Black and Latino Entrepreneurs Seek Common Good in LA
Bowers and Sons Cleaners on Central Avenue has managed to survive many an ill wind in its more than half a century in historic South-Central L.A. A crack house used to operate across the street. Rioters once showed up determined to burn the place down with Molotov cocktails. The whole casual-dress craze wasn’t great for business either. But these days, Vivian Bowers — the Bowers daughter who now runs the place — is dreaming big. She’s thinking Central Avenue might be on the cusp of a renaissance. And in her fight to bring back the historic heart of African American Los Angeles, she’s got some new, unexpected allies. A score of Latino entrepreneurs has banded together to elect Bowers, who is black, president of the new Central Avenue Business Assn. The group meets regularly to press city officials to give the long-neglected neighborhood its due. “She is an honest person, a very hard-working woman and very dedicated to the community,” said Virginia Zesati, the Mexican-born owner of a Central Avenue hair and nail salon. “We’re all in this together. Among us there are no differences of color.” Bowers and Zesati have known each other a long time. Zesati and her family live in a home behind the dry cleaners. And on April 30, 1992, when rioters tried to set the dry cleaners on fire, Zesati’s late husband, Gerardo Carrillo, came to the rescue. “The Fire Department wouldn’t come, so Mr. Carrillo hooked a bunch of garden hoses together and put out the fire,” Bowers said. Black and Latino people have lived side by side in South L.A. for a generation now. Despite many cultural and linguistic misunderstandings, most of the locals see things in one another they admire — an obvious truth but one not often focused on in the media.