Covina: One of LA's racially integrated areas at risk for re-segregating

The Medrano family moved into their Covina home about a year ago and they say they are not concerned about the demographic changes underway in their city.
The Medrano family moved into their Covina home about a year ago and they say they are not concerned about the demographic changes underway in their city.
Shannon Medrano

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Researchers Michael Bader and Siri Warkentien published a paper last year discussing how some racially integrated cities within Los Angeles are on a path to re-segregating. One location on their list: Covina in the San Gabriel Valley.

Cities that have at least a 10 percent population of both white and non-white people are considered integrated but the researchers say that is gradually disintegrating in many locations.

Covina has a population that is currently around 57 percent Latino, 25 percent white and 12 percent Asian with the rest of population either African American or Native American. 

Residents Gus and Shannon Medrano moved from La Puente to Covina with their two children a year ago. Gus Medrano is Hispanic and his wife is white. They say they are glad to live in such a diverse area. 

"It’s nice to see a mixture of everything and not have just little sections that are just one nationality … there's a little bit of everything here in Covina," Gus Medrano said.

But if trends hold, Covina by 2025 will eventually be overwhelmingly Latino with comparatively few white residents. 

Bader, a sociologist at American University, said in the late 20th century, "there was a large wave of immigration in particular from Mexico and Central America and a lot of immigrants moved to Covina." As these families grew, so did the Latino population.

Minorities are now moving to Covina for its affordable housing and connections to ethnic communities. But Bader said white people aren't moving to Covina or other similarly diverse areas. 

For whites, he said, there’s “a combination of aversions to moving to neighborhoods and a lack of knowledge of neighborhoods that aren’t predominately white." 

While white people may not seek out integrated cities, they will stay in a location that’s already diverse, Bader said. Covina may prove to be one such place.

George Fuller, who lives next door to the Medrano family and has been a Covina resident since the 1960s, is white and doesn't plan to move.

"If I had to make the decision to move in tomorrow, I would say, 'Yes, I would.' It’s an attractive set of circumstances," he said of Covina.

Still, white people are leaving the city. They may give different reasons for packing up, but Albert Flores, who is Hispanic, doesn’t always buy their explanations.

He said he's heard reasons such as Covina's changed or "gone downhill."

"I don't see that," Flores said. "I gather because — maybe — when they were there, it was more predominantly white." 

Terry Wysocki, another white resident who has lived in Covina for decades, said he knows people who have moved away partly because of the changes in its demographic makeup. 

"You know, nobody likes demographic changes," he said. "I mean, you know no matter which way it goes from brown to white to brown, black to brown, whatever it might be. People don't like cultural changes happening in your town and that's what causes it [the moving] to some degree."  

But Bader said there are negative consequences if cities re-segregate.

"Segregation decreases the opportunities for blacks and Latinos and increases for whites and that leads to inequality," he said. "The best schools and the best-resourced neighborhoods in this country are still predominately white." 

When white people are unwilling to move into integrated areas, property values tend to drop, Bader said. And it’s typically the taxes based on property values that help pay for schools.

Bader said real estate agents can play a part in preventing segregation when they advise clients on where to buy a home.

"They can inform themselves of neighborhoods, which they might not know about themselves,” he said. “And show white residents those neighborhoods where they're still integrated and show the advantages of those neighborhoods."  

If segregation does occur, cities need to make sure that resources remain and don't follow white people out of town.

"Cities have a large role in redistributing resources to neighborhoods where property taxes might be declining and making sure that those schools are well-funded so that black and Latino and Asian children have the opportunities growing up that I think many white families have come to expect," Bader said. 

There are cities in Los Angeles that have managed to remain integrated over a long period of time. While Bader is still looking at the reasons why they have, he believes it may be in part that they are near major lines of transportation and highways. He said being near places that get to central city locations are important and may inspire a diverse group of people to continue living where transportation is convenient.

Gus and Shannon Medrano said the idea that white people may be leaving or avoiding Covina because of the growing minority population surprises them.

"It’s hard to wrap your head around that, that people could even think that. That’s sad, it’s sad," said Shannon Medrano. 

She said she’s grateful that she can raise her children in a place that is welcoming to their mixed identities. 

"It’s that culture — that it doesn't matter where you come from, you know they're going to take you in, they're going to embellish that and they're going to accept that and they're going to grow with it," she said. 

Rather than feeling afraid of what may come, she and her husband said they embrace the diversity they see now, both in their neighborhood and in their home.