How USC professor George J. Sánchez sees the future in LA’s Boyle Heights neighborhood


When George J. Sánchez’s parents came to Los Angeles from Mexico, they first settled in Boyle Heights. While his family ended up moving to Gardenia and then Whittier, they always returned to Boyle Heights and always had family there. 

“There was a sense that it was different — Boyle Heights was welcoming when most parts of Los Angeles were not,” says Sánchez, author of “Becoming Mexican American” and now “Boyle Heights: How a Los Angeles Neighborhood Became the Future of American Democracy.”

The new book traces the evolution of the Boyle Heights neighborhood throughout its history as different immigrant groups ebb and flow, finding ways to fit in and to maintain their cultural identity.

“Boyle Heights is a great example of a neighborhood that mostly over time kind of worked,” says Sánchez, who is Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity and History at USC.

When Sánchez was writing his first book, about Mexican Americans, every time other local groups, like Jews, Italians or Japanese immigrants came into the picture, he would set them aside to maintain focus on his story. 

But that book was published in 1993, right after the L.A. riots, he says “and all of Los Angeles was asking, ‘Can communities that are diverse get along? That’s why I ended up back in Boyle Heights because I felt there was a larger story to tell.” 

Sánchez, who says Boyle Heights is representative of numerous communities throughout the country from Brooklyn to Chicago to other parts of California, recently spoke by Zoom about “how we think about ethnic politics and change that happens and how we get along with each other.”