I took yesterday as a personal holiday and spent a lot of time riding on my electric bike up and down the bike lanes in Orange County. And I spent some of that time thinking about the legacy of Martin Luther King in my life.
In my youth, I lived on the rough side of Long Beach in the West Side neighborhood, near the Lions Drag strip which later became a massive railroad loading yard. The neighborhood also directly downwind from the crude oil cracking plant which on a good day didn’t smell too bad, but on a bad day smelled bad and made your lungs hurt. The neighborhood was a mixed neighborhood racially and everyone was poor, but not so poor as much of the rest of the world at the time, but for the US we were definitely below the “line”.
But there was one cultural group that seemed to be oppressed a little more than one would expect, and it was the Japanese culture. The West Side had a large number of World War 2 vets, many of them fought the Japanese during World War 2, so there was prejudice against the Japanese culture. Especially if the family had immigrated from Japan after World War 2. One or two families had gone back to Japan before World War 2 and then came back afterwards, these latter families according to my father…well let’s just say there were many unkind things said about them. The Japanese-American family members usually worked at the tuna cannery on Terminal island, or were gardeners (the best, magical gardeners by the way), or maybe their children were working in aerospace.
What about the Latino immigrants or the African-Americans? Well, they were mostly like my family, we just did stuff like normal kids. Hung out, put penny’s on the railroad track to see them flattened out, and hung around together.
But when I was 12 or so, changes started to appear in the neighborhood. At that time the work that was led by the movement started by Martin Luther King got set in place, and where it showed first was with the recent Japanese immigrants who, I think, were able to get loans for their businesses and homes. So the Japanese-American family members who were required to work at the tuna canneries to make the rent and buy food, were now able work in the small family businesses and expand. The Japanese-American’s left the canneries for the most part (you would too) and through small business expansion rise out of the poverty of the Westside, at least as I saw it as a teenager. Then my Japanese-American friends left my neighborhood as their parents gained wealth, as the prejudice around loans, work and so forth went away.
So one day, it seemed that all of the Japanese-Americans had moved away. Which was sad for me as many were my friends, and there was no Xbox games, facebook, or other tools to stay in touch back then. Just a poorly designed phone that hung on the wall.
But I am pretty sure that the ability to get loans to expand successful “bootstrap” businesses definitely helped the Japanese-Americans to move out of poverty. And I think that to me is the best clear example that I can think of to demonstrate the success of the movement started by Martin Luther King.