoods - a dramatic change from the postwar years.
Sami Dahdal, a 51-year-old Reseda resident who came to the Valley from Lebanon in 1985, calls his neighborhood from Pakistan, Mexico and Armenia living on his block next to old-time white residents who moved into the Valley during the 1960s.
``I have friends that live in Porter Ranch and Burbank. All the streets are mixed people. There is no street now where there is just one nationality,'' Dahdal said.
A Boy Scout troop coordinator at his church, he says that the enrollment boys come from all parts of the world, just like his neighbors.
As of mid-century, African-Americans could not buy into the utopia sold by developers. From the moment they - and to a lesser extent Latinos and Asians - attempted to move into the new suburban tracts in the Valley, they faced resistance and outright threats from neighbors.
``There was an unwritten policy that you didn't have a reason to be in the West Valley unless you lived there,'' said the Rev. Zedar Broadus, former director of the NAACP chapter in the San Fernando Valley and lifelong resident. ``You stepped out and the police pulled you over.''
Pacoima, was the only area where blacks could buy homes in the 1950s and 1960s. Japanese returning from internment camps were forced into housing tracts in Burbank and the Northeast Valley. And in San Fernando, there was an unstated rule that most Mexicans lived on the other side of the tracks.
Being non-white in the Valley during the decades after World War II was tough.
Making matters worse, during the 1960s a neo-nazi party found its home in Glendale and Panorama City, and hosted a Ku Klux Klan parade.
Ruiz, a youth organizer and a leader of the Chicano student movement at CSUN, vividly recalls how well etched the lines of race were in the Valley in 1967 when one Friday afternoon he walked up to a police officer at Mission Hills shopping center.
A phalanx of police had been sweeping the center, apparently looking for a robber. Curious, Ruiz inquired.
```Don't you thing you are a ways from home?' he said to me. It stunned me. I was so startled and angered by this that it was coming from authorities. These are the people that you are supposed to got to for help.''
Stories of encounters like this abounded among ethnic minorities, many living in the largely segregated Northeast Valley.
And though race prevented many ethnic groups from entering into certain neighborhoods well into the 1960s, many began to enter into the middle class. Spurred by the desegregation of the workplace, the aerospace industry along with the Van Nuys General Motors plant provided well-paying jobs for minorities. It eventually allowed them to buy homes and provide their children with college education. It also worked as a de facto promoter of tolerance as races once separated by geography began to interact in the workplace.
Still tensions were palpable and the antagonism lasted well into the 1970s, as an anti-busing campaign took root in the largely homogenous West Valley.
Led by white homeowners who opposed a 1977 mandatory busing rule that sent their suburban children into minority neighborhoods, anti-busing supporters fought a bitter campaign, eventually overturning the city's school board and helping elect Bobbi Fiedler to Congress. Though leaders of the campaign argued it was a matter of fairness and keeping children in the neighborhood, opponents argued their were racial overtones to the hostile opposition.
In the end, busing proved unpopular in both minority and white neighborhoods, but the vitriol of the fight hinted at a line that had been drawn in certain communities.
Richard Close, president of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association, remembers that many of his neighbors - mostly white - resented the accusations.
``The racial composition of the schools was irrelevant,'' he said. ``Parents were concerned about getting a good quality of life and education.''
By the 1980s, the once dominant white population began to significantly drop, sinking for the first time below 1 million. As the decade drew to a close, new ethnic groups - from Armenian to Koreans - began to emerge as a new cultural force.
``By the 1980s, there was an emerging political power (in the East Valley),'' said Rudy Acuna, one of the founding professors in Chicano Studies and former instructor to state Sen. Richard Alarcon, D-Van Nuys, at CSUN. It was the growth of the middle class, an influx of voting Latinos moving into newly built apartments in the East Valley and a maturing leadership.
The change shifted politics. But the fissures often reappeared as generations evolve and populations change.
In just the last years, one of the most explosive racial incidents occurred in Lake View Terrace - the videotaped beating of Rodney King by four white LAPD officers. The acquittal of those officers in a Simi Valley courtroom sparked the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Thirty-eight people died over three days of rioting.
Just four years later, at the height of a statewide debate on affirmative action, an appearance of Ku Kluk Klan leader David Duke ignited fights and protests at CSUN. The debate was arranged by the Associated Students in a ploy to gain support in opposing a ballot measure - Proposition 209 - eliminating affirmative action in the state.
Duke had few supporters and student radicals taunted him. Joe Hicks, who at the time headed the Multicultural Collaborative and later sat on the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission, debated Duke as fighting erupted outside.
``It showed the parade of progress from the days when the Valley was a place of white flight,'' said Hicks, who has himself since become an opponent of affirmative action. ``By 1996, it was a different world.''
Today, though tensions still exist in the high schools among fighting black and Latino students as well as between Latinos and Armenians, the most Valley's most vigorous debate tends to focus on immigrant workers.
In Burbank and Glendale, protests over immigration rage at Home Depots where day laborers can gather and solicit work. Critics say that illegal immigrants are taking away jobs from American workers. While many immigrants and their supporters who stage counter protests say the protests are simply motivated by racism.
Even with conflict among different races and classes continuing to erupt in pockets of the San Fernando Valley, the Valley's diverse population reflects more tolerance than not.
Wade Rice, one the Valley's first black homeowners agrees that much has changed in the last 60 years. ``My grandson says there is no such thing as race,'' says Wade Rice, one of the first black homeowners in the Valley. ``And that is a beautiful thing.''
8 photos, map
(1) Demonstrators are led into custody by Los Angeles police following protests at CSUN on Jan. 1, 1969. In a dramatic change from the postwar years, today the San Fernando Valley is home to some of the city's ethnically diverse neighborhoods.
(2) Protesters cover their faces at a demonstration at CSUN on Nov. 5, 1968. Though ethnic tensions exist, the institutionalized racism and ethnic politics that shaped so much of the Valley in the late 1960s have eroded.
Daily News file photos
(3 -- 4) Wade Rice and his wife, Fannie, stand in front of their home in Northridge. They were among the first blacks to move to the North Valley in 1960. At right, a still photo taken from a government video about blacks moving into white neighborhoods shows a staged trashing of their front yard. Hate crimes of this nature were common.
(5) Students gather Oct. 5, 1968, at what is now the California State University, Northridge, campus in a demonstration for better minority representation. In late 1969, the San Fernando Valley State College administration opened a Chicano and Pan-African studies department, one of several moves that marked a turning point in race relations in the San Fernando Valley.
(6 -- 7) During the 1960s a neo-nazi party found its home in Glendale and Panorama City and hosted a Ku Klux Klan parade. Above, Glendale community members picket to get the neo-nazi members out of the city in 1965. Above right, Ralph Forbes, left, and Robert Ernest Giles of the Glendale Neo-Nazis pose in their headquarters.
Photos Courtesy of CSUN, University Library
(8) One of the most explosive racial incidents in L.A.'s history occurred in Lake View Terrace in 1991 - the videotaped beating of Rodney King by four white LAPD officers. The acquittal of those officers in a Simi Valley courtroom sparked the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Thirty-eight people died over three days of rioting.
The Valley area's Ethnic Diversity
Source: California State University Northridge, 2000