Jewish Histories in Multiethnic Boyle Heights

1930 Census Visualization

A Note on Methods

In 1924, the California Commission on Immigration and Housing commissioned a survey of Los Angeles’ various social service agencies to better understand the city’s rapidly growing population. Four of the districts surveyed were in Boyle Heights. Of these, two in the westernmost portion of the neighborhood—District 4, between Mission Road, Wabash Avenue and Brooklyn Avenue, and District 5 between Brooklyn Avenue and 4th Street and St. Louis Street—were identified as being the most diverse. The survey described the residents in these districts as including “a dozen or more nationalities” and “outstanding” numbers of “Russian Jews.”

To create this digital visualization, Caroline Luce identified the enumeration districts in the 1930 Federal Census that correspond to districts 4 and 5 in the survey, compiled the data from those Census records, and mapped it to explore the demographics of this particular portion of the neighborhood. The points on the map represent the individuals listed as "Heads of Household," and the color of the point indicates that individual’s Country of Origin as identified by the Census takers. Importantly, the 1930 Federal Census did not explicitly identify Jews, but it did include a category for “Mother Tongue (Native Language),” the listing of Yiddish, Hebrew, or “Jewish” providing an important indicator of Jewish identity, although not an exclusive one. The data reveals not only the neighborhood’s outstanding diversity—with 43 different Countries of Origin represented in just these two districts—but also the diversity of the Jewish population itself.

While identifying those of Jewish descent through census data requires an attentiveness to categories like "Mother Tongue" and "Country of Origin," the same census classifications also obscure other types of demographic diversity in the neighborhood's population. In the 1930 count, for example, both those of Jewish and Mexican descent were legally classified as White, but experienced social processes like housing, education, and healthcare in distinct ways that were rooted in racial differences. Similarly, American-born persons of African ancestry were officially categorized as U.S. citizens, and yet, were legally and socially excluded from many privileges and protections promised under U.S. citizenship despite not being foreign-born. And those African-American residents, as well as other micro-communities in the neighborhood like the Russian Molokan population, tended to reside in other parts of the neighborhood not captured in the sampling above. While this digital visualization helps us see the globalness of Boyle Heightsmapping the emigration trajectories of new immigrant populations and the languages migrants brought with themits emphasis on the classification of “Country of Origin,” and on census data more broadly, obscures some important nuances of the racial, social, and legal dynamics within the neighborhood's population, offering only a partial portrait of the complete cultural tapestry of the neighborhood in the 1930s.

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