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TO MARCH 29
Sure, we’ve got purple mountains’ majesty, but America’s built environment is as gray, beige, and off-white as the paint charts approved by planned-community covenants. Not, however, in east and southcentral Los Angeles, many of whose bleakest precincts have been enlivened by the arrival of as many as 100,000 Mexicans and Central Americans a year since the mid-’80s. Sociologist and photographer Camilo JosÇ Vergara arrived in Los Angeles in 1992 and soon began documenting “the next city of Mexico after Tijuana.” His (inevitably) color photographs depict vivid hues, abandoned cars as folk art, and imagery that casually juxtaposes the sacred and the profane: One corner-store mural positions the head of Jesus near a bottle of Downy. With their horses, chickens, and ducks, the back alleys of these reinvented ‘hoods reveal their new residents’ rural heritage, but also a desire to escape Mexico’s dirt and mud: “The more cement the better,” says one observer. Indeed, some of the photographs depict the same sort of mini-fortresses that City of Quartz author Mike Davis has identified as L.A.’s paranoid future. Assimilation, apparently, means replacing that mural of Pancho Villa and Martin Luther King Jr. with slit windows and forbidding facades. At the National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW. $3 suggested donation. (202) 272-2448. (Mark Jenkins)