The Bankrupt American Brands Still Thriving in Japan

North American visitors to the shopping corridors of Tokyo and Osaka may be surprised to find brands they’d written off as dead at home. In between the Uniqlos, Lawsons, Tokyu Hands, and other domestic chains that dominate the streets of Japanese cities, you’ll see American names that you’ll recognize from the nearest dead or dying mall: Toys ‘R’ Us, Tower Records, Barney’s, and Dean & Deluca. They echo U.S. chains that have been gone bankrupt in their homeland and yet survive, even thrive, in Japan and other Asian markets.

What gives, an American tourist—or at least this tourist, who recently traveled to Kyoto and Tokyo—wonders? At least according to four experts on the Japanese retail industry, there are as many explanations as there are chains living out what seem to be second lives.

Licensing agreements

In Asia, most chains that bear the name of an American company are independent entities with a licensing agreement. So the decisions that made one company go belly-up in the United States wouldn’t necessarily bear on stores in Japan or its neighbors.

For example, Toys ‘R’ Us Inc. filed for bankruptcy in the U.S. in 2017, having incurred billions of dollars in debt that prevented it from making necessary investments and updates to huge brick-and-mortar footprint. The following year, the erstwhile category killer shuttered nearly 800 of its big-box stores, becoming an icon of the American “retail apocalypse.” The brand relaunched in the U.S. this fall after restructuring.

The story has been different across the Pacific. Toys ‘R’ Us Asia severed ties with its American parent company in 2018, allowing it to focus its business strategy on developing the Asian market, including a plan to open 68 new stories in Japan and China. As it is, the brand has long dominated the Japanese toy sector. Toys ‘R’ Us entered the country’s retail market in 1991 as one of the earliest U.S. brands to break through Japan’s complicated distribution and regulatory regime, which traditionally force customers to pay some of the highest prices in the world. Now the toy giant dictates to manufacturers, with few rivals and widespread name recognition.

A Toys ‘R’ Us in Toyko. (Eriko Sugita/Reuters)

“The reason they’ve survived is because of how well they’ve marketed themselves, plus very low competition in the sector,” said Roy Larke, a senior lecturer in marketing at the University of Waikoto in New Zealand, and an expert on retailing and consumer behavior in Japan.

American brands still carry cachet

Japan also holds an appreciation for certain storied American imports. Luxury food retailer Dean & DeLuca may be closing stores in New York City as debts pile up, but its 50 locations across Japan are going strong. Beyond upscale deli cookies, shoppers may be flocking for the Manhattan-tinged universe that Dean & Deluca conjures up. “I think that retail stores in Japan that are American, and identified with American culture and taste, have a cachet in Japan that is apart from the way these same brands are viewed in the U.S.,” said David Flath, a professor of economics with a focus on retail at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto.

W. David Marx, a Tokyo-based journalist and author, put it this way: “It’s an imported brand that exists in a fantasy world where Sex and the City is still on air.”

Another example in Tokyo shopping malls is Barneys Japan, which licenses its name from the upscale Manhattan department store brand that recently declared bankruptcy. Like Dean & Deluca, its success is helped by having bottled a certain idea of Western luxury. “It lives on as an American fantasy, rather than the real American experience,” Marx said.

Density, density, density

For decades, the California-based chain Tower Records was the ultimate emporium for music lovers, peaking with 200 stores worldwide in the mid-1990s. But years of debt and shifts in how consumers access music forced it into bankruptcy, and all of its U.S. stores shuttered in 2006.

In Japan, however, the music never died. Tower Records still has a major presence in Tokyo and Osaka. The stores are no longer owned by the U.S. company, but the familiar yellow-and-red signage and multi-floor layout can give American shoppers flashbacks to the pre-piracy era.

A few factors explain Tower’s persistence in Japan. First, many Japanese listeners still consider obtaining actual CDs or even vinyl LPs an important sign of their fandom for artists. In 2016, Quartz reported that nearly 80 percent of music sales were on hard copies. That translates to shopping environments: “You have to own the objects, and there has to be a place to buy the objects, and that is part of why physical retail stores last a lot longer,” said Marx.

Recently, online shopping—via mega-purveyors such as Amazon and its Japanese competitor Rakuten—has been eating into Japan’s physical retail sales in nearly every sector. That is especially true for items that don’t need to be closely inspected before buying, such as books and CDs, Flath said.

But a tight-packed population sets Japan apart, said Marx and Larke: The country is about ten times as dense as the United States, and that makes a big difference for retailers with an urban foothold. For example, most of the 40 million people that live in the Tokyo metropolitan area alone can reach the city center in about an hour, Marx pointed said. In shopping hotspots such as Shibuya City—which boasts the busiest pedestrian intersection in the world, and the flagship store for Tower Records Japan—the huge volume of foot traffic can keep new and old retailers alive into the e-commerce future. Such city center locations allow retailers to be “part of the customers’ daily file,” Iwao Hosoda, the associate director of marketing and communications for the real estate services firm CBRE Japan, wrote via email.

In contrast, many of the large chains that recently disappeared in the U.S. had vast chains of big-box stores spread out across thinly populated rural and exurban parts of the country. The real estate was cheap, but that space-hungry format was vulnerable to e-commerce, and the empty structures and parking lots that scroll by on cross-country drives are a testament to their inefficiency.

Japan’s population is aging and declining, and wages have stagnated. Suburban-style American shopping formats are becoming more popular there, too. (Costco: literally big in Japan.) And as more shoppers move online, store inventories and layouts are likely to change.

Still, for now, as long as the population is dense, mobile, and large enough, brick-and-mortar stores can survive off the sheer number of shoppers that pass by every day. “The scale is just so big that you can almost always open something new,” said Marx. “People will still line up for it.”

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CityLab Daily: Wage Inequality Has Surged in American Cities

What We’re Following

Place a wager: Since 1980, America has shifted toward a knowledge-based economy that concentrates more people and jobs into a smaller number of leading “superstar” cities. That’s grown economic inequality between metro areas, but new research shows it has also generated another disparity within those places: the wage gap.

As America’s largest metro areas have grown, so has the gulf in pay, with wage growth for the highest-paid workers at roughly triple that for the lowest paid. In some cities, the disparity is even wider. Back in 1980, not a single one of the 10 largest metros in the country was among the most unequal for wages. By 2015, five of America’s 10 largest metros—New York City, San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, Houston, and Washington, D.C.—were ranked among the most unequal. CityLab’s Richard Florida has the details: Wage Inequality Has Surged in American Cities

Andrew Small

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What’s Really Behind the Native American Health Gap?

Growing up as a member of the Ojibwe tribe, Melissa Walls knew that that diabetes ran in her maternal family. “I’ve lost two very close family members, my great grandfather and an uncle, to complications related to type 2 diabetes,” she says. But it wasn’t until she began studying American Indian health in graduate school, at the suggestion of another uncle who served as a liaison between academics and local tribal communities, that she understood that her family’s plight was part of a much larger problem.

American Indian adults are more than twice as likely as white adults to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, according to the Office of Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Native American youth experience the highest and fastest-growing rate of the disease of any racial or ethnic group. But those statistics only scratch the surface of the kinds of health disparities that indigenous people face.

Nationally, the average life expectancy for a Native American person born today is 73 years—5.5 years below that for all other races. Members of this community, adolescents in particular, also experience much higher rates of depression, substance abuse, and suicide and suicidal behaviors. In fact, while the national suicide rate has gone up 33 percent since 1999, the rates for Native American women and men have jumped by an alarming 139 percent and 71 precent, respectively, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“You could take almost any health outcome and find health inequity for tribes,” Walls says. “I mean, take your pick.”

The health statistics reflect a dire economic reality—1 in 4 Native Americans live in poverty, the highest rate compared to all other races—and the massive gap in medical resources available to this population. The Indian Health Service, which runs clinics and hospitals for Native Americans, spent $3,332 per person in 2017, compared to $9,207 spent on each person in the national health care system, according to a 2018 report on funding shortfalls by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Walls knows from experience: Like the majority of American Indians, she grew up outside a reservation. Her family lived in International Falls, Minnesota, a town of about 6,000 people—mostly white—near the Canadian border. But to access health services, her family had to go to the nearest reservation. “We drove an hour literally to go to the doctor, to go to the dentist, to get our eyes checked,” she says. “But when you grow up in that context, you don’t label it as an inequity or disparity. It’s just sort of your reality.”

More than two-thirds of Native Americans now live in urban areas, not reservations. That reflects 1950s-era federal policy designed to encourage American Indians living on reservations to urbanize, in the name of speeding “assimilation” (and freeing up tribal lands for federal exploitation). The Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Urban Relocation Program of 1952 and the federal Indian Relocation Act of 1956 offered promises of job training and housing for the new arrivals; the hope was that moving to cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis would allow more Native Americans to participate in the postwar economic boom. But in practice the relocation policy was “essentially a one-way bus ticket from rural to urban poverty,” as former Indian Affairs Commissioner Philleo Nash admitted in the 1960s.

Walls is now the head of the new Great Lakes hub of Johns Hopkins University’s Center for American Indian Health in Duluth, Minnesota, the city of 86,000 located three hours south of where she grew up. Her team currently works with 11 different tribal communities to better understand the health inequities that Native Americans experience, and try to correct them. The hub is just a 15-minute drive from the Fond du Lac band of Ojibwe tribe, with whom Walls has been working closely on diabetes prevention. Among her research interests: how stress impacts can affect type 2 diabetes, and how culture and community can help to buffer the negative effects of modern lifestyles among Native Americans.

CityLab recently caught up with Walls to talk about possible solutions to health inequities among American Indians, and why the damage that government policies inflicted on this population has been so far-reaching. Our conversation has been edited and condensed.

Can you explain how government policy induced historical trauma in the indigenous population?

The historical trauma encompasses a lot of government actions like setting up reservations and marching people across the country. Then in the the 1950s and ’60s, the government started a relocation program to get [Native Americans] into urban areas, and give them job training programs. It failed miserably, like most of these things did, in part because the job training was woefully inadequate, and often [the jobs available] were temp work or summer employment, if anything.

People were taken out of their family support systems or cultural safety nets, thrown into these urban environments, and expected to survive. Certainly in some cities, native people have worked to try build those kinds of networks. But you are very much a minority in the urban context. I think the idea of not having access to not just your friends and your family, which we all need, but those particular aspects of cultural teachings of ceremony that creates a sense of spirituality, purpose, and belonging would be scary to anybody.

[The relocation policy] was rooted in this flawed idea that all people need to look and act like European Americans, and live the way they do. It’s shocking, if you go into some of these government records, just how blatantly plain the language is about how the goal was really to exterminate or assimilate.

That has impact on communities, and we see it play out in terms of mental health, substance abuse, suicide, and other chronic diseases.

You’ve been largely looking at diabetes—how does historical trauma fit into that story?

In the case of diabetes, one really tangible thing is what we call nutrition transition. In the Midwestern U.S., Ojibwe people once had a thing called a seasonal round, where with each season came new sources of food. In the springtime, you tap trees to get maple syrup. In the fall, you gather wild rice off the lake and you hunt deer. Every season had ways of getting [food] that burned a lot of calories.

Moving away from these ways of eating and getting your food, and suddenly relying on government-sponsored commodity programs [that included] flour, sugar, lard, butter, we start to see rates of obesity kind of going off the charts. And we continue to suffer the consequences.

And this trauma has affected multiple generations?

Some of the research we’ve done is really trying to link up negative health outcomes with specific policies. We’ve published a paper that demonstrates how families who’ve gone through those relocation programs have the worst health outcomes that we can track across three generations.

It’s based on survey data from members of eight tribal communities. We were able to track parents’ reports of their parents going through relocation. If they did, we saw a significant pathway where those [first-generation] parents might have had substance abuse issues, which led to substance abuse and depression in the [second-generation] parents. That led to them being not very good parents of their own kids—the third generation—who at the time were in adolescence. They had bad outcomes like delinquency and depression.

The article was published in 2012, but we continue to collect new data every year from that same cohort, so it’s an ongoing study.

Your research is mostly on communities that live within reservations, but what can you tell us about the current urban Native American population so far?

In our cohort study, the kids who grew up on the reservation, a good chunk of them now have moved on to cities, which is another thing that happens. People tend to migrate between cities and reservations. With our new data that’s being collected from that cohort, we’re going to be able to examine urban-rural differences.

What I do know is that the health issues that hit tribal people on reservations, some reports say they’re actually compounded and worse for people in the cities, for reasons like the lack of access to cultural protective factors and social networks. People are more likely to experience discrimination when they’re in an urban area. And there’s tons of research talking about how that hurts health.

What’s a common misconception about the indigenous community that you hope to dispel?

One of the big stories I’ve helped to push forward is that yes, we have these health inequities, but people on reservations and in urban areas also have really amazing positive stories. Like with positive mental health, when we started measuring it, our communities were off the charts compared to non-native people.

We found this measure created by a sociologist called Corey Keyes [that] assesses emotional well-being, psychological well-being, and social well-being across three domains using 14 different indicators. These items assess basically how much you’re flourishing or languishing in those domains. And the outcome was that the percentage of people in our sample who [reported] flourishing was much higher than what we had seen in other studies with non-Native samples.

So you can have these [inequity] issues, but also have vibrant and cultural richness, family centric [communities] with communal, take-care-of-one-another thinking.

And that has implications for all humans: that being embedded in your community is good for you, that being tied culturally to other people is good for you. It’s not just a dismal doom-and-gloom kind of story.

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The Toll of Parenting on the American Woman’s Workweek

More women than ever are serving as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, though still far fewer women than men reach this level. American women are being paid more in general, but still less than men. And according to new research, they’re also working more hours—again, however, fewer than men—and they are starting to outnumber men in part-time work. These disparities are even more pronounced when the women are mothers and the men are fathers, and they’re persistent, according to a report released by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research last week.

“The role of the father still is to ‘bring in the bacon,’ and make money,” said Ariane Hegewisch, one of the authors of IWPR’s report. “The role of the mother is to work for pay but to [also] have the main care responsibilities.” It sounds like a sexist trope, but after analyzing the U.S. Current Population Survey through 2017 for workers ages 25 to 64, IWPR found that for the average worker, it’s true: Fathers work more hours than other men, and mothers work fewer hours than other women.

That’s not to discount the fact that women across the board have started working a whole lot more than they used to. In the last 40 years, women have picked up five more weeks of full-time work a year, while men are only working one more full-time week than before. For parents, the difference is greater over the same period: Mothers have worked 300 more paid hours a year since 1977, while fathers’ annual paid hours fell by 8 hours. Black mothers work the most paid hours of all mothers—on average, “104 hours more than Hispanic mothers, 89 hours more than White mothers, and 52 hours more than Asian mothers,”according to the report—as did white fathers, out of all fathers.

Marital status matters, too. Labor patterns for single mothers have gotten closer than ever to those of married mothers, but the average single mother still spends 3 percent more time working in a paid job each year. However, this isn’t true for black mothers, who on average work more when married than single. (Notably, the researchers didn’t have a way to take non-married but partnered women into account.)

The more things change for mothers, however, the more they stay the same. In 2000, more mothers than ever were participating in the labor market, and their effort bolstered the economy significantly. But after the early 2000s, that growth stagnated. And the “traditional” gender breakdown within the home persist: Women still do the majority of the home care and childcare work as compared to men.

In other countries, it’s common to see mothers working longer hours than fathers, Hegewisch says, especially when paid and unpaid work hours are combined. In the U.S., “families just cannot do more,” she said, without similar access to affordable childcare, paid family leave, or longer school days. If a family is raising a child in the U.S., “there is a limit of how much time they can put into the labor market,” Hegewisch said. That means even as mothers work more, fathers can’t afford to work less.

When both parents are working full-time and coming up against these limits, Hegewisch says it’s women who typically suffer professionally: “Because of globalization coupled with the internet and the fact you can work anywhere, anytime, the pressure to work long hours”—or to be present in the office for long hours—“has really increased in professional jobs. … It’s very hard to have two people doing those jobs.” The one who gets to do them is typically the man.

That’s also part of the reason why American women—especially those in their “prime working years” from 25 to 64—are so over-represented in part-time work, which is often more precarious, lower-paid, and includes fewer benefits than full-time work. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than three-quarters of men and women working part-time do so voluntarily, but IWPR argues that “their reasons for working part-time work may nevertheless reflect economic constraints,” as a third of women who reported working fewer hours cited child-care issues and personal obligations as reasons for doing so. Of the workers that did report working part-time involuntarily, women make up half; the rate of involuntary part-time work for black and Hispanic women is more than double the rate for white women.

Some of the fixes for these dynamics seem self-evident: More paid family leave, stronger protections for part-time workers, a deemphasis on overwork, fairer scheduling practices, and limits on overtime.

But the nature of work is changing, Hegewisch says. Though the technological advancements introduced by AI threaten to make some kinds of jobs obsolete, especially those that disproportionately employ women, technology could also narrow these gender inequities, if harnessed correctly. “[We could use] the productivity that’s generated through new technology in a way to give people more time off,” she said. “And that for women makes it less penalizing to work, and it allows men to do more care.”

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In California, a Native American Tribe’s Quest: Give Back Our Island

EUREKA, Calif.—Cheryl A. Seidner sat on a folding chair near the dock, wearing a basket-woven ceremonial cap. She looked out over the sharp stalks of grass and the flurry of long-billed curlews perched in the marsh and said: “This is a blessing, to be able to come out here.”

The mile-long island where Seidner sat basking in the October sun is in the middle of California’s Humboldt Bay, near downtown Eureka. This land has long represented loss to her and the other members of the Wiyot Tribe, the region’s Native American people, who call it their spiritual home. Now as Seidner, a Wiyot elder and a former tribal chair, looks out at the land, she sees possibility.

After more than a century, Duluwat Island—also called Tuluwat Island, or Indian Island by non-Native people and Google Maps—belongs to the Wiyot people again. In October, the city of Eureka signed the island’s deed back over to the tribe, in what the National Congress of American Indians calls the United States’ first known voluntary municipal land return achieved without sale, lawsuit, or trade.

“You don’t see too many government entities giving back traditional ceremonial land to tribes,” Wiyot tribal chair Ted Hernandez .) Other skeptics worried the tribe would build a casino on the plot once the city passed on the deed, Bergel said.

Tribal chairman Ted Hernandez speaks at the land return ceremony on October 21, 2019. (Eddy Alexander/City of Eureka.)

Given the tidal patterns, which can engulf much of the island, the upfront investment needed for such a build, and the sacred value of the land, Bergel says any casino-building seems extremely unlikely. But by signing away the acres—no strings attached, forever, and for free—the city has also signed away the future of Duluwat. The Wiyot Tribe can, and should, do whatever they want there, she said.

Where a vacant building now sits, Seidner hopes the tribe can build a dance center, and changing rooms for men and women. She and the rest of the tribe are already planning a grand world renewal day ceremony for 2020, when they’ll dance for three days.

“We need to bring balance back, to get rid of all the addictions hidden in Humboldt County—children not having homes, being homeless, there’s a lot going on,” tribal chair Hernandez told KQED. “I feel that since we’re in Wiyot country, everybody here needs that healing. That’s why the world renewal ceremony is important to us.”

The city wants to help with fundraising for that event, says Bergel, and she also says the council is working to bring a tribal member “to the table” in City Hall. But she says the bulk of the healing work came this October.

“I’m hopeful now that when people—especially our young people —look at what happened with the island, with the massacre, that they will realize that making amends is the most important piece,” Bergel said. “[It’s] a small thing considering what they went through, but it’s critical.”

Even after the decades of pain, Seidner hasn’t held onto resentment for the white settlers of Eureka. “It all depends how you’re indoctrinated into the ugliness of a society,” Seidner said. “The way my mom put it and my dad put it is: It happened back then. The people of today are not your enemy. With that, you come along and say you’re not my enemy—be my supporter.”

Where the Wiyot tribe’s world renewal ceremony will be held in 2020—only the second time since 1860. (Sarah Holder/CityLab)

Eddy Koch, the environmental director for the tribe, says he’s only just started exploring the 200 other acres that the Wiyot tribe now has to work with. But the change on this side of the island—where the Wiyots will celebrate world renewal day in March—is palpable, he says. Invasive spartina weeds have been cleared away, letting pickleweed and eelgrass flourish again, and opening up mudflats to shore birds. Egrets, who are said to be the souls of the Wiyot people watching over the island, peek out from the bushes.

“It’s ours!” Seidner yelled from the boat, as it pulled away from Duluwat’s shore. “Yee-ha!”

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What Mitch Landrieu Learned About Racism in the American South

Last year, former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu published a book, In the Shadows of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History, a personal narrative built around his decision to bring down four city monuments dedicated to Confederate and white supremacist causes. He wrote that he grew up with black people in New Orleans, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that he realized that those monuments were offensive to black New Orleanians. ( His buddy, jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, had to explain it to him.) Former columnist Jarvis DeBerry pointed out the difficulty of reconciling this, writing that the book’s “saddest and most significant reminder” was that while “white people can choose not to see or think about race … black people can’t.”

Since his book’s release, Landrieu, currently a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics, has embarked on a tour of the South to learn the extent to which white people in this region have been blind to racism. He recently announced the launch of an initiative called E Pluribus Unum that will confront the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow and develop strategies that he hopes will break down the barriers that lead to racial inequities. Last week, the initiative released “Divided by Design,” a near-100 page report summarizing what Landrieu learned about how racism continues to function and dominate throughout the South.

What he learned: There is a wide gap between how white Southerners understand the effects of historical racism on black lives today and how African Americans understand it. Most whites surveyed believed that black Southerners are mostly responsible for their own economic and educational shortcomings, and that the vestiges of slavery and segregation have little to do with it. As for reparations or repayment of wealth and capital stolen from African Americans: While black Southerners support it in one form another, for white Southerners, forget it.

Latinos were also included in some of the focus groups, and where they stood on race was often middle of the road, with small pluralities of them believing that historical racism does hold African Americans back. But in some of the cities with larger Latino populations, the Latino population seemed more in alignment with white Southerners—many believed that African Americans are too lazy and irresponsible to get ahead.  

Landrieu’s tour was spread across 12 cities, 28 communities, and three regions: Northwest Arkansas, the Mississippi Delta, and Central Appalachia. Working with PolicyLink and GBAO Strategies, they conducted one-on-one interviews and focus groups, speaking with more than 800 people over an 11-month stretch, starting in 2018. The team conducted an additional survey with roughly 1,800 people by phone—600 from each racial group. They spoke with both college-educated people from each race and those without degrees, with the discussions focused mostly on whether African Americans were getting a fair shake in educational and employment opportunities in the United States.

“Most white people don’t have a full understanding of our past or how it shapes our lives today,” said Landrieu on a press call. “The legacies of slavery and Jim Crow are visible everywhere you look, if you really care to look.”

“People will still hate you even if there’s no monument there”

Of all of the places Landrieu visited along his tour, there wasn’t really any place where black and white people were on the same page about America’s racist past, its future, or even its present. Overall, 70 percent of African Americans surveyed said that the heritage of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation made living in America harder for them. But 70 percent of white respondents weren’t trying to hear that. And while nearly 72 percent of black Southerners surveyed said they supported reparations for African Americans, nearly 80 percent of whites said absolutely not.

(E Pluribus Unum)

To understand why white Southerners are so vehemently against even looking at, let alone compensating for the South’s racist heritage, you have to delve into the responses from each of the locales.

In Montgomery, Alabama, white participants said “they saw no value in discussing or dwelling on the legacy of racism”—this in a city saturated with Confederate monuments and memorabilia. One participant said the National Memorial for Peace and Justice— otherwise known as the “lynching memorial”—built last year near downtown Montgomery, is an “affront to white people.”

In Charleston, South Carolina, white respondents said racism was fabricated by the media and politicians, while defending the Confederate markers and monuments around their city. African Americans there overwhelmingly embraced reparations, though not as a direct payment. White Charlestonians were “unwilling to discuss it.”

In New Orleans, reactions were mixed. White participants were highly supportive of the removal of several white supremacist city monuments—a crowning achievement for Landrieu during his term as mayor. This support came mainly from college-educated whites who were also “very receptive” to reparations. In 2016, a University of New Orleans survey found that white New Orleanians generally opposed the monuments’ removal. Any white support for their removal, by and large, came from those who were already in Mayor Landrieu’s camp. ”In other words, among whites, approval of the mayor is largely a function of their opinions on the monument removal,” reads the UNO study.

Meanwhile, some black New Orleanians said that taking down the monuments was useless. One responded that “people will still hate you even if there is no monument there,” a sentiment that perhaps sheds some light on how Landrieu grew up among black people without knowing that the Confederate monuments were offensive: It’s possible the black folk he lived around weren’t paying them any mind.

“Everyone’s suffered; don’t dwell on it”

It actually wasn’t uncommon to hear some black respondents in a handful of cities say they also opposed things like reparations and examining the impact of slavery’s legacy today. This was equally and often more true among Latino participants, who were part of the focus groups in Miami, Houston, and Charleston. Latinos opposed rummaging among such ideas, though, for different reasons than their black counterparts. Black men in Jackson said they “had seen no evidence in their own lives that discussion of the clear evidence of racism produces any promise of change,” according to the report.

But most of the Latinos surveyed didn’t want to deal with historical anti-black racism because they thought the discussion itself was problematic:

  • In Miami, Latino respondents said “there are higher levels of poverty and violence in poor black neighborhoods than in poor Latino neighborhoods, because black people lack a sense of responsibility and ‘pride of ownership’ in their communities.”
  • Latino groups in Charleston, complained that black people “always complain about everything,” play the “race card,” and mostly “bring on themselves” whatever problems black communities are facing. As for examining the history of slavery and Jim Crow, one Latino participant said, “Everyone’s suffered; don’t dwell on it.”
  • In Houston, while black groups felt the city needed to “face our collective history of racial division and abuse head on,” the Latino group’s position was summarized in the report as feeling that “there is a lot of negative emotions tied up in the battles of the past, and that we are better off just focusing on the future.”

In each of the cities, Latinos’ feelings about the economic doldrums of black communities hewed closely to how white people felt about it: That African Americans can’t get ahead because of poor parenting and bad life choices, not racism. Meanwhile, none of the cities where Latinos were surveyed showed Latinos sharing any kind of economic parity with whites, not even in the cities where Latinos were majorities. In Miami, where Latinos make up 70 percent of the population, only 48 percent of Latino residents have the college credentials necessary for Miami’s highest-skilled jobs, compared with 71 percent of the white population.

Two paths through the South

The same week of the E Pluribus Unum report, The New York Times also published a dispatch on race from a tour of the South. As part of its series “The American Road Trip,” four writers and photographers were sent out to cover regions of the U.S. to build narratives around four themes: patriotism, community, tradition, and youth. The poet and essayist Hanif Abdurraqib was assigned the “community” theme and traveled to eight cities mainly along the eastern coast of the South, from Baltimore through Virginia and North Carolina, to several cities in South Carolina. Except for Charleston, there was no overlap with Landrieu’s tour, which mainly covered the Deep South’s innards.

While both narratives focused on race, the difference in approach was readily apparent: The E Pluribus report frames each location by its deficits—each city and region is introduced based on how low black (and in some cases Latino) wages and education levels are compared to those of whites. Abdurraqib introduces and frames each city he visited by how the black people among them are living, in terms of both beauty and struggle. The problems and disparities are present in Abdurraqib’s narrative—gentrification, economic deprivation, disaster, poor protection of queer and trans black folks. But they are carefully couched in tales that speak more to how black people are engaging with and enjoying each other, despite those problems.

When visiting Charlotte, Abdurraqib spent time with Malcolm Graham, an African American running for city council to represent the district that encompasses the black neighborhoods of the city’s historic west side. Graham speaks of how Amazon has been expanding its footprint into these black communities, bringing an unhealthy dose of rising living costs along with it. He confesses to Abdurraqib that he can’t stop gentrification, which is probably the most un-politician thing to do, but hopes he can “soften its impact” by persuading the city to offer low-interest home improvement loans to black families. Gentrification is far from the only threat, though. Writes Abdurraqib:

Mr. Graham is focused on gun control, too. His sister is Cynthia Graham Hurd, who was killed in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting in Charleston, S.C., in 2015. “We don’t talk about how she died. We talk only about how she lived,” he says. He thinks for a moment, and then summons an old saying: “Sweat and tears are both salty, but they render different results. Tears get you sympathy, but sweat gets you progress.”

It’s a more vivid and fleshed out account of black life than the E Pluribus Unum offers, but both kinda arrive at the same point: that African Americans have been living in the South’s margins, and getting by the best they can regardless. Landrieu’s report offers plenty of tears; Abdurraqib helps you feel their sweat.

The next steps for Landrieu’s E Pluribus Unum organization is to launch a slate of strategies next year across the South based on the data they got from this research. One of those strategies will involve changing the narrative of the region—”empowering storytelling that highlights the impacts of racial injustice in our institutions to provide fuller context.”

Part of that must involve understanding how to approach the subject such that black people aren’t characterized solely by how much they don’t measure up to white people. It’s not just about finally seeing Confederate monuments as racist, but also about seeing black people as fully human.

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Dominican / American

This Latinx Heritage month, I’d like to share a little bit about my parents’ country of origin-the Dominican Republic (aka DR, not to be confused with Dominica, also an island in the Carribbean, not colonized by the Spanish).
DR Dominicans are a very proud people known for our loud greetings resplendent with hugs and kisses, and for making you feel right at home with a warm meal and tireless hospitality (also.Dominoes, Plantains, Goya, and a mean Bústelo coffee). Dominicans recognize each other from a mile away – and when we spot one another we really see each other, often exchanging greetings and ‘native’ towns of origin in DR like old friends, reveling in the sheer beauty of our shared identity, whether in a cab, veterinarian office, or on the street. To a Dominican, DR is the most magical land in the universe, and seeing another Dominicans succeed fills us with pride.

While there are hundreds of countries across the globe, Dominicans tend to return to DR over and over throughout our lives. Fourty-one percent of the 1.5 million or so Dominicans in the U.S. reside in NYC, mostly the Bronx and Manhattan. For these Dominicans, going ‘back home’ is a mere $400 round trip flight away, and includes room and board with family likely still living on the island. That often included spotty electricity and fast cold showers, but it also includes free, organic food sourced straight from the backyard, ranging from chickens and plantains to avocados and mangoes.

Once in DR, you can watch the sunset by the ocean, eat fresh fish, and enjoy refreshments with a sizable group of friends for the astounding price of $3,000 Dominican pesos, which is the equivalent of about $60 U.S. Yes, a magical land indeed.
My mother, her mother, and her mother’s mother were all born in the Dominican Republic, and my father, his father and his father’s father were born there as well. Before that, the family tree gets a little more fantastical leaning towards the magical realism Junot Diaz, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and other Hispanic writers represent in their works. On my dad’s side, the Liriano’s tell tales of a handsome Italian settler making lots of babies with multiple ladies on the countryside where my dad’s family is from. On my mother’s side, they say my great grandmother was very white and very beautiful. These stories highlight the misogyny and colorism baked into the Dominican oral tradition and my family’s history.

When I’ve asked elders in my family for historical accounts, there are no comments about slavery, just low wages on the tobacco and sugar fields; No comment about indigenous traditions, but an uncanny ability to cure any illness with just the right herbs and plants, and a sancocho that will restore your entire soul. I was baptized and raised Catholic, but my mother lit candles with Saints on them for loved ones who had passed away, while praying the Rosary. No acknowledgment of our African roots, but moved by the sound of the African drum, and preparing meals derived from African cuisine, with African features. Those are the tensions embedded in our colonized history, a merging of Indigenous, African and European traditions manifesting into rich expressions of music, food, art, language, religion, and culture across the Latinx community.

Dominicans are pretty recent transplants in the U.S, with the largest migration happening around the 1970’s. Cubans and Puerto Ricans got here first, and before them (and to date) the US has interacted for centuries with Mexico. As a high schooler, when I went away to a boarding school in Massachusetts, most of my white peers thought I was ‘Mexican,’ which I realized was a substitute for the word ‘Latino,’ because that was the only Spanish-speaking ethnic group they had encountered to that point.
Regardless of the country of origin, if you’re from South America or the Spanish speaking Carribbean, once you’re in the U.S., you’re Latino. Colorism allows certain lighter skinned Latinos to pass for white, but even the fairest Latino will usually bust a dance move or say a word that ‘identifies’ them as Latinx, and I personally love that. As a proud Dominican born and raised in the United States, it took me a while to even understand that I shared an identity with Colombians, Peruvians and Cubans under the ‘Latinx’ umbrella, because I knew very little about those countries and their histories. As I delved deeper into Dominican history, I realized that the Dominican Republic was inhabited by Arawak Indians in the late 16th century like much of North and South America. I learned that Africans were enslaved in the DR to work the fields after the genocide of Indigenous people. I learned that Spanish colonists imposed the Catholic religion and Spanish language in our countries. While it’s a complicated history, and one filled with violence, the Latinx diaspora has married elements of all three influences to inform a rich culture.

The new narrative I’m living is that of an American-born citizen with roots in the Dominican Republic. My mom gave birth to two American-born Dominican children, or Dominican-Americans, or to keep it short – Americans. The US is a nation of immigrants, except for Indigenous folks. Whether African, Spanish, French, Polish, German, Asian, or from Latin America, Americans all have geographic roots rooted outside of the US, except Indigenous people. This celebration of my Dominican culture, is an American story.

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CityLab Daily: The New Geography of American Immigration

Keep up with the most pressing, interesting, and important city stories of the day. Sign up for the CityLab Daily newsletter here.


What We’re Following

Immigration status: As CityLab Daily reported a few weeks ago, growth in U.S. immigration was at its slowest pace in a decade last year. But when you dig into the details, it hasn’t shifted in quite the ways you might expect. Trump-voting states and metro areas have seen the largest gains in immigration, while the largest declines occurred in states that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, according to an analysis from William Frey of the Brookings Institution.

Many urban areas are also defying expectations: Metro areas in the South and the Rust Belt saw the biggest gains in their immigration population, while large metros on the Acela corridor, as well as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago saw considerable declines. The demographics of foreign-born newcomers are changing, too. Richard Florida has the details on CityLab: The New Geography of American Immigration

Andrew Small

More on CityLab

What’s Behind the Barcelona Protests?

The sentencing of Catalan independence movement leaders triggered a day of demonstrations in the capital of Catalonia—and more unrest may be coming.

Feargus O’Sullivan

A Micromobility Experiment in Pittsburgh Aims to Get People Out of Their Cars

The Pittsburgh Micromobility Collective will create all-in-one mobility hubs near transit stops, to compete with Uber and Lyft and help commuters go car-free.

Laura Bliss

What Uber Did

In his new book on the “Battle for Uber,” Mike Isaac chronicles the ruthless rise of the ride-hailing company and its founding CEO, Travis Kalanick.

Andrew Small

Where the Presidential Candidates’ Public Housing Plans Go Wrong

After years of investment in creating affordable housing, the U.S. still doesn’t have adequate supply. Presidential candidates’ plans must address reasons why.

Alicia Glen

The Millennial Urban Lifestyle Is About to Get More Expensive

As WeWork crashes and Uber bleeds cash, the consumer-tech gold rush may be coming to an end.

Derek Thompson

Finding Los Angeles

(Madison Johnson/CityLab)

When Glen Creason first took on the job of becoming the map librarian at the Los Angeles Public Library, he was a real maps novice. As he attended cartographic society conventions and studied up on all things map-nerd, he struggled to feel worthy of his title. But then Creason encountered a map by Joseph Jacinto Mora that encompassed the city’s past, from colonial times to its 1942 date of publishing. “He opened my eyes to the wonder that a map can hold,” Creason writes.

While the map tackles a grand history and is a product of its age, its message is “unusually inclusive,” Creason explains. “The sheer volume of characters it celebrates seems to stress the large number of people it took to build the big city out of a dusty little pueblo.” Read the latest in entry in our The Maps That Make Us series: The Amazing Pictorial Map That Captured the Soul of Los Angeles

What We’re Reading

What St. Louis tells us about America (New York Times)

The garbage barge that helped fuel a movement (Retro Report)

What New Orleans can teach other cities about reducing homelessness (Stateline)

Uber says its ride-hailing app has zero “drivers” (Washington Post)

Houston’s plan to remake highways once again targets communities of color (Texas Tribune)

Tell your friends about the CityLab Daily! Forward this newsletter to someone who loves cities and encourage them to subscribe. Send your own comments, feedback, and tips to

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The New Geography of American Immigration

President Trump’s crackdown on immigration is having its effect, but in unexpected ways. Overall, immigration to the U.S. has slowed dramatically, because it has declined in coastal states. However, perhaps ironically, it is Trump-voting states and metropolitan areas that have registered the largest gains in immigrants.

Those are some of the key takeaways from a new analysis of American Community Survey data by Brookings Institution demographer William Frey, a leading expert in the geography of immigration.

(William H. Frey analysis, Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings)

America’s foreign-born population grew by slightly more than 200,000 people in 2017-18, the smallest increase yet since 2010. In other years this decade, the foreign-born population increased by more than twice that amount; in 2013-14, it grew by more than 1 million people, or roughly five times the 2017-18 increase.

Despite this recent slowing of growth, America’s total foreign-born population stands at an all-time high of close to 45 million. That’s 13.7 percent of all the people in the United States—a share that’s about one percentage point lower than the all-time high of 14.7 percent, back in 1910, reflecting the great immigration wave of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

(William H. Frey analysis, Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings)

The largest recent immigration gains have been concentrated in states and metros that backed Trump in the 2016 election. In 2017-18, in Trump states, the immigrant population surged by nearly 300,000, whereas it declined by more than 100,000 in states that voted for Clinton. Metros in the South and Rust Belt saw the biggest gains, while some large coastal metros on the East Coast, plus the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, and Chicago, saw considerable declines. Frey writes:

[T]he new “21st century immigration” is trending away from states that voted for the 2016 Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, toward states that voted for Trump. … In fact, over the last year, Clinton states, as a group, registered declines in their foreign-born populations—including substantial declines in New York and Illinois—and more modest declines in California, New Jersey, and Maryland, among other states. Meanwhile, Florida and Texas exhibited significant gains, as did other Trump states including Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

(William H. Frey analysis of 2018 American Community Survey, Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings)

The new pattern of immigration also represents a shift to more highly educated immigrants. Frey notes that college graduates made up more than 60 percent of the net gain in foreign-born adults (over the age of 25) between 2010 and 2018; they are just one-third of native-born Americans.

Immigration has become more Asian and less Hispanic, as well. Latin Americans represented the lion’s share of new U.S. immigrants before 2010, but since then, the share of Asians has risen. As Frey notes, since 2010, people of Asian and Latin-American origin make up identical shares (40 percent) of the immigrant population. Immigrants from India and China have contributed most to the gain in foreign-born population, while Mexican immigrants (still the largest country-of-origin group) have posted recent declines.

The overall picture is hardly good. Despite the shift to more highly educated adult immigrants, America continues to see significant declines in international students coming to its universities and colleges. Immigrants make up a disproportionate share of leading scientists and founders of high-tech companies. Current and future generations of such foreign-born talent are either staying at home or choosing more open countries, like Canada. Not to mention that immigration has been the main driver of population growth in many large U.S. metros as the birth rate falls.

If the government’s clampdown continues, America will lose more than immigrants. It will sacrifice a good deal of its competitive advantage in science and technology, and miss out on more economic growth.

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