Review: The Shifting Grounds of Race

I find Los Angeles history to be a fascinating topic and this book is another peek into it. Growing up in the East, I found the West to have a pretty short idea of what the past comprises. That turns out to be a preconception that the West in general and Los Angeles does take steps to reinforce, but it’s more ludicrous the longer one thinks about it. The West coast’s history of European occupation – not to mention the lengthy history of the indigenous – was long underway when the Massachusetts Bay and Virginia colonies were just getting sited. This book doesn’t go that far back, but it’s no less rich for its recency.

LA has long been a major crossroads attracting populations from all over the continent and Pacific, accelerated by physical and metaphorical gold rushes and land marketing. As it became a hub for industry and trade in the period leading up to WWII, it attracted workers. These were often not citizens and treated as much less than people. To add to that, the land marketers often erased these immigrant populations to sell an American paradise.

WWII complicated matters by excusing explicitly removing Japanese immigrants and citizens into camps. Those people’s labor was replaced by additional labor from within and without the nation, and the frictions between these people make up a significant part of Grounds. It’s not an endorsement of Americans’ record in fairness and inclusion by any means. It’s important to know, though.

While I find the research and interpretation of it excellent, I won’t say Grounds is a page turner. Scott Kurashige’s skills are more in scholarship than in wordsmithing. Some of that may be taking extra care with ideas that may be explosive and I can’t blame him. He never says that, so it’s just a guess.


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