Welcome to Hooverville, California

By:  Héctor Tobar

LOS ANGELES — A GENERATION ago, this West Coast metropolis became a “third world city.” At least in the rhetoric of certain East Coast thinkers.

A 1991 book by David Rieff cited visitors who were stunned by “seeing nothing but brown faces, hearing nothing but Spanish on the streets.” The arrival of coffee-colored Latino masses (like me and my Guatemalan-American family), together with the spread of Mandarin and Korean logograms on street signs, led Mr. Rieff to call this the “capital of the third world.”

As a native of the city, I was offended to hear it tagged with such a denigrating label. But in recent years, and for different reasons, I’ve come to believe that a metropolis of the “developing world,” to use a more polite expression, is being born here.

Its center is not in East Los Angeles, or any other Latino neighborhood; nor in our recently christened “Little Bangladesh.” The third world exists everywhere here — in the spread of inequality.

The deepening gap between rich and poor is both a sociological fact and a state of mind. The cost of housing is up dramatically, and so is homelessness.

“If it feels like there are people living on the streets and under bridges everywhere you look, it’s because there are,” Bianca Barragan wrote for the website L.A. Curbed last month, after a survey by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority found an 85 percent increase in the number of people living in tents and cars over the past two years. In all, the census counted more than 25,000 homeless people in the city, up 12 percent over the same period.

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