My View

How to Get Civic Leaders to Think 20 Years Out

Opinion: Moderate successes in developing more diverse labor markets in Los Angeles, San Antonio, and Salt Lake City show why it behooves regions to become more receptive to immigrants, a sociology professor says.

Manuel Pastor is professor of sociology and American studies & ethnicity at the University of Southern California where he also serves as director of USC's Program for Environmental and Regional Equity and co-director of USC's Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration.
National Journal
Manuel Pastor
Add to Briefcase
Manuel Pastor
Jan. 23, 2014, midnight

Manuel Pas­tor, 57, is a pro­fess­or of so­ci­ology and Amer­ic­an stud­ies and eth­ni­city at the Uni­versity of South­ern Cali­for­nia. At a 2012 con­fer­ence, he said, “I think my role is to bring in un­com­fort­able top­ics in a way that makes people feel like they can ac­tu­ally talk about them.”

This in­ter­view, con­duc­ted by Jody Bran­non, has been ed­ited for length and clar­ity.

Some of the work I’ve done has been ori­ented to­ward re­gion­al equity in labor mar­kets — mak­ing sure [people of col­or, im­mig­rants, and low-in­come in­di­vidu­als are] part of so­ci­ety that is work­ing on be­ing more in­clus­ive.

A re­cent suc­cess we’ve seen in that arena oc­curred just last year in San Ant­o­nio when the city man­aged to pass a sales tax to make in­vest­ments in pre-K edu­ca­tion uni­ver­sal for dis­ad­vant­aged kids. Not only did they bring on board the usu­al sus­pects, like the may­or, but the Cham­ber of Com­merce came on board and cham­pioned in­vest­ment in pre-K as a way to gen­er­ate a labor force that per­forms well 20 years from now.

So how do we get the next gen­er­a­tion of com­munity and civic lead­ers [else­where] to think 20 years out? How do we get them to feel like all of these people are our people?

Here in L.A., we’ve be­come pro­fi­cient with com­munity-be­ne­fits agree­ments, by which de­velopers guar­an­tee hir­ing loc­ally or provid­ing hous­ing or parks [in the area where they are build­ing]. They make those prom­ises and co­di­fy them be­fore they be­gin the de­vel­op­ment. That’s been a pi­on­eer­ing thing here. It began in a pro­ject in Hol­ly­wood and then Los Angeles near the Staples Cen­ter where the Lakers play and then in the ex­pan­sion of the L.A. air­port. Think­ing re­gion­ally has helped oth­er groups to think of how these ma­jor de­vel­op­ments could de­liv­er.

There’s also more thread­ing to­geth­er of is­sues. For ex­ample, L.A. is try­ing to ret­ro­fit mu­ni­cip­al build­ings so they’re green­er and more sus­tain­able. That gets coupled with job train­ing to get youth and low-in­come people in­to the trades. For some of these folks, for the first time they have a steady job that’s uni­on, and they’re able to think about buy­ing a house and mov­ing for­ward. That makes a dif­fer­ence in people’s lives.

Los Angeles also has many un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants who have a lot of as­pir­a­tions. We need to make it pos­sible for the un­doc­u­mented and also people grow­ing up in poor neigh­bor­hoods to have a plat­form of suc­cess.

I think I see my­self in them and they see them­selves in me. My dad was un­doc­u­mented when he came to the U.S. in the ‘30s. We were poor, and he was able to get a uni­on job. And I think it’s more chal­len­ging now. Those of us who grew up in the ‘60s didn’t see as severe a set of in­ter­sect­ing prob­lems in terms of poor neigh­bor­hoods and crime and vi­ol­ence like there is now. I couldn’t com­pare my grow­ing up to what kids face nowadays — and we need to keep that in mind.

One of the most re­ward­ing things that has happened to me as an aca­dem­ic was when I was mak­ing a present­a­tion about low-in­come neigh­bor­hoods in Pa­coima, an in­ner-ring sub­urb here in Los Angeles, and a gen­tle­man from the neigh­bor­hood came up to me and said, “I saw my­self in your stat­ist­ics.” His story was rep­res­en­ted in the way we were provid­ing a pro­file of the neigh­bor­hood and that was very sat­is­fy­ing.

For those of us who have a po­s­i­tion in a uni­versity or a voice in the pub­lic square, we can rep­res­ent and be the voice and help a per­son to feel seen. That’s an in­cred­ibly im­port­ant mis­sion, and it’s one I hold close. That’s been a beacon for me — that the work we do has res­on­ance with com­munity-based or­gan­iz­a­tions and people on the ground.

I also think we need a more com­plex the­ory of change. When you vis­it San Ant­o­nio now, people talk a great deal about high levels of col­lab­or­a­tion, but it comes out of a long peri­od of con­flict. Thirty years ago San Ant­o­nio was a place where it was pretty ex­clus­ively Anglo elite. Many (non-Anglos) were shut out of polit­ics and even ba­sic city in­fra­struc­ture.

COPS [Com­munit­ies Or­gan­ized for Pub­lic Ser­vice] rose up out of those neigh­bor­hood frus­tra­tions and people be­came en­gaged in ad­vocacy to make sure their is­sues got to the table. Trans­ition­al fig­ures like Henry Cis­ner­os got act­ive, and com­munity in­terests and voices were bet­ter heard. And that spir­it has since be­come wide­spread across civic lead­er­ship. It’s no longer in just the poor neigh­bor­hoods but people [from all strata] re­cog­nize it’s im­port­ant for the en­tire city to deal with dis­ad­vant­age.

One of the in­ter­est­ing ini­ti­at­ives is Wel­com­ing Amer­ica, which is about try­ing to make new des­tin­a­tion areas more re­cept­ive to im­mig­rants by work­ing with the ex­ist­ing, older com­munit­ies and help­ing to cre­ate bridges. That’s a prom­ising thing to do.

Take a look at Cali­for­nia’s demo­graph­ic change from 2000 to 2050, and all the bumps we had — big civil un­rest, Prop 187, af­firm­at­ive ac­tion. What’s heart­en­ing is where we are now after all that con­flict. Our demo­graph­ics now are chan­ging very slowly. In Los Angeles in the last 10 years, there’s not been an in­crease in His­pan­ic chil­dren; it’s more settled, with people hav­ing few­er chil­dren. Sure, it was bumpy, but we just passed, one, a bill so that un­doc­u­mented res­id­ents can get drivers’ li­censes and, two, the Trust Act so no longer are po­lice co­ordin­at­ing with ICE to de­port people for a mis­de­mean­or rather than a felony.

It’s not nir­vana, but it’s not the riv­en con­flict of 25 or 30 years ago. Some­times when older Amer­ic­ans see the demo­graph­ic change, they are ima­ging it’s the be­gin­ning of de­cline, but it rather can lead to a dif­fer­ent renais­sance. That’s [the les­son] get­ting out to the Mid­w­est. They’re real­iz­ing their stag­nant demo­graphy is tied to their stag­nant eco­nomy. It’s in­ter­est­ing to see St. Louis mar­ket to at­tract im­mig­rants and en­tre­pren­eurs.

I’m pretty im­pressed by Salt Lake City. They’ve done some in­ter­est­ing stuff with plan­ning. They’ve put in a light-rail sys­tem that runs through the low-in­come His­pan­ic area, see­ing that it can lead to em­ploy­ment — both in terms of con­struc­tion and op­er­a­tion jobs and con­nect­ing people to new work op­por­tun­it­ies. What they see about them­selves is that Salt Lake is slated to be­come ma­jor­ity-minor­ity faster than the coun­try as a whole, and it’s in­ter­est­ing to see them hav­ing such a civil con­ver­sa­tion.

The prob­lem of in­equal­ity and lack of op­por­tun­ity for im­mig­rants are all ex­per­i­enced at a loc­al or re­gion­al level. That’s where they come face to face with the is­sue. It’s one thing for the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment to deny un­em­ploy­ment be­ne­fits to 1.3 mil­lion people scattered across the coun­try. It’s an­oth­er thing to see a loc­al pro­gram or pro­ject that’s go­ing to leave your neigh­bor out of a job. But ac­tu­ally, there’s a lot of good stuff hap­pen­ing at a metro level all across the coun­try — it’s more a mat­ter of spread­ing best prac­tices, now.

Part of the reas­on we called it “The Greatest Gen­er­a­tion” is that they made the huge sac­ri­fice by go­ing to war. But one of the reas­ons they were able to be great was when they got back was the GI Bill and all the in­vest­ments in high­ways and the huge set of pub­lic works. That al­lowed them to be great. Then their baby boomers hit a home run without real­iz­ing they star­ted on third base. Now we’re leav­ing out the next gen­er­a­tion by not in­vest­ing in their edu­ca­tion. But we can get ahead by build­ing a plat­form of pub­lic policy and op­por­tun­ity for all.


Jody Brannon contributed to this article.
What We're Following See More »
CNN/ORC Has Clinton Up 5 Points
4 hours ago

Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump 49%-44% in a new CNN/ORC poll out Monday afternoon. But it's Gary Johnson's performance, or lack thereof, that's the real story. Johnson, who had cleared 10% in some surveys earlier this fall, as he made a bid to qualify for the debates, is down to 3% support. He must hit 5% nationwide for the Libertarian Party to qualify for some federal matching funds in future elections.

Rapper Jay Z to Perform Concert for Clinton
4 hours ago
Log Cabin Republicans Don’t Endorse Trump
4 hours ago

While the organization praised him for being "perhaps the most pro-LGBT presidential nominee in the history of the Republican Party," the Log Cabin Republicans refused to endorse Donald Trump for president. The organization, which is the largest gay organization in the United States, said that Trump failed to earn its endorsement because he surrounded himself with anti-LGBTQ people "and committed himself to supporting legislation such as the so-called 'First Amendment Defense Act' that Log Cabin Republicans opposes."

Congress Needs to Deal With Impending Nuclear Plant Closures
4 hours ago

Energy Secretary Ernesto Moniz is warning Congress "that Congress and businesses need to act with more urgency to work out a medley of challenges in promoting nuclear power." A number of nuclear plants are currently on track to close around 2030, unless their licenses are extended from 60 years to 80 years, something that could jeopardize the success of the Clean Power Plan. Moniz called on Congress to pass legislation creating interim storage facilities for used nuclear power.

Trump Pocketed Insurance Money Following 2005 Hurricane
5 hours ago

Donald Trump has said he received a $17 million insurance payment in 2005 following Hurricane Wilma, which he claimed did severe damage to his private club in Florida. However, an Associated Press investigation could not find any evidence of the large-scale damage that Trump has mentioned. Additionally, Trump claimed that he transferred some of the $17 million to his personal account thanks to a "very good insurance policy."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.