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South Los Angeles or South Central? And the Winner Is…

Do modern rappers use South LA or their Lyrics…Or does it not rhyme that well?

Today we’re looking at the Los Angeles City Council’s comments on the issue and what it means to South LA, South Central, residents like me.

While there’s strong evidence that this region may have been called South Los Angeles as early as 1910, the name didn’t truly receive recognition from the City until the early 2000s. 

There are several articles that cover when LA City Council decided to redub South Central as South Los Angeles. Calvin Sims, a reporter for the New York Times documented Los Angeles City Council’s decision to rename South Central to South Los Angeles in 2003. He writes, “The council voted unanimously today to rename this 16-square-mile district South Los Angeles as part of an effort to erase the image of South-Central as the scene of race riots in 1965 and 1992 and the setting for films featuring gangs and drug dealers like ”Training Day,” ”Colors” and ”Boyz ‘n the Hood.”

Who knew that changing names would combat century-old stereotypes? I should have changed my names years ago! 

In an unverified account, Sims reported middle-class neighborhoods lobbied for this name change. But it obviously had never been adopted by all residents in this region. 

These name changes are pretty much confirmed in actual City Planning documents, the south region of Los Angeles is actually split in half. The Area Planning Commission calls this area South LA. The Community Plan Areas splits South LA into two parts: Southwest Los Angeles from anything west of Main Street, or the 110 Freeway, and Southeast Los Angeles for anything east of those dividing lines. 

Documents or not, this region is still in a tug of war with names, depending on who you ask. Some people grew up with this place being called South Central, and want to keep it this way. It’s a moniker that many people have clinged to over the years, especially in South Central culture from the early 80s to mid 90s. It’s in popular music. It’s in movies—heck there’s even a movie named South Central. And there’s something about South Central that succinctly embodies the struggles that many minorities live with. It’s a valid name. And just because the city may not want to recognize it, doesn’t mean that it isn’t how you identify it.

And then there’s South LA. There are so many people at odds with this name too. It seems to be a new term for people who either embrace the new era of South LA beyond the 80s and 90s, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Many people who might not identify with the popular references, or feel a real connection to the term, or are old enough to pre-date south central, might just be more comfortable with South LA. For some, that term isn’t forced. It’s more natural. 

And, technically, South LA isn’t “gentry.” It was used in the early 20th century. It’s something this region toyed with, but never had the same popularity as the given “South Central,”

And then there are other people—gentry, if you will—who want this neighborhood to be better, and a prime location for Targets, Trader Joe’s, and Coffee Beans and opt for the less stereotypical, easier-on-the-tongue South LA. We’re a region that’s deprived of many luxuries found with ease nearly 20 minutes away.

Personally, I’m split on what to call it. 

South LA felt natural because I heard it so much recently. But I still recognize South Central. 

On one end, the name South Central has been historically used as a term to dissociate people who live in this area with Los Angeles—as it was originally one of the few pockets in the city that black people and other minorities could live. And it continued to depict black Los Angeles. Calling this whole region South Central is technically a misnomer if it’s really based on the region’s original neighborhood. 

But, on the other hand, I know that renaming this place to South LA hasn’t and will not solve its problems. Investing in better schools, more job, and neighborhood resources—opportunities that this region has been starved of for over 100 years—would make this place better. 

And embracing South Los Angeles shows, linguistically speaking, that we’re just as much Los Angeles as the West Side and the Central part. It shows that the people who lived before us helped build this city that we call LA.

So when you ask the question South LA or South Central? Both are right. Sure, legally speaking, it’s South Los Angeles. But South Central is still real for many people. 

South Central or South Los Angeles, it’s my home. And if you live here, enjoy the South Central or South LA that you live in. And if you don’t? I’ll leave that up to you.

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