Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Blame Housing Discrimination, Or Why I Don't Remember The Los Angeles Snowstorm of 1962

Since I'm in Dubai and missing the current major LA rainstorm and mudslides, It's probably appropriate to mention other weather events that I either missed or forgot.  Back  2003 there was the freak hailstorm in South Los Angeles caused by an almost unprecedented stationary storm that led to a foot of hail on the ground in some places, which was erroneously described by many as snow at the time.  Unfortunately I was in Dallas at the time and missed the event, though I did save the Dallas newspaper describing that event.  Then there was the actual snow in Los Angeles in 1962 which is a complete blank in my mind.

A couple of years ago the KCET website ran a piece on the few recorded instances of snowfall in Los Angeles.  My son asked me if I remembered the most recent episode listed, which was in early 1962 when I was 13 years old.   I had always thought 1949, when I was an infant, was the last time snow fell in Los Angeles and was shocked to read that it snowed in the San Fernando Valley in 1962.   I was puzzled by my lack of any memory of this event, particularly since I always had an interest in weather.  For example I remember 6 consecutive days of rain in 1962, and being evacuated  from our neighborhood in the Crenshaw district because of flooding in 1954 or 1955.  (Not everybody in Los Angeles had storm sewers back then.)   And as a second grader I kept a daily diary which included the temperature for the day.

On reflection, my lack of recollection of the 1962 snow was due to the fact my geographic world was so small back then.  Yes, in the 50s my dad would take us on Sunday afternoon rides to outlying places like Zuma Beach, Newport Beach, Anaheim or El Monte. But those were like mini-vacations to distant places for us since we never took real vacations as he worked so hard, 6½ days a week every week.   The rest of the time we stayed within a relatively narrow swath in central Los Angeles, from the Crenshaw district in the west to downtown Los Angeles where my dad worked, to El Sereno where some family friends lived.

The reason why  we were so confined is that for Chinese-Americans, Los Angeles was still semi-segregated housing wise in the 1950s and into the 1960s.  Most Chinese Americans of that era lived in Central, South or East Los Angeles, and all our friends and relatives lived there.  Yes, there were Chinese living in a nice central LA area like Silver Lake, but communities such as Arcadia, San Marino, South Pasadena, Glendale, Inglewood and Palos Verdes were totally off limits  to minorities, including Chinese-Americans, well into the 1960s.  Indeed, I thought it was a really big deal in the late 50s when one of my uncles bought a house in someplace called Gardena and then another uncle bought a house in Mar Vista, followed by my grandfather's buying a house in the Athens district near the border with Gardena in the early 1960s,

Our geographic confinement was probably best expressed by the fact that before I went to UCLA in 1965,  I told people that I hadn't been west of La Brea Ave. more than 5 times in my life (which probably was just a slight exaggeration) and had only visited the San Fernando Valley 5 times or less (probably not an exaggeration).  So snow in the Valley in 1962 isn't something that would register with me at that time.

Obviously being the subject of any kind of discrimination is no fun.  But to have felt its effects does provide an interesting perspective on one's life.

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