Feeling part of the culture

first_img Sheryll Cashin, author of “The Failures of Integration,” said these population shifts have prompted sharp debates within the African-American community. “If you are black and middle- or upper-class … what the real estate markets offer is a stark choice. You can go to an area where blacks are few or where there is a majority black (population) but there is not a whole lot of in-between. And yet the dilemma is, often the neighborhoods where there are fewer blacks have better schools and are closer to jobs. “If you are going to a neighborhood where your group is not dominant, you are sacrificing certain things, like a girl coming home saying she wants blond hair.” Diana Bruno said she wishes she had thought more about the implications of race while rearing her only son, Christopher Harrison, in Northridge during the 1980s. Growing up, Harrison, who died of a brain tumor in 1998, was surrounded by mostly white children. In high school, he tried to make friends with other African-Americans – most of who were bused in – but he was rejected. They thought his clothes were too preppy and his speech too formal. “You don’t realize the pressure a black child has to balance both worlds and be accepted,” said Bruno, director of the San Fernando Fair Housing Council. “You want to make sure he’s constantly in touch with the culture.” For many like the Paces and their friends, it was race that pushed them to seek out more black cultural experiences for their children. “There are African-Americans that grow up in a white area and they don’t identify with their own culture. We made it a point to make them identify with their own culture,” Pace said. “It’s a different type of community, the Valley. And you want your children to be comfortable with their own people that look like them.” Long-standing black neighborhoods across the city – from Pacoima to South Los Angeles – have seen their black population decline, while a new black middle class has emerged in areas such as Baldwin Hills and the suburbs of Palmdale. In 2000, California State University, Northridge, demographers James Allen and Eugene Turner found that about 45 percent of blacks in Los Angeles County lived in traditional black enclaves, an 11 percent drop from a decade earlier. Pace and her husband, a partner in a real estate agency in Granada Hills, both grew up in historically black areas of Los Angeles. They attended CSUN and decided to stay in the area after college. Lured by the lower crime rates and cheaper houses, they settled in Northridge, in a sprawling home with a fountain in the front and a large backyard. Steeped in African-American culture, the two never really considered the ramifications of raising black children in a multiethnic neighborhood. They themselves had friends of all races and put their children, Patrick Jr., 11, London, 7, and Savannah, 3, in diverse private schools, where they figured they would get the best education. But their children were sometimes the only black children in their class. And their exposure to black history beyond King or even music was infrequent during school hours. The Paces say getting together with other black families helped build an extended family for their children, where they could learn dances from other kids or share in games. Karin Stanford, a CSUN professor of Pan-African studies, is part of that extended family. Stanford, who moved from Georgia, said living here was not easy at first. The native of Inglewood returned to the area only after a bout with breast cancer drew her closer to her family and a job offer brought her to the Valley. Raising her 6-year-old, Ashley, she looks to other African-American families to become role models for her child. So Stanford and the Paces and other families cook together, share stories and gather at each other’s homes. One recent Sunday, the women and their friends clapped their hands, egging their children, to “go, go, go,” as they sang along and danced to a soundtrack of R&B and rap music. Devin O’Brien, 6, held a pretend microphone and kept time with the beat. “See?” said her mother, Ivie O’Brien. “They are not lacking for nothing.” “They are all right,” Erica Pace agreed, nodding her head. Rachel Uranga, (818) 713-3741 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! NORTHRIDGE – Erica and Patrick Pace worked hard to provide a good life for their children in the San Fernando Valley. But like a lot of middle-class African-American families living in predominantly white communities, they felt something was missing. There was just one other African-American family in their neighborhood – not surprising since just 3 percent of the Valley’s population is black. “Me and my husband really worried about this in the beginning,” Erica Pace said. “We thought, Maybe we need to move to Ladera Heights. Maybe we need to go back to Los Angeles.” The Paces were afraid their children would grow up not knowing specific dances, nursery rhymes, games like double Dutch or the smell of certain foods. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORESanta Anita opens winter meet Saturday with loaded card So like many black families living in nonblack neighborhoods, they created their own community. They invited other black families over for barbecues so their children could play together, eat together and learn about their heritage. The Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade became a must-do. “We want our children to understand and be aware of their own culture,” she said. “It’s not that we don’t want our kids to play with others. We want them to have a vast understanding of all races. But they need to know who they are. “They need to be comfortable with their own skin. We want to make sure.” More than four decades after court-ordered desegregation, African-Americans have a stronghold in the middle class and have integrated themselves into neighborhoods of every shade. But those changes have also challenged their sense of identity and place in the fabric of America. In the Valley, blacks tend to be middle class and are increasingly moving into multiethnic neighborhoods where they are in the minority. Census figures show that the median income of an African-American household is $42,450 in the Valley and $26,000 in the rest of the city. last_img read more