Grad, S. (2018, Jan. 17th). Here’s what it was like to live through the terror of the Northridge earthquake, which hit 24 years ago. Los Angeles Times, Retrieved from: https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-northridge-quake-remember-20180117-htmlstory.html
In the center of the photo, is a little Latina girl likely of elementary age, stares back while hugging her teddy bear in seeming fear. Behind her lies an entire line of cardboard boxes forming makeshift shelters, right outside of an apartment building, completely abandoned and void of people. No one else could be seen, only the little girl, all alone. In the year 1994, 17th of January, San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, California have been struck by a major 6.8 earthquake that shook the entirety of Los Angeles. This event of natural disaster is known as the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. In its ensuing aftermath, the residents of San Fernando Valley, particularly of Latino Americans have suffered from racial inequity in the fields of federal assistance and underwhelming media coverage. In this photograph depicting a scene from the aftermath of the Northridge earthquake, represents the ineffective assistance of the local government emergency programs in aiding the local Latino communities, which depicts the larger problem of racial inequality against Latino communities within the San Fernando Valley in the aftermath of the Northridge Earthquake.
According to the description provided, this photo was taken at location, in front of an apartment complex in Van Nuys, San Fernando Valley. The photo shows 7 year old Jessica Hernandez, who have taken shelter in the makeshift cardboard shelter with her family, right outside their own homes. It is also mentioned that the residents were too afraid to enter their own homes and thus have resorted to sheltering outside, which is due to many of the Latino immigrants have previously experienced the Mexico City Earthquake in 1985, knowing that stronger aftershocks were soon to follow the initial foreshock(). While no specific dates were mentioned, the photo was likely taken a few days after the event of the Northridge earthquake in January 17th of 1994, in order to capture the main aftermath events of the Earthquake.
The photographer who took this image was Al Seib, who have worked for the New York Times since 1984, and have won several awards with his photographs over the course of time. From the photographer’s position in the news industry, it could be deduced that this photograph was taken for the news media for the Los Angeles Times to cover the aftermath events of the earthquake. Furthermore, such mainstream media such as the Los Angeles Times would likely be targeting not only in Los Angeles, nor California, but the entire United States and the “general public” as its audience, which mostly refers to the average middle class citizens consisting mostly of white origin during this time period.
While further examination of this photograph illustrating the little girl with her teddy bear, where their makeshift cardboard shelters and the abandoned apartment complex can be seen right behind her, there is one conspicuously missing element that should be present in any event of post natural disaster, active public services and assistances for the people. Despite the fact that the residents of this apartment are clearly concerned, there are no police or emergency workers investigating the apartment for safety, nor even caution tapes or signs that indicate their past presence at the building is present. Granted, the residents may currently be away to receive their aid further away from this location, or this particular site may not have been prioritized due to the lack of visible physical damages and shortage of personnel on location, but if so, what does that imply? Aside from the lack of visible damages and priorities for areas of higher needs, the lack of any signs of local government support at location, particularly addressing safety concerns of the residents suggest they are not prioritized. Although it could be argued that priority for those buried under the rubbles is indeed important, we have to realize and question that would this little girl and their neighbors received the same type of treatment and position, if they were a white community? This incitation of racial prioritization, or the negligence of local Latino communities and residents based on the absence of law enforcement or government personnel within this photo, brings into question the effectiveness and competency of the local emergency aid and assistance programs that are meant to help the affected residents within the Latino communities. The ineffectiveness of the local emergency aids for Latino communities represents the racial inequity present in the aftermath of the Northridge earthquake.
Another aspect to pay attention to is the fact that the residents of this apartment complex have abandoned and are sheltering right outside of their own homes. While at first glance, this shows the desperate situation of the post-disaster, but incites further implication of why are the residents still here? The residents are building shelters in front of their homes, instead of emergency tents, or any other facilities provided by the local government emergency aid forces for shelter, which realistically should be much more practical and better for families with children, than this makeshift shelters made from cardboard boxes, chairs and blankets. This suggests that there was no emergency sheltering provided for these residents, despite the clear lack of a safe, secure shelter, forcing the residents to shelter outside of their homes with nowhere else to turn to. This implication of racial prioritization against Latino communities, points to the ineffectiveness of the local emergency support and assistance to help the Latino communities in San Fernando Valley in the aftermath of the Northridge Earthquake. The lack of shelter aid available in the post disaster, evidently from the fact that the Latino residents are building makeshift shelters right in front of their homes, further supports the prevalence of racial inequities within the governing organizations, against the Latino communities affected by the Northridge Earthquake.
In addition to the sheltering outside of their homes, the materials used for the construction of the shelter is suggestive of the social status of the Latino residents, which furthers points to the racial equity against Latino communities. The materials used for the makeshift shelters are mainly cardboard boxes, along with some plastic outdoor chairs, blankets, and a shopping cart. This use of mostly conventional and public items, while no luxurious, or out of place items are used in the building of these shelters, conveys that the residents of the apartment complex are from mostly lower social classes, as they collectively possess little to no accessory items at their disposal. Despite the lower social status of this residency, the Latino residents are still forced out of their homes in fear, with once again no sign of assistance for these residents. This reveals the fact that local emergency aids are not reaching the low-income Latino communities in terms of emergency shelter needs and insuring safety as already discussed beforehand. Therefore, local emergency aids seem to have completely neglected the socioeconomic status of the local people, while enforcing racial inequalities against Latino communities, where no amount of support from local emergency aids and supports are visible in helping the little girl, or her absent family.
The hidden insights provided through this photo have collectively pointed to the incompetence and racial inequity of the local government aid for the Latino community, which portrays the racial inequalities that becomes further prevalent with the aftermath of the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. Within this photograph, racial inequity suggested by the absence of local government enforcers and emergency workers at the apartment complex, the residents sheltering outside of their own homes with nowhere else to go, and the low socioeconomic status represented by the cardboard shelters, all describes the historical pattern of neglection of local communities, particularly those of low-income minority groups, which have been seen throughout sites of environmental inequalities in postwar US history. Hence this photo depicting this setting after the Northridge Earthquake, allows us to realize that the exact pattern of racial and environmental inequality is taking place against the Latino minorities at Van Nuys of San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles.