Looking back at the 1992 Los Angeles riots, people often remember tensions between African-Americans, white law enforcement officers and Korean small business owners. That story gets even more complicated when you step into Pico-Union — a neighborhood that was, and still is, predominantly Latino.
In the wake of the Rodney King verdict, riots broke out around the city. The first day, they erupted in South Central; by the second, they had spread north to Pico-Union. And while people all over the city had to deal with looting, fires, and general chaos, many residents of Pico Union had to deal with an additional fear — the threat of deportation.
Mike Hernandez was the neighborhood’s city councilman in 1992. He said that in the 25 years since the riots, Pico-Union hasn’t changed that much. The area is still more than 80 percent Latino, with lots of immigrant families from Mexico and Central America. And, in 1992, a majority of Pico-Union constituents were living below the poverty line in crowded conditions. Hernandez said he knew long before the riots started that Pico-Union was just as combustible as South Central LA. “We had twice the density here of Manhattan,” Hernandez said. “And our fire station here, Fire Station 11, was the busiest fire station in the nation.”
But in the midst of the burning and looting, Hernandez said the few law enforcement officers who made it to Pico-Union were not protecting and serving. He partially blamed it on the fact that in the early 1990s, “Latino” was often synonymous with “illegal” in California. In a 1992 interview, he told NPR that his request for reinforcement during the unrest didn’t get him the results he wanted. “The response to me when I said I needed the National Guard to protect the people of the area and I needed to protect the businesses and protect the homes, they gave me the Border Patrol. It was totally an insult,” he said.