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A video screen showed photos of her beaming at various ages, for Irene was a woman who made her house a center of family and community life in the Florence-Firestone district of L. One of those nieces sat in the second row of the chapel during the service. Wearing a low-cut black dress that revealed a scar not far from her heart, she nodded to cousins, nieces, and ex-uncles, pointing out those who were down for the hood back when things were raging in Florencia 13, the dominant street gang in the area.
Several of the men at the funeral had been to prison; a few women had husbands who were still locked up. Some people kept their distance from Arlene.
Others approached to say hello. By , the thirtysomething mother of four sons had become a real estate agent. Houses in the area were going for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Business was good. When hood gossip turned against her, Arlene fled to the East Coast with a new identity, a new life. To the surprise of everyone, though, she came home. Four freeways eventually crossed the thoroughfare, which had become an artery through South-Central Los Angeles, a sprawling black neighborhood by the s.
Heading east, the street cut through white enclaves—Huntington Park, Cudahy, Bell, Bell Gardens, and Downey—formed decades earlier by white migrants from the Midwest and South who found work at the dozens of unionized factories. Diners, car washes, and dentist offices that dotted the street, there to serve people optimistic about life now that they had good jobs and sunny winters. Through the s, all that changed. The high-wage factories had left, taking with them virtually all of the whites and many of the blacks.
In their places—coming from the Mexican states of Michoacan, Jalisco, Sinaloa, and Zacatecas—large families of immigrants jammed into the small houses, working two or three jobs per household. By the early s, a mosaic of Florencia 13 cliques was replacing most of the once-powerful East Coast Crip cliques in the Crip world east of the freeway.