LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: The Complicated Legacy of Richard Alarcon

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Shortly before leaving office, City Councilmember Richard Alarcon speaks about Tuna Canyon Detention Center at a council meeting. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

Shortly before leaving office, City Councilmember Richard Alarcon speaks about Tuna Canyon Detention Center at a council meeting. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

Dear Editor:

Thank you for your thoughtful assessment of former Councilman Richard Alarcon in “Ochazuke: Mangoes, Mangoes, Mangoes” (July 31, 2014). Although political scientists, historians, and casual observers will long debate his legacy, Mr. Alarcon’s support of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station represents a rich, multiethnic history often elided from mainstream portrayals of the San Fernando Valley.

It is instructive to situate Mr. Alarcon’s forceful advocacy for Tuna Canyon through his personal history growing up in the northeast San Fernando Valley. Segregated into the town of Pacoima through racially restrictive covenants, racist lending practices, and sheer violence, Mexican Americans, Japanese Americans, and African Americans created a dynamic set of communities after World War II. Mr. Alarcon grew up in this milieu where, in the face of mutual exclusion from whites, various ethnic families lived next to each other.

L.A. history books easily forget this larger past where the Valley’s ethnic communities crossed paths in places like working-class neighborhoods, shared civil rights struggles, or even the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center (SFVJACC), where a young Alarcon learned judo. Yet indeed, Mr. Alarcon never forgot this history.

I myself first met him when he attended an exhibition of the history of the Valley’s Nikkei produced by my then-fellow students at Cal State Northridge in 2004. Later on in his career, his office co-sponsored SFVJACC fundraising efforts after the horrendous 2011 tsunami and earthquake that hit Japan. And, of course, even as his staff was packing up his office, he still maneuvered in support of Tuna Canyon.

To be sure, Mr. Alarcon leaves a controversial legacy. He might be remembered as the first Latino from the Valley to make it to the L.A. City Council, or as a career politician who jumped from office to office, or as a champion for Tuna Canyon, or all of the above. But, for me, another more interesting story lies in the multiethnic history that shaped Mr. Alarcon’s relationship with Japanese Americans.

Respectfully,

Jean-Paul R. deGuzman, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Fellow, UC Center for New Racial Studies
Member, Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition
[email protected]

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