If Los Angeles went totally Latino in 2154 would it be such a dreary, beige place? “Elysium” seems to propose Los Angeles in 2154 as a sprawling unified barrio–a dreary place with cars and people that have no style. That’s not the Southern California I know. Even poor people have style.

I’m not Latino, but I grew up near the Tijuana border in Chula Vista, California where the Founder’s Day parade was called Fiesta de la Luna. We loved seeing the fancy horses and hearing the bands.

 

At home, we ate quesadillas and food without the kick of salsa gets boring. We weren’t rich and after my father passed away, we were middle-class poor, on that uncomfortable border between middle-class and lower-class. We weren’t the best dressed children, but our clothes where clean. The city of Chula Vista and the County of San Diego has a large Latino population and their culture is part of the area’s history.

The Spanish have historically been famous for their fancy rides. They didn’t exactly invent cars (that was Henry Ford) and Spain and Latin America aren’t the homelands of any famous car manufacturer, but let’s look back pre-automobile mobility. Think of those Spaniards, the Conquistadors.

The Spanish were famous for their fancy horses–high crested necks with thick long manes and long luxurious tales. They owe some of that to the Arabs or Moors. The Andalusians, the Spanish Barbs and later the Paso Fino and the Peruvian Pasos. Fancy gaits and fancy riding. Remember the Lipizzans are associated with the Spanish Riding School (in Austria).

In San Diego and Los Angeles, this Spanish love of the fancy ride has translated into colorful cars. Who do you think was making those low riders? You can’t own a house, but you can own a car and to impress your neighborhood. You make your car a showy cool ride.

 

You can read the most confusing Wikipedia entry which first claims that lowriding started in the late 1940s among the predominately white hot rod subculture and by the second paragraph you’re supposed to believe that African Americans were the largest minority group in Southern California. What happened to all the Latinos who were in SoCal before it became part of the United States? In 1950, African Americans were only 3.5 percent of the Pacific division and population. Latinos weren’t included as a possible choice.

The entry then goes on to cite a book which claims that the lowrider originated with Mexican Americans and the zoot suit culture during the 1930s.  Remember the Zoot Suit Riots in 1942 came before the Watts Riot and the Los Angeles Riots weren’t just a black thing. A different generation of Latinos from different regions rioted in downtown Los Angeles. So you have the young Latino men dressed in zoot suits in the early 1940s but that was the younger generation.

 

The older generation in East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights were also buying and painting their cars and their houses bright colors and wearing fancy shoes.  I’m pretty sure they still had mariachis, flamenco dancing, social dancing and quinceañeras as we did in San Diego.

In 2013, the Latinos influence can be seen in the skulls and tattoos, the proliferation of salsa dance spots and the growing political and social clout. The Latino influence is felt in SoCal food, dress, art and music, but in “Elysium” this disappears? That’s a failure on the part of the creators of “Elysium” to imagine poor people having a culture, a subculture.

 

If the slaves in the Deep South were able to create a culture, why not the poor work drones of Los Angeles during the time of “Elysium”? The hacienda system of California didn’t completely eliminate the Native American culture which fused with the Spanish culture to become Mexican and Mexican American culture. The Jim Crow laws of the deep South didn’t kill African American culture and the police brutality of SoCal during the 1940s didn’t kill the vital Latino culture that defines Southern California.

Even the poor have a cultural heritage. They build gardens, they paint their houses, they dress themselves as best they can and they create music and poetry. Elysium’s Los Angeles has none of that and somehow the majority culture of the Latinos remains powerless, poor and without creative impulse and that says more about the imaginative poverty of the movie’s creators.

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