Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

The cultural mashup dictionary: Gentefication

Photo by Texas T/Flickr (Creative Commons)

I first heard the term "gentefication" uttered a few years ago by the proprietor of Eastside Luv, a Boyle Heights wine bar that opened on First Street during the height of the real estate boom and rising fear of gentrification in the historic seat of Mexican American Los Angeles.

At the time, locals were becoming worried (they still are) over encroaching development from the west, including the still-standing plans for an upscale redevelopment of the neighborhood's vast Wyvernwood Gardens apartment complex. In the midst of this, Guillermo Uribe, a young Mexican American investor with L.A. roots farther east, had taken over and renovated the former Metropolitan, a former mariachi bar across from Mariachi Plaza. At the time, the corner's best view was of Gold Line construction.

Some locals were worried about the new wine bar, too. Even as a Latino-owned business, was it a harbinger of higher rents? It has since become a popular gathering spot for a mostly second-generation crowd, many of them professionals with Eastside roots. In an email last week, after reconnecting with Uribe over a KPCC radio segment about Eastside Luv's regular MorrisseyOke nights, he used the term again:

"I've flipped the gentrification issue to GENTEfication...all better," he wrote.

Gente is, of course, Spanish for "people." So I'll offer my attempt at a definition here:

gen·te·fi·ca·tion (hen-te-fi-k?-shun), noun: The process of upwardly mobile Latinos, typically second-generation and beyond, investing in and returning to the old neighborhood.

The question remains as to whether Boyle Heights will truly gentrify, eventually attracting affluent non-Latino investors and residents who can pay higher rents in the wake of what has become a thriving Latino arts and entertainment scene. Perched on the edge of downtown, there's a strong chance it might.  But for now, it still belongs to the gente.

For the uninitiated, Multi-American’s cultural mashup dictionary is a collection of occasional entries, bits and pieces of the evolving lexicon of words, terms and phrases coined as immigrants and their descendants influence the English language, and it influences them.

Entries have included informal coinages like Tweecanos, as used on Twitter, and Spanglish terms like Googlear and Twittear and Feisbuk. The series kicked off last spring with the etymology of the term 1.5 generation. Have suggestion for an entry? Feel free to post it below.